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Thank You. For Whatever Comes.

I ran upstairs because I’d heard the fight was already over.  As part of my ongoing effort to get my friend James into sports I had jotted this down on a post-it before I hit the project-concrete stairs of our dorm room at Willoughby:

“Tyson knocked him out in 93 seconds!  93!”

OK it was really 91.  But I’d been listening to WFAN and they were apparently pretty excited about it too.  I made it the 6 floors up (not trusting the “hellavator”) and stuck the note to James’ door, under the 804 number.  None of us had TVs except for Lewis Greene and Myra Rivera, and he only let us watch Redskins games (including the Super Bowl); and unfortunately this didn’t happen often because we all lived in Brooklyn.

It was late June of 1988 and most of the Pratt kids (including my buddy Stuart, who was appearing in a self-produced one man performance called “Baked in Basking Ridge”) had gone home for the summer.  There were a few stragglers; boys and girls doing work study, some summer classes.  James, Jordan and myself.  And like I said, some girls.  Like Sue.

We three lads were from Miami;  Jordan and James were two of those rare (they always say, but it’s not really true) Miami natives while I was a transplant from LA, from some years before.  Jordan was from a pretty well off family in Coconut Grove, a tony, palmy section of south Miami.  His Dad was a collector of Toby Jugs and hundreds-of-years-old British Naval uniforms.  And homemade porn movies (I know the last bit because he actually asked Jordan to appear in a couple).

Jordan was like a slightly cooler but equally disenchanted version of Cameron from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”  He had a certain look, a fifties swagger and a pompadour which made him look older than his 20 years.  As far as centers of gravities go, he was a little bottom heavy, not overweight really, but he just kind of scraped along when he walked, leg heavy I guess.  He considered himself to be a hard luck case, after all his Dad had once slept with his girlfriend.  His dad Dickie had said, “Don’t cry, you shouldn’t have brought her home son!”

James was half Guatemalan and half Gringo Floridian.  We’d gone to the same high school, where he was a chess playing ultra-nerd who would gleefully strong arm past you to get to the front of the lunch line – like he was in the roller derby.  A nerd, but a big guy who was fluently bilingual and I always respected that.  Hanging around with him I always felt closer to home, though I always claimed to hate Miami.  James may have loved chess but was apathetic about any sports.  I never understood that about him and tried to lobby an interest as long as I knew him.

I was a generally perky, lanky 21 year old and I considered myself to be kind of like Andy Warhol, watching with amusement and just going along for the ride.  But I didn’t do enough art.  I was kind of the diplomatic observer operating under a non-interference rule.

We were bored and disaffected in the nearly empty 18-story Pratt dorm we all called Willoughby, after the street it was on.  We’d make nearly daily trips past the post office to the beer distributors on Murder (Myrtle) Avenue.  It was already muggy (like our bad neighborhood, get it?) and the cicadas, like us, were also all abuzz.

We all had work study; I worked as a secretary in the nurse’s office where, ironically, I was the only patient seen all summer.  A couple of weeks before I’d dropped a 1960’s era typewriter on my right foot, and it swelled so fast I had to untie my shoe so it could finish swelling.  James worked in the photography studio doing nearly nothing and Jordan filed transcripts for somebody upstairs somewhere.

We had no inspiration and didn’t even know if we wanted to stick around at that school (within a year it turned out we were all gone from there).  Jordan worshipped Elvis Presley but it was James who kept Elvis’ hours, sleeping all day and getting up around four.  James’ absence left some quality hang out time for me and Jordan.

During the week I obeyed the Manhattan thrift and record store rotation that Jordan had in place.  I guess I didn’t have anything else to do.  And it was fun to watch Jordan get angry when he couldn’t find the record he was hunting, like a first pressing of Elvis’ “Blue Hawaii.”  Hanging out with a committed Elvis-phile all summer had its effects on me that last to this day.  I still remember lyrics like “Eato eats all the night and the day” and “Queenie Wahini’s papaya ranks higher,” you know, weird little fragments like that.

“ Joooorrrrdaaaaaaannnnn!!!!!!!!!!”

We’d hit the used record stores in the West Village, sifting, sifting, sifting through yellowing rows of 33s and 78s.  Occasionally he’d break down and also buy a CD.  I’d sometimes pick up an old movie magazine and we’d go home to the dorm and go over our winnings.

During the weekend we went to the wonderful and (unfortunately nowadays long gone) flea market on 6th Avenue, between 26th and 28th Streets.  We’d stay there, powersifting until sunburned and head home to Brooklyn and the cicadas, sometimes trying to rouse James from his crypt.

When James did get up he and I would enjoy a little crossover time before I got too tired and called it a night.  Before that though, invariably, the three of us would break out cigars and smoke them on the balcony of 812, running an old Elvis or Marilyn movie on Jordan’s beat up VCR (and Myra’s borrowed TV).  While I went downstairs to my 2nd floor room and to bed, James and Jordan would usually settle in with Axis and Allies, a board (bored) game I showed neither the patience nor the aptitude for.

Anytime James got up early it just messed up our little system and weird things would sometimes happen; like when he and Jordan were chased out of the A&P on Murder Ave. by a guy in a white muumuu, brandishing a box cutter.  Jordan had held eye contact with a stranger a little too long (a no-no in ‘80’s Brooklyn) and then gave him the finger (a no-no in any-era Brooklyn).  So we usually stuck with the program and let James sleep.

