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(I Left My Tart in San Francisco)


("I Left My Tart in San Francisco")

by Bryan Adrian

drawing by Biliana Kraptcheva

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by Bryan Adrian

I couldn't get over the feel of her neck in my hands. It was smooth. On the backside little hairs stood up bristly hard. She was scared.

These tarts in the dregs of Billyburg are an unscrupulous lot. None of them could bring me the happiness I had known in San Francisco. Perhaps that's why this Dominican hooker lay dead now at my feet. She wasn't nice and didn't pretend to be. Business was her only game. Drugs, stolen credit cards, flesh ... whichever paid best for the night.

Any Yellow Cab driver could see she was destined to sell herself short sometime soon on a night no different than this one. But that was three days ago. When they found her body it was not a pretty sight. Bulging eyes and knotted tongue.

It all happened very matter of factly. I had just finished speaking on the phone with my beloved San Francisco sweet tart. The air was rank coming in through the double-fisted size window of my Williamsburg hovel. The customary sunny airs of my San Francisco sweet tart turned stale when I told her that Billyburg would be my home for some months longer. I honestly thought she would begin cursing at me in Greek, her native tongue. She had been acting peevish ever since the first time I had extended my stay here in NYC telling her "be patient baby, it's only a matter of time before I'm discovered." Now she was outright sarcastic upon receiving word that I was making my seventh or eighth extension of time spent here, even perhaps wasted time.

"You won't recognize me or my place when you finally get back!" she admonished.

"There have been lots of changes. New faces hang around my apartment ... always," she warned me.

After hearing this, my whole life was hungover. I needed a drink or a unicorn's horn. I slammed the door behind me and walked towards Cokies to kick back several shots at the corner coke club there.

Just a few late afternoon alcoholics were inside killing time and lines when I arrived. I parked myself on a stool and drained down five or six shots pretty quickly. A Dominican hooker, local Billyburg girl, strode into the bar very hastily. She had bee stung lips and a bust that was too large for her strained cotton tee shirt. There was an empty bar stool next to me and she sat on it. You can imagine how she straddled it. I could smell the crack vapors in her hair.

Very abruptly, she ordered a gin from the bartender. Her hand steadied after she drained a few more of the same. The cocaine glazing her lungs and doing the butterfly kick in her veins found the booze a compatible associate.

"What are you looking at rat ass?"

I didn't want to reply and hoped that she was addressing one of the other guys, preferably someone stinking drunk. I knew I was still hours away from reaching that blissful destination.

"Hey, I'm talking to you blockhead ... you a sordo?

"Look lady ... lay off. Don't make my day any worse."

"Maybe I got something make it better baby."

I looked her over without violating any civil rights and decided she could give me plenty of something. Physical harm, bad drugs, unwanted attention, and a bramble bush of venereal viruses as a going away gift.

"Don't think so chica," I replied. "Try that gent over there. He waits for action every evening and gets nothing. That's his special recipe for staying harmless."

"What? You jokin. He's queer. Just sits there all night and acts straight. He ain't worth nothin to me! He don't like crack. Not the banana oil tasting crack, the cement fragrante crack, not the urine streaked crack that looks like marble, you know what I mean? He's a waste of time!"

I shrugged my shoulders and tried to remember how my girl looked the last time I saw her doing her belly dance act in San Francisco's North Beach. Damned good. Hell, did I miss her.

Smoke from the many lonely guys smoking away on their cigarettes began to undulate in the middle layer of air swirling around the bar's interior. This place made my crappy little Bedford Avenue studio rate almost as high in fresh air as a state-or-the-art respiration machine for asthmatics. I stubbed out my cigarette and with it any notion of dancing with my sweet tart anytime soon.

"You said something about streaked marble rock?" I queried.

"Yeah," she said cool and confidently. "I got anything you want."

"All I want is rock crack, a good stem, and a full torch. No surprises. No sex."

She picked at her bright red nail polish and removed a patch of ground-in ash.

"Alright alright I heard ya. You don't have to spell it out for me. I read these Williamsburg streets fucking day in and day out."

I tipped the bartender and signaled to him that the hooker's last couple of unpaid drinks were not in any way my concern. He's a quick bartender and waited patiently while his streetwise customer counted out enough change from the bottom of her purse to pay her tab. The hooker now had money on her mind and very little else.

"You gonna sit there and suck down whiskey all night or ya gonna follow me and wrap your face around something much stronger than sex or bourbon?"

I answered her by getting up and leaving and following along side of her through unknown parts of Williamsburg. This was her turf. This part of greater NYC made the Tenderloin back home look like a putt-putt golf course.

"Act cool white boy. We're going in there," she said and pointed to a hulk of a building.

I looked up at a red brick four-story tenement structure a few doors away from Black Betty's, with most of its windows boarded up. Many people had recently been forced to move out of here. The criminal rents and Hassidic landlords had long ago established themselves as fine Williamsburg traditions.

In addition to that, as luck would have it, several nice college girls seeking crack as a new thrill, hopefully bigger a jolt than sitting around Pete's Candy Store, recently had their teeth punched out by thugs in these shadows. Those new twenty-somethings that couldn't hack it in this part of Williamsburg had few other choices --- Redhook, Coney Island, or someplace much less charming way out in the Queens hinterland.

Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between a crack infested building and a newly gentrified yuppie apartment building. Some of the yuppie buildings accentuate the boarded-up look to deter dangerous elements and to make their building exterior look "in" for their friends who came down from Uptown for a quick visit. These are the same people who adore the School of Visual Arts advertisements plastered all over the city on the sides of Plexiglas bus stop shelters and subway overhead advertisements.

We entered the crack venue and felt our way through poorly lit stairwells. Piss streaked the walls and crumbling steps in variations on Jean Michel Basquiat's paintings. Construction workers with bloodshot eyes were busy going up and down the steps in hard hats and tool belts.

"They're working pretty late, aren't they?" I asked flatly to break the cold silence.

"Look Snow White. Them ain't workers, they're crack dealers. We got the cops paid off and this charade is to keep the decent neighbors still living here from bitching all the time to Brooklyn City Hall about what's going on twenty-four hours a day."

"We entered a busted up apartment on the fourth floor. The first thing I see is an ivory white complexioned nurse crying out in her New Jersey accent, "give me more, give me more, just one more hit!" She wasn't wearing her nurse's shoes tonight. I could see blood scabs in the spaces between each one of her toes where she had been shooting up also. The keys to her car were lying on a filthy tabletop and the Rx medallion on the key ring was clear for anybody to see.

She was a switch hitter. First heroin then crack, heroin then crack, then some speedball. "Up and down, kill the clown" I heard her say many times throughout the night. At the time I was trying to act as non-chalantly as I could on a cheap and rickety wooden stool. Just when I started to forget the precarious condition of the stool and was confident that I had my balance a troubling lament dominated all conversations and pierced the air.

"My kids my poor kids. What do I do? I was suppose to take my kids shopping for food and clothes this weekend and every bit of my six hundred bucks went into my high. What the fuck will I do now?"

The nurse sobbed until the drug lord of the house patted her on the shoulder, kissed her cheek softly and generously filled her crack pipe for her "on the house." My chair then collapsed from under my ass.

"Hey boss man, you!" he said to me. "You here to practice stunts or get high man ... huh! Get a hand on this."

I took a brand new stem with a robust shiny and silvery filter from the drug lord's hairy hands without bothering to get up off the floor. Then I sucked on the white plumes of crack for a full twenty seconds. A climax started in my brain and ripped through the rest of my body. This was beyond virtual reality. I was suddenly a woman being fucked by 500 Valentinos. I wanted more.

"Don't get too hungry man, there are many more mouths to feed here."

The drug lord knew his clientele and was a master at manipulating every character flaw ever discovered since the time of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. I gave back the stem and watched it make its rounds. There were several other miscreants here. A stressed out broker from Wall Street walking the wild side, not his first time in these drug warrens; a fat bit actor from several East Village gritty independent films missing a few teeth from falls down flights of stairs in drug tussles; a failed Joyce Theatre dancer who now scrambles around all Manhattan trying to pick up any kind of production assistant work she can find, whenever Hollywood crews are shooting in town; and a cast of predatory drug parasites willing to kowtow to anyone for yet another fleeting high.

"Put some money up fucker, it's party time!" The words crashed against my shoulders.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out a hundred dollar bill. The drug lord was in dealer heaven when he saw the C-note and declared to the rest of the room that the main course for the night would be distributed real soon.

"My man, we gonna take good care of you. The first rock, duke-sized for the man," he announced to the jubilant review board.

He packed the stem with consummate skill. He called it "Almond Roca". It was a rock big enough to get two large work horses high. I drew in on that stem more greedily that a colt on its mother, and then drew and drew and drew. I managed once to tear my eyes from the erotic cloud building up within the stubby glass shaft and take notice of the menacing envy on the faces of every onlooker.

"Hey man! Save some of that for us!" rang loudly from the narcotics starved chorus.

I felt as if I had rocketed up to God and was dancing on his head. Hitler was there too, telling me "don't stop now, TAKE THE WORLD! Each of my toes felt like a penile erection. A second wave of sensation suddenly hit me. It was a mutiny of my organs. They were beating their war drums and planning a major attack on my gut. I felt a surge of bile, a cramping of my stomach, and a choking sensation of oxygen deprivation. The seconds rolled by slowly like an oncoming tidal wave. From my mouth jettisoned a green stream of puke that splattered my comrade consumers.

"Get him out in fresh air and walk him around ... Quick!" commanded the drug lord.

The hooker helped me out into the Billyburg streets. My life in San Francisco reeled swiftly before my eyes. Galileo High, university at San Francisco State, afternoons in Golden Gate Park with my mother, cable cars for a quarter ... shooting pool in Market Street bars, reciting poetry in Mission district coffee houses, swilling Hennessey cognac by the tumbler in the soulful Western Addition. I could feel the tug of the Pacific Ocean carrying me out to sea and hear the fog horns and seagulls beckoning me back to land. I saw the line in front of Saint Anthony's Soup Kitchen and the nuns ladling out huge portions of steaming stew to the downtrodden.

