Monday, December 29, 2008

Eye for an Eye

The ways of the Creator are not our ways, Mr Deasy said. All history moves towards one great goal, the manifestation of God.
Stephen jerked his thumb towards the window, saying:
That is God.
Hooray! Ay! Whrrwhee!
What? Mr Deasy asked.
A shout in the street, Stephen answered, shrugging his shoulders.
-- James Joyce, Ulysses

The clatter of feet, the hissing radiators, the bang of the teacher's bag on the desk...I remember this much of Brooklyn's PS 99. I remember the red door and short, black picket fence, the cloakroom, where we put our wet slickers on hangars and stood our rubber boots in neat rows, and the shelf where those of us lucky enough to have a lunch put up our colorful pails for the noon hour.

I don't remember much about second grade, but I remember that my best friend was also named Gary and that we came as a matched set of 1950s boys, with our wool shirts and bluejeans with the legs turned up in three or four inch cuffs that were called "buckets". We wore matching crew-cuts with the front of our hair held up in a ridge with pink "butch wax" and the backs scalped so closely that you could spot all the imperfections of the skull where the plates came together like continents of a living globe.

Not only did we look alike, my namesake and I prided ourselves in forging an alliance against "the others", the non-Garys. But that December in our second grade -- if only for a few days -- our friendship was cleaved by fate. We were in Prospect Park, a sprawling 585-acre playland with a skating rink, zoo, and forest designed by the same landscape architect who masterminded New York's Central Park across the river.

I can't recall the other rider, perhaps she was Gary's sister, or another friend. We were lined up on a toboggan atop one of the parks rolling hills, with a wide expanse below. Gary sat in front, the girl tucked in behind him, and I sat in the rear. With a rush we were off, the landscape spinning by on each side beyond the roostertails of spraying snow.

I didn't see the park bench, even at the moment the girl ducked out of the way. Gary must have ducked first, because I was the only one to take the full stopping force of the concrete in my face.

The next day at PS 99 the shiner under my right eye was the talk of the class. I had gotten it in a fight. I had been hit by a mugger. I wish I could have come up with a number of less humiliating explanations. My teacher and classmates referred to me as Gary with the Eye. The other Gary laughed at me along with the others. As far I as was concerned, we were no longer a matched set. He was one of them.

A day or two passed that way. I guess, finally, it bugged him. Gary came to see me after class.

Our family lived near the corner of 13th Street and Avenue M.-- a few short blocks from PS 99. We rented the top half of a duplex. The kitchen had black and white checkerboard tiles on the floor and a red Formica table with matching chairs. Visitors had to ring an outside bell to get into the foyer, then climb a long flight of stairs with a hardwood banister to reach the landing.

On judgment day, my friend Gary rang the bell, raced in from the December chill, and smacked headlong into the banister. His shiner, quite naturally, welled up under the right eye. And when we returned to PS 99 the following morning, we were twins again.


tangobaby said...

First you make me cry at work, and then you make me burst out laughing. People are going to think I'm crazy, or that I'm not working.


Gary with the Eye, what can I say? You are a storyteller extraordinaire. And when you become the next NPR star, I am going to say I knew you when.

ps. Now you make me want to rent Stand By Me.

Gabby said...

The weirdest part, for me, is that these stories (at least as I remember them) are true. I don't think I've had an unusual life, but I do remember some bizarre stuff. =0)