This was our pattern that summer of ‘88, irregular sleep and irregular work.  Irregular thrifting and game play.  But regular drinking and smoking.  We rarely talked to anyone else and lived in our cocoon of auto-coolness, unfazed but also unchallenged.  We were indeed uninspired.  Until, that is, Jordan fell in “love.”

Sue was one of the stragglers zombieing around Pratt that summer.  She was cute in a compact mousy way.  Even in the heat she always wore a little down vest, like she was expecting any moment to hop onto a ski lift; and Jordan had been watching this little snow bunny all summer with growing interest.

He followed her to the library and to the Activities Resource Center (the ARC) where she would take her daily jog around the little indoor track.  She never saw him scrape/swaggering along after her and he never sped up and spoke to her.  With mounting angst he would pour his heart out to James and me.  He called her his “little girl” and spoke hammily yet poetically about her.  He said it was unrequited love.  It was unrequited….something.

He was keeping James awake after (before?) his regular hours and cancelling trips to Golden Oldies Records on Bleecker Street.  One day he just flung open his 8th floor window and bellowed, “Suuuuuueeeeeee!!!!!” for all the neighborhood to hear (a gun probably fired somewhere in response).

Then again, “SUUUUUUEEEEEEEE!!!!!!”  This was getting out of hand; James and I knew we had to help.  OK, I knew James had to help; I just watched and obeyed my own Prime Directive, remember?

James read a lot of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and was just finishing up his umpteenth reading of “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”  He considered himself to be quite a romantic.  He then birthed an idea, a notion.  Since Jordan couldn’t or wouldn’t talk to Sue he would have to write her a note.  “Like Zorro or something,” James promised.

“Tease her, make her wonder who this mysterious suitor could be,” James insisted.  “It couldn’t be one note, it had to be a series of notes, no wait…. one note.  No wait, a two part note, like a cliffhanger!”  I watched this, sipping on my Bartles and Jaymes Berry and puffing a stogie.  I knew it was a dumb idea but I also knew that I couldn’t get involved.  Anyway, this could be fun to watch.

James then decided it couldn’t be a long note, she might get bored.  “Let’s do one sentence and rip it in half!”

“Huh?!” fell out of me.

But Jordan was buying; he’d been drinking bourbon and was at his most desperate and susceptible.  They composed a sentence, “Thank you for whatever comes.”  They ripped it in half in between the words ‘you’ and ‘for’ – leaving as part one, the most succinct ‘thank you’ note ever written.  The note made less sense separated than together, and very little sense together.

Keep in mind that we were all between 20 and 22 years old by this point, this was not the flounderings of mere 14 year-olds.

James delivered the note to her one day at the ARC.  She kind of shrugged.  James told Jordan she seemed “in-trigued!”  To this day I wonder if James was just fucking with him.  I mean, c’mon, he had to be, right?!

The next day (after a night of J and J’s speculating over Sue’s tortured curiosity over this ‘thankful’ stranger) came the thrilling denouement to this missive when James delivered “for whatever comes” to Sue at, again, the ARC (she had her summer pattern just like we did).  Sue, that day, probably kicked off the WTF era when she uttered “What the fuck?!”  James returned to the dorm and dutifully informed Jordan that she was “Cap-tivated!”  (James always drew out his syllables in those days.)

Days passed, Sue never swooned; neither did she introduce herself to Jordan nor ask about this cap-tivating Zorro wannabe.   Jordan’s anger and frustration mounted, he flung open his dorm room window one night and replaced his usual bellow of pain (that had a name) with “Whhhhyyyyyyy???!!!”  Why indeed.  He had a transfer to Cal Arts in the works, and had imagined Sue might want to come out to California with him (remember this key fact now, we’re 20-somethings).  His final cry turned into a kind of catharsis and he slowly improved and claimed to put the idea of Sue behind him.

His old dream a shambles, Jordan concentrated on his move out to Valencia.  It was a week after Jordan left town that I left that boxing note on James door (he didn’t care, as usual).  I trudged back to my dorm and waited out the summer while James started thinking about the Marine Corps (he was in about a year later).  We could have all stayed in that hazy nicotine stasis indefinitely if we didn’t find some kind of motivation elsewhere, and we all did.

I worked my work study and hung out with James during his waking hours.  He later moved out of the dorm to get more sleep.  A couple of times we called Jordan to check in, he didn’t seem to really remember a “Sue.”  The summer tapered off and kids stopped their zombie walks among the summer insects and started walking faster, focusing on matriculation.  More people and their parents started showing up.  Stuart came back; I was glad to see him but knew his presence marked the true end of our summer (and the re-emergence of tie-dye).

One day a week before classes started my returning friend Donna (also from Miami) knocked on my dorm room door.  There was yet another Miamian (we Miamians apparently got only the Pratt brochures) starting classes with us and she was standing there with Donna, shyly wondering if she could leave her bags with me while they prepared her dorm room a couple of days hence.

It was then and there that my just-observer status ended and I met the love of my life and my wife Isabelle.  But hold your horses, that sounds like another story for another time.

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