I soon found myself flopped onto a mattress. All surfaces of the room were solid concrete, dark and foul. I was in an abandoned building somewhere in fucking Billyburg. Panic gripped me by the throat. I nearly let out a shriek. At that moment a ghostly luminous face bobbed in the dark with a finger at her lips, reassuring me, "Shhhhh .... sssshhhhhhh. Don't be afraid. Everything will be okay."

It was my sweet tart from San Francisco. She was wearing a cotton summer dress and leather sandals and had flowers in her hair. What magnificent luck! Thank you sweets was all I could murmur over and over. Let's go home, now!

The coarse fingers at my throat were not my sweet tart's. They smelled of chicken grease, cigarettes and gin.

Let me help you get your shirt off ... you're already having a anziety attack man. Too much crack in one pack. Chill out!"

The hooker was savagely removing my shirt from me. I put my palms down flat on the mattress to get some kind of grip on my thoughts as they rushed face first into eternity's belly. Many wet spots stuck to my hands. I wrenched my head to the side and puked again violently. This would be my own contribution to the wet and spotted smorgasbord beneath me. It could perhaps serve one day as a warning to some other idiot who foraged in Williamsburg and found this lost and lonely cul de sac. Perhaps even save his life.

"Now, now. Be a good boy. Let me help you out of your clothes and then you can shake them out when you feel better."

I didn't trust her tone. I could help myself. I was sure she had seen the two other hundred dollar bills in my pant's pocket when I peeled off that big C-note in the crack apartment.

Now she had my pants down around my ankles. Something warm encircled my prick. I looked down and saw red. Her breathing sounded like running bulls snorting furiously in a large Spanish coliseum. Lipstick was sticking to my inner thighs and prick. The hooker was walking my dog, but the dog wanted to sleep. She was determined. I motioned to her to stop as emphatically as I could manage at the time. She continued whistling at her work as she exhaled through her two missing teeth, never missing a stroke. Finally I grabbed her by the hair and tore a shank out by the roots, shouting all the while for her to stop.

"If I stop ... you still ... gonna have to pay ... me," she sputtered between blows.

A fear of death and dead-end alleyways prodded me to try to get her off me in a hurry. I squeezed her neck in my hands, gently at first. As time went by and my efforts were not at all acknowledged, I slowly applied a much more determined and strong ten-fingered clench.

Greek dance rhythms rippled throughout my shoulders and arms. Belly dancers with svelte silky skin swayed their hips to my tempo. Lamb meat sizzled on a pit. My sweet tart spoke softly to me, "come home my dear, it's not too late for San Francisco ... you can find me at Zorba's ... I'm working late tonight, please hurry honey!"

What kept me here in New York City I pondered in a state of delirium and exhaustion? Was I on a bad karmic journey, following the footsteps of a disoriented Trotsky, when he came to New York to discuss contributions to Esquire magazine, and ended up in Mexico City with an ice pick in his head?

Was I trying to outdrink that bottomless well, the ever-thirsty Dylan Thomas? Did I want to end up convulsing and writhing in drug overdose spasms like Jean Michel Basquiat? My questions misfired or drew blanks.

The hooker suddenly broke my hold, and nearly my wrist. She was a tough piece of survival. Strong like a jackal. She ran for the door with my trousers in her paws. I saw there was an opening where a door used to be, leading to the street. She was headed for it. I leapt from the mattress and lunged for the hooker with all my might. Her shoulder and forehead slapped against the cement floor after I tackled her.

With the single mindedness of a thousand hornets she began kicking and biting me, constantly struggling to pull me towards her knife. When she grasped higher and higher up my leg and then bit my abdomen, I reached around with all my might and grabbed her neck again. This time she wasn't going to get away, even if that meant punching her out if she bit me or if she got her damned knife near my flesh again.

Her feet kicked wildly. I squeezed harder, fearing she might get away. I told myself that I was going back to San Francisco as soon as I got out of this mess.

I wanted a cigarette.

Suddenly the smell of feces permeated the air. She had given in. I stood up and looked down at her. Her eyes were open and puffy and they never blinked. She resembled a beached mermaid that had been badly manhandled by a mad Captain Ahab. When was she going to blink? I stared at her opaque eyes waiting for a response.

Several blue reflections lit up her pupils and I cried out aloud in relief, surmising that she was merely defeated and still very much alive. There was still life indeed within her, I thought mechanically.

"All right fucker, hands up in the air!"

A half-dozen Brooklyn policemen seized upon me and escorted me forcibly into a paddy wagon. Many hours elapsed, maybe even days. I can only count intervals of time now by judging how hungry I am. This jail cell is much nicer than the hooker's concrete cube. I can hear the footsteps of a large cop walking towards me. He's a Greenpoint Pole. His steps now seem loud and deafening. He's bringing me food!

"Tarts. Tarts three days old from the Polish baker down the street. His vodka soused son's in jail again, so you all get a little taste. These ain't sweet tarts. Tough and dry. Get used to 'em, cause all you animals are in here for a long time! The day you go to the electric chair is the only time you get a heated one."


3,235 words

Bryan Adrian

In memory of Dolores Ann Adrian


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