I was a non-emergent young playwright living a solitary existence on 139th Street and Lenox in Harlem, the same street Aaron Douglas lived on when he moved to New York City from Kansas. Douglas, coincidentally, had been born in the same town, gone to the same high school and had been ignored by the very same Capital City. The comparisons stop there. It’s a small world. These things are bound to occur, especially under the canopy of New York City where chance meetings and fateful run-ins are a daily occurrence if you only step out on the street and walk into it, blissfully unaware.

It seems to me that the chances of running into someone in New York City are greater than those of running into someone in that aforementioned Capital City, just as the chances are greater that I would run into someone while backpacking through Europe, or on a mission to the moon. Because the larger a space and the further away you traverse from “home,” the smaller the world, the universe, the galaxy becomes and these chances of running into someone, anyone, that could irrevocably change your life are always 50/50.

But, I’m awful at math.

And I’m great at bullshit.

This is what I kept considering (ruminating over) as I walked through the Aaron Douglas exhibit at the Harlem library. I had gone to the library to use their Internet services, since mooching off wireless signals in my tall rise low-income housing box-top had become impossible.

Unsecured networks had become secured.

My life as a naïve hacker had been put to an end.

The Harlem library graciously allowed for 45 minutes of daily computer use and I took advantage of that time to check my e-mail: repeatedly hitting refresh in my Gmail box for 45 minutes, over and over, to see if there was word from anyone in the city, in the country, in the world who would want to produce this non-emergent young playwright’s work.

No body.

Now, I had seen Douglas’ work before. In fact, if recollection serves me well (and I must be honest, it often does not), there’s a suggestive mural in that Capital City paying homage to him. I would have to return to make sure it was his and not a floppy copy. Although I’m sure it is a copy. Mid-western towns have a hard time recognizing those who leave and make well for themselves elsewhere. There’s a sort of bitterness that comes from not getting out, which I can appreciate to a certain extent – that is, I can appreciate up to the point that I got out.

New York is full of mid-westerners. We all put on a front of furrowed brows and tight lips until someone says, “You’re from Kansas? Oh I’m from Nebraska.” And then it’s all hokely-dokely doo da day!

“Remember the flatness?”

How could I forget?

“Remember the insane good behavior?”

Do I ever!

“Remember ma and pa?”

I do. They had to sell the farm. Old Wall Street is hitting Main Street don’t you know.

“Gee golly.”

We pull out our hidden pair of spoons, allow our jaws to release, reveal our disgusting overbite, and we play into the night.

I had been told that there is a right of passage to living in New York—consists of either getting mugged, getting the tar beaten out of you, or a combination set of both. (Like getting the California roll and the Phoenix Dragon roll). My curious right of passage took place in late August just as I walked over the Madison Ave. Bridge on 138th street, about to pass the 5th Avenue Deli, when a group of thugs began taunting me from a distance saying, “There he is! It’s that guy! It’s that guy! That guy!” It was 2 a.m. on a Friday (a Friday? Yes. A Friday.) and I was sincerely drunk. I picked up my wobbling pace, headed towards the corner that would lead to a sharp left, then another 50 quick paces would bring me to my tall-rise low income housing box-top.

But before I knew what was happening I was on the ground, knocked out by a flying bottle of Jack Daniels—but first, yes, let us get something straight here. This is a picaresque tale. One of rag to riches and back to rags again. Bildungsroman as they said back at the University. (We rarely account for the fact that the whole damned thing, regardless of class, instinct, color, creed, sexual preference, or persuasion to violence, turns back in on itself and becomes the beginning again. (Well, I’m glad I shared that then…) Knocked to the ground by a flying bottle of Jack Daniels. I stood up wobbly-goobly Cracker and humbly bowed down to my attackers, as if to say, “I don’t. I didn’t. I won’t. Forgive me.” I wobbly-goobled my way back to my tall-rise low income housing box-top and fumbled for my key fob, afraid that one of the thugs was closing in on me.

Perhaps they had noticed my black rimmed plastic glasses and thought they could melt them down and recycle for a few extra nickels and dimes (folks are real aware of our environment these days, even thugs!). Or they saw my bulging pockets and mistook my allergy ridden napkin wipes for wads of cash. Mr. Money Maker on the Mark.

Either way, they were messing with the wrong guy.

They were messing with me.

And I’m a sensitive sort of fellow.

Back in my one bedroom apartment, which I shared, a partitioned area of the “TV room.” Eight feet by four feet, a bed, drawers, my desk and a blanket nailed to the wall in the rare case that I might bring a female home to grope.

I fell into my bed, already feeling hung over and told myself to stay awake as I might die if I had a concussion (isn’t that what they say? Doctors say that. So do mothers and fathers. I think a teacher said it too.). At the thought of this, I took four of my clonozeepoopoo and knocked myself off. Most nights I don’t know if I’ll wake up. But trust me, it’s worth the sleep.

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© 2009

Brighton Beach Baby Pt. 1

Adam R. Burnett