by John Clinton
IX. Union Square
In a soporific induced trance
I listen to fifteen people chant
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare
In the early 1990’s, when my family lived in Brooklyn, my father on his way to work, would ride in illegal Jamaican vans that recklessly sped and transported commuters down Flatbush Avenue. I guess he felt it was quicker and cheaper than waiting for a bus like the rest of the schlepps trudging their way into the city, it certainly was more dangerous, not that he minded much, he was known as “Jack the Knife” since the 1970’s, as he was in a Park Slope gang called SAB (Sixth Avenue Boys).
On one of our myriad bicycle treks around the Mill Basin area I remember him suddenly throwing his bike down and racing across the street to help someone who was about to get mugged. Dare I say I saw his knife gleam across the Avenue on some jungle bunny’s throat? Our two room apartment was robbed once, which resulted in our first family pet, a doberman shepherd, that I named Rusty. We also had two turtles, since like every child growing up in the late 1980’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were the next best thing to Ghostbusters.
He worked in downtown Manhattan for Bell Atlantic, now Verizon, and if you look up while crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, you can still see the imprint of the Bell logo on the building’s headquarters. One time I went to work with him and he took me down one of the severely sizzling and cramped manholes he was in. I didn’t see any turtles or alligators, only the massively extensive wirings that go into the daily communications of New York City.
On a couple of occasions, we did in fact take the bus down Flatbush Avenue before catching the train into the city. Only this wasn’t for work but for pleasure and we wouldn’t be going to the weekend’s desolate downtown streets but to the congregation of Greenwich Village and Union Square. While on the bus he would point out beforehand, like a modern day Travis Bickle, all the hipsters, weirdos and junkies on the sidewalk. He was my shepherd into the darkness, preparing me for the freak show we might be in store for. The train ride was no better as homeless men would beg and sing for your quarters and a more eclectic mix of characters would get on with each stop.
Our mission was to buy books and we took care of two birds with one stone. He would go to the Strand and I would go to Forbidden Planet, back when it was on the corner right across the street from Strand. I remember it being a toss up as to which we would go to first because God knows we were like two kids in a candy shop and we would take our sweet time in sorting through the miles and miles of comic books and for my father the rare and dusty novels on Native Americans and Custer’s Last Stand, that were usually kept at the downstairs level away from everyone.
Once our literature fix was alleviated we would get a dirty water dog and a pretzel, and make our way a few blocks downtown to Tower Records, so my father could buy an overpriced cassette tape of Bob Dylan or Patti Smith or some other CBGB’s castoff poet that I had no interest in listening to the next car ride. “Jimi Hendrix was a nigger! Nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger, nigger! Outside of society is where I wanna be!” Her lyrics made no sense to me and Dylan’s voice annoyed my mother and I. Today I’d like to thank my father for exposing me to the diverse cultures of Manhattan, to the music and words of Bob Dylan and for wanting to live the rest of my life in South Dakota having vision quests and writing poetry in a tipi.
As I wait for the cool, cool rain
that will never shower this way
I sit outside my old school SVA
& remember the good ol’ days
cigarettes smoked, drugs shot
money lost, foreign films watched
youth found, the future stopped
isn’t that what college is all about?