Yesterday, I called a taxi to take me to the train station. I was coming back to New York. The taxi arrived. Typical small-town taxi driver: an old-timer with a nose with big pores, slicked-back gray hair and glasses. This guy was big, though, a big old-timer. We had a 20-minute ride together. He started in right away. I knew we were going to talk the whole ride. "How long you been living here, kid?" he asked.
"My whole life."
"Your whole life?"
"Well, I don't live here now, but I was raised here. My parents have been here since 1960."
"I've been here longer than that."
"When did you move here?"
"This used to be a dirt road, right? That's what my parents said."
"Oh, yeah, it was dirt. And in that empty field you used to be able to get the best steak sandwiches. Huber's Tavern."
"I never knew there was a bar there."
"Oh, yeah it burned down in '48, '49... What's your name? I probably know your parents if they been here since '60."
"I don't know Ames... Ames... No don't know it. I know almost everybody, too."
"I bet you know my father. He used to be a special cop in the 70s. Irwin Ames."
"Oh, yeah, that's right. I know him. I remember him. He smokes a cigar. I'll tell you a funny story about your father."
"It was that time that Jew-bastard Greenberg was shot. That gangster. And your father was on as a special and he calls into the station, him and this other special. And I was at the station because my brother was on the force. So your father calls in and says, 'If we catch the guy, what do we do?' All the cops laughed. If you catch the guy, you stop him and hold him, what else? But I could understand your father asking that. Who wants to try to catch a Mafia guy? The instinct is to walk the other way. Nobody caught that shooter."
Jew-bastard. It always was an anti-Semitic town. I remember this boy across the street pulled my older sister's hair and said, "Where are your horns? Where are your horns?" She came running home, crying. And the same kid once led a whole group of neighborhood boys in trying to pull my sister's panties off and they were calling her a "Jew-girl." And I couldn't do anything. I felt like a coward, but they were all older boys. I think I shouted out meekly, "Cut it out." But she was pretty strong and fought them off. Then in school, I sometimes got pennies thrown at me in the hallway, and this happened to the other Jewish kids too; there were only a handful of us. But you never saw who threw the pennies. And one time, this tough kid in gym class when we were alone for a few minutes, no teachers in sight, slammed me against a wall and said, "You fucking Jew." For years, I fantasized about beating him up. Never did. By high school, the anti-Semitic stuff more or less disappeared. I think the Holocaust movie with Meryl Streep played on tv and it was almost as big as Roots.
But then later in life people often didn't know that I was Jewish and they'd make remarks to me. In college at a fencing tournament, this guy from another school, a fellow fencer, who I thought was a friend, pointed out this tournament official and said, "Look at that ugly Jew, you know he cheats." And a new friend at Princeton said to me once, "Some people are so Jewish, it's so unattractive." And I never say anything when these remarks are made. I'm shocked at first and then I don't feel anything. No outrage. I just sort of detach and the person doesn't really exist for me anymore. Or rather I simply don't trust the person, and when you don't trust someone it's like they don't exist.
So the taxi driver said Jew-bastard, and after I recoiled a moment, I was trying to remember who he was talking about, who was shot and then it came to me. It was this man, this member of our shul, his daughter was in my Hebrew school class. She was beautiful but strange. And nobody knew where her father got his money from?they lived in the rich part of town, which was the new part of town. It was a development of these big ugly modern wooden houses with indoor pools that looked like vulgar oversized bathtubs. And one day the man, Greenwald, not Greenberg like the taxi driver said, was shot in his driveway taking out his garbage. But he wasn't killed. He took a few bullets, but he had a big belly and pulled through. And after he pulled through he and his family left town. We heard they ended up in Texas.
"What kind of work did you used to do?" I asked the driver, curious about him, curious about an old-timer who still said things like Jew-bastard.
"Construction my whole life. Built over 200 houses in this town... but I used to be a special cop, too, in the late 50s. I liked it, it was good. You took a guy and put him in the back seat and punched him in the mouth and then took him to the county jail. And that was that, and they deserved it. They were all hoodlums. But I stopped being a special when they took the rubber hoses away. We'd lock a guy up and beat him with a rubber hose. They were hoodlums. But you couldn't get away with that nowadays. Too many rules... What do you do?"
"I'm a writer."
"Yes, I write a column for a weekly paper. It's on my adventures."
"Well, maybe you'll write about me, an old taxi driver."
"Where'd you go to school to be a writer?"
"Well, that's not too hard to take. Princeton."
After that he started talking about politics and Bill Bradley, the Princetonian. The taxi driver told me he figured he was becoming a communist toward the end of his life, because he didn't like the Democrats or the Republicans. He went on pretty good. Then as we approached the train station, I wondered if he was starting to remember that my father was a Jew because all of a sudden he said, "So you're a writer, but I bet your father wanted you to be a doctor." A doctor. That for me was the clue that some other memory of my father had sparked in his brain.
"Maybe, but it worked out because my sister is a doctor."
"Really. A doctor! Where'd she go to school?"
"For her medical degree, Tufts."
"And where is she a doctor, still in Boston?"
"No. Los Angeles."
"See, they get that good East Coast education and then they waste it on those West Coast liberals. What a shame."
With that we pulled into the train station and his cell-phone rang. He had a client to pick up. He whispered to me, "$20." I gave him $25, a good tip, even though he said what he said. I used to drive a taxi.
I took the train into the city. I got to my apartment, cleaned myself up and then went to give a reading. It didn't go over so well, I felt, but I did the best I could. Some kind audience member, this man, told me that he had come all the way from Philadelphia to hear me read and I felt terrible that I had let the guy down. He probably was happy enough with it, but I felt like I didn't give him a good show.
