Hello from the Cadillac with the Tiger in it - Part 1- Spring has sprung on East 2nd Street
The magnolia tree in the cemetery bloomed a couple of weeks ago. I wasn't sure if I'd be around to see it — never thought this winter would end. Each winter the block usually loses a resident. 1993-94 was the last bad winter before this one. (At least what I can remember — I was buried in ice and snow for most of it). That winter we lost Alex S., the old Polish guy who smoked a cigar on the stoop with his coffee and New York Post each morning. Alex moved into 67 East 2nd St. during the Great Depression when it was a flophouse and he didn't pay any rent (I've often wondered what math the landlords used to raise zero rent by a percentage each year?). Whenever some young punk was having a party on his floor, Alex would stand at the top of the stairs with a crowbar telling the late arrivals to "go home, the party's over." When spring finally came in '94, Alex was missing from the stoop. His friend Max was telling patrons at the First Avenue Laundromat that he heard that Alex had won the lottery and moved to Florida. Max was a funny guy. He looked like a 4 & 1/2 foot tall Vladimir Lenin and always wore a Choo Choo Charlie hat and a long military trench coat. He supported himself by refurbishing old cameras and selling them at flea markets. In 20 years I barely heard him speak. He mostly grunted. Whereas Alex only went to the hospital when he lost 60 pounds at age 78 and they discovered he was diabetic, Max would often go to Beth Israel for numerous maladies only to come back later the same day saying no one wanted to treat him. Max's story about Alex's Florida move sounded a bit ominous to me. Sure enough, when the weather finally warmed up a carrion smell emanating from Alex' apartment brought the police. In Apt. 12 & 1/2 (It was actually apartment 13 but Alex was superstitious and formed the new numbers with strips of masking tape on his door) they found him. Alex had been dead about 2-3 months. His body was kept frozen most of that time as he had slightly opened the window next to his bed. What remained of him lay there in his bed surrounded by hundreds of miniature plastic toy soldiers; cowboys and Indians; and odd prizes he had saved from breakfast cereal boxes.
On the back of his bedroom closet door was a 1950's photo of Alex and 3 men out fishing in a boat on a lake. Scrawled underneath the other 3 faces were the dates and years each had passed away before him. Max had a similar fate befall him a couple of winters later, although he had been dead slightly less than a month when they found him. Then there was Peter who used to feed the squirrels of the cemetery at dawn each morning. He'd make some weird chirping sound and several of them would crawl up his arms and jump onto his head. (Gross! I call them "rats with bushy tails" — at least they don't shit on me like the pigeons do.) One winter Peter was found naked on his bathroom floor with a pen near his hand and a makeshift will scrawled on the lower portion of his bathroom door bequeathing the $60,000 cash stashed in his apartment to a lady on East 3rd Street who fed the pigeons and squirrels with him. (...don't know if she ever got any of that money?) After those deaths a putrid smell seeped from their apartments for weeks. This was made worse by the brilliant super of the building's misguided notion that sprinkling powdered laundry detergent outside each apartment's door would neutralize the bad smell. To this day, the smell of laundry detergent nauseates me because in my mind I mix in the scent of decaying flesh.
But I'm back, this old "war wagon" didn't succumb. Made it through this winter. Just barely — my battery went dead on some of the coldest days. And I survived a scare this recent Easter weekend.... Between midnight and 1 a.m. Easter morning someone called the city on me and said I was leaking gasoline. Four fire trucks, three police cars and a dozen cops surrounded me for awhile and then left when they couldn't figure out what to issue me a citation for. Nice. Where are they when the weekend kids are puking on the sidewalks and pissing next to my wheels? And who turned me in? Sure, I leak a little brake fluid and oil and maybe even gasoline on occasion. I'm a senior citizen for Christ's sake! What do they want me to wear, a metal diaper? I still have my pride, you know! Was it the guy who bought the refurbished apartment for $5 million toward the end of the block? Or someo eco-friendly nut worried about my carbon footprint on the environment — that ship's sailed already, pal! Yeah, I'm still here. But not for much longer. Soon the sweet scent of the black locust trees flowering in the cemetery will permeate the air. I'll wait around till then. Then I'm going to go. But I'm going on my own terms...