Saturday, April 14, 2007

Circassian love story

Mr. Gorman was an older man who lived across the hall from us in 6D. He was Irish and kindly. His sister, Miss Gorman, lived there, too. He looked at me – 14 and as WASPy as they got – one afternoon downstairs when I was surrounded by a group of young black men in the vestibule of our building at 96th and Madison.

“Everything OK?” he asked.

For some bizarre reason, I said, “Yes.” Everything was not.

Ten minutes earlier I had trippingly left the apartment carrying a dollar’s worth of change and was on a mission to go around the corner to the stationery store, run by a round-face Korean man, from whom I regularly bought Mad Magazines and all my candy. I bounded out the interior locked door – a wrought iron job with glass behind it – down the first three steps and across the 10-foot vestibule floor, out the exterior door – another wrought iron barrier, this one unlocked – and down three more concrete stairs to the pavement and the savage New York City streets. Our building was a pre-war, no-doorman building. It was definitely Upper East Side, but we lived on a socioeconomic border: one street up a girl had been kidnapped and held for three days before being released. I would not walk down that street or any others to the north. I couldn’t tell you what they looked like.

Outside, I was met by a group of teenagers and adolescents who were looking for me. Or someone like me. Anybody like me, with a dollar or two or ten.

They surrounded me and said something probing like, “Got any money?!”

I probably lied. No.

Moments later, a black man in his thirties who was passing by stopped and, surveying a known situation, told the kids to disperse. My black Good Samaritan. Stopping to assist the Jew in distress.

I continued around the block and sought my objective, cinnamon Dynamints. You remember those, don’t you? Like Tic Tacs, only…different. Apparently, not different enough, because they’re not sold anymore.

Back at my front door, I looked to the right and left. Coast was clear. I entered the vestibule, a 10-foot square room with a covered steam heater on the right side and those three steps leading up to the interior locked door. I reached that interior door and – blimey – out of nowhere those kids were around me and grabbed me as I was entering the lobby. They pulled me back to the top step, and that’s when Mr. Gorman came in with a bag of groceries.

We had our verbal exchange, he looking over the kids. For the life of me, I don’t know why I didn’t say something. Pride? Who knows. As soon as Mr. Gorman entered the elevator at the end of the lobby and its door closed, three kids grabbed my arm and threw me down the stairs.

One kicked me in the mouth, and I felt my lip crack open. They were punching, kicking.

“Give us your money!” one yelled.

“I told you, I don’t have money! All I have is Dynamints!”

They stopped kicking and – I tell you the truth, Dear Reader – one said, “What flavor?”

“Cinnamon,” I returned weakly, and handed them to him.

“Aw,” said another. “Give the kid his candy.” And they threw the mints onto my chest and left.

All right. Somebody had had some fun here, but it wasn’t me.

I went upstairs to 2D, where Mom and Dad were having drinks with Mrs. Natirbov. She was Circassian, in her 70s with deep-set eyes and a 2-inch bulging tumor thing on her palm near her right thumb so it was freaky to shake hands. She was Muslim, played poker, smoked cigars, and once said to my parents, “Send down your boys. I want to tell them Russian cowboy stories.”

She met me at the door and her eyes bugged out at the blood issuing from my face. I went into her living room and recounted to the three horrified adults what had happened. Yeah, I told them, I got my a** kicked (I didn’t use the a-word); yeah, there were ten of them, maybe fifty, I’m not sure.

I felt kind of manly, truth be told.

Eighteen years later I learned that Mrs. Natirbov’s son went to college with my future father-in-law.

photo: charcoa1

1 comment:

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