After the reading, I went out to dinner with a friend and I couldn't shake the lousy mood I had gotten into. So then it was home and into bed. I read some Wodehouse to console myself. The Wodehouse worked a little, but didn't turn the whole trick. So around midnight I called my friend Patrick Bucklew. He always cheers me up. You already know him as the Mangina, but just to review: Bucklew is a great painter, the Gaugin of Franklin St.; he's an amputee, missing his left leg; he's a nudist and an exhibitionist, which is a little bit better than being a flasher, but it's close; he got on Howard Stern's show to promote the Mangina but Stern was mostly interested in him as an amputee; he's very dear to me.
"Hey, Patrick. How are you?"
"Good. How'd your reading go tonight?"
"Not so well. I'm kind of down... What have you been up to?" We hadn't spoken in a while because I've been out of town so much. "Have you had any good adventures?" I asked. Patrick likes to tell me his stories.
"Oh, yeah several. Let's see. Well, you know I was in Seattle to visit my family and my father put me up in this fancy hotel. He knows I like hotel rooms. And I was in this jacuzzi in the hotel with this really obese man, 300 pounds, and his son and his daughter. The daughter was pretty. She was touching her breasts. It got me aroused. Then the father got out of the jacuzzi. And the girl kept touching her breasts, so I put my penis against the jets, but at an angle so she wouldn't know. That's how I had my first orgasm as a kid, you know, against the jets in a pool."
"You were all wearing bathing suits?"
"How old was the girl?"
"Sixteen. But very mature. In Europe she'd almost be legal. And she was flirting with me. Playing footsie with me."
"With your good foot, I presume."
"Yeah... Then the father came back in and almost washed all the water out, he's so big. I thought he'd see that I had this erection against the jets because of his daughter, but he didn't notice. That was a close one. I'm surprised I've never been arrested."
"Getting an erection in a jacuzzi isn't illegal."
"I know but I'm getting so horny I'm paranoid. It's been a year since I've had sex. The Mangina hasn't brought me any luck... But I had a nice time at Fire Island this weekend. I went to the nude beach and parked myself right next to these two cute girls. They were overweight but cute. And I kept getting erections and they'd look at it, they didn't mind at all. But then I started getting blue balls, you know, from so many erections. Because it was going up and down. We were talking and it would be down and then go up. They were very cute. But the blue balls were really hurting. So I went into the water and floated out and masturbated."
"You masturbated in the ocean?"
"Yes. It was beautiful. Transcendent. But I floated pretty far out so nobody would know. But then I felt guilty coming in, thinking that the sperm might wash up on somebody and they'd be like, What's this? And then when I was sitting with the girls again I started getting hard-ons again even though I had masturbated in the ocean."
"Did anything happen with these girls?"
"No they left at four o'clock, said good-bye, nice meeting you, that's all. Then I left and I saw this woman on the beach. I never told you about her. I met her on the Internet. She wants me to make a Mangina molded from her own vagina."
"She wants to wear a Mangina over her real vagina."
"Wow, a lot of water-related adventures?the jacuzzi and the ocean. That's interesting."
"I forgot to tell you, on the train ride out to Fire Island, I had an experience."
"Jeez, you're getting into trouble everywhere."
"It was a new train and the windows are all shiny and this girl in front of me could look in the window and see my reflection. She could see it."
"What do you mean? Were you wearing shorts and showing your testicles again?"
"No, I don't do that any more. I was wearing these tight Speedo shorts and you can see the whole outline of my penis. But because she was only looking at the reflection, I didn't feel so bad because it was fourth-dimensional, and being on a train?being neither here nor there?that's kind of fourth-dimensional, too. It's not like showing it to her directly."
"What dimension do we live in?"
"The third dimension. Photography and painting, flat art, are two-dimensional."
"So you're changing your m.o. No more shorts and exposed testicles. Speedos."
"I should have showed her my testicles, because I got them waxed. They look nice. I got them waxed, you know, for when I wear the Mangina."
Bucklew uses his testes as labia in the Mangina, so they look best if they're hairless. "Where'd you get waxed?"
"Took me forever to find this place, it's on 1st Ave. I went to five or six places, asking, 'Do you do bikini waxing for men?' They all yell at me wherever I go. They hate me in these nail salons. I really am sick. But then this one woman said she would do it for $20. We went into the back of her shop. 'Okay, take it off,' she said. She's Korean. So I stripped and she said, 'Time to clean the dungeon.' I just had her wax around the edges, the balls, and the area between the anus and the balls, but sometimes the paper got stuck to the head of my penis."
"Did it hurt?"
"Yeah, but it felt good too. I deserve to be punished. For $20, it's incredible. You get all that attention, a woman paying attention to your pubic zone. She asked me if I wanted a pedicure and a manicure, I said no, 'Just bikini waxing.' I'm definitely going back. I got hard-ons. That's why the wax paper got stuck to the head."
"Did she say anything about the hard-ons? Did she grab it and yank it?"
"No she just looked at it. This is my sex life, getting waxed for $20. But it's not bad... The one other time I did it, at this other place, the woman put a towel over my penis so she wouldn't have to look at it. Then I came back a week later for a touch-up, even though no hair came back and they told me to get out."
"You tipped them off that you liked it for more than just the waxing."
"Do you have a performance coming up with the Mangina that you got waxed? I'll come see you."
"No performances. I just wanted the attention."
"It's all right. Something good will happen to me some day."
Soon after that we hung up and we both went to sleep. In the third dimension.