‘I’ve been to lbeza,’ said Isola de Chachkes, the svelte, trim, diet-conscious androgynous ganzemacher of Little Neck society the other day to her claque of shoppers at a posh mall. “Nowadays, Bed-Sty is the last place on this overrun planet one can have a civilized vacation.”
To many a cunning matron of the posh Five Towns set Isola was probably the last to find out what every one of them knew long ago. Everyone from Montauk Point to Hempstead knows nothing is cheaper and more efficient than to take a sleek modern subway train to fantastical Fulton Street and savor the odors from the gutter.
There’s nothing more fashionable to talk about at your Sag Harbor wine and cheese parties than tell the locals how you checked in at a traditional four story walkup apartment building and maybe slashed the face of an amiable real estate purveyor who rents of such charming dwellings. You can tell the affluent rabble over the fondue and Asti Spumante how you set up your three police locks at the door, bricked up the back windows, took out your machine gun and wait for company.
It’s not easy to leave your apartment in Bed-Sty. It might not be there at all when you return. Fire insurance is a big business in the ghetto. If you want to take a walk, you start your tape recorder to bawl out the raucous sounds of an endless party loud as you can, then leave a hearth that has been broken into more times than the moon has circled the classical geography of ancient Indian Bed-Sty itself.
Don’t hesitate to shoot first and talk it over later if you have an ad hoc visitor. In Bed-sty it’s never Santa Claus coming down your chimney.
From the other side of the walls you may hear signs of your neighbors enjoying themselves with syncopated barrages of bullets fired into the ceiling or floor, an occasional explosion of an old Korean War hand grenade, the sounds of Korean-made knives ripping at folds of soft flesh. After a few hours of listen to parties of ghosts and the sound of a ghostly war everywhere you may become restless with a purposeless anxiety you think at first is unworthy of you.
Simply dress in anonymous comfortable clothes that call no attention to yourself whatsoever and after casing the street from the window, bolt out the door, cocked gun in hand, knife in your teeth, ready for action. Don’t worry about the police; they’ve paid off the sergeant and are all having coffee and doughnuts in Bensonhurst.
You get very fatalistic at the hub of your spirit after even a casual hour in Bed-Sty. It brings you back to the forgotten dour philosophy of your ancestors. One can of course have a huge guard dog with blue filed teeth, set hidden acid bath pools of instant death beneath the carpet, have the ceiling garlanded with huge weights that look like lamps falling on and dispatching the incessant burglars that prowl in the shadows though one’s nook in an urban paradise. Yet the labor is fatiguing. One does best merely to poison the food, set bear traps beneath the chairs, maybe have a pet tiger sit beneath the televisions set in the shows. At the very least you’ll knock off a small army of rats. That’s not negligible.
One should never leave such an abode before one runs one’s fingers over the five kinds of roach dung in the sink. There are eighty seven varieties of roaches in Bed-Sty along with a few species scientists have yet to identify. They may be the usual ambulant arthropods; they could also be little machines from another dimension, who knows’
Satisfied as much a sensible person can be that one has one all one can to secure one’s scurvy provender, it is time to relax. As you’ll discover nobody knows how to be at ease more than veteran residents of Bed-Sty On your table you’ll see a few half-smoked crack cigarettes, a heap of powdered milk laced with cocaine, a filthy dish filled with mildly cut heroin, several reefers of good Mexican blue, a bottle of cheap Arkansas wine, several amateur porno magazines and a few martial arts documentaries direct from Hong Kong you can pop with an insouciant gesture into the innards of your VCR.
There are enough pills of various colors and sizes in a little bottle next to the odorous plate of rancid rice and beans sitting on the radiator to stupefy a herd of manic elephants. Don’t worry about what any of them are. Let yourself be surprised or even dispatched by a new and scary pleasure. Some of them will make merely you sick. Few of them are lethal.
After a few excited drags at a home made crack cigarette one can make one’s excited way to the street. Remember one can’t be hooked on any drug if you try it only once. It takes at least a week to have a yen for most of these packaged consolations for a tough life. You can shoot up, smoke, or swallow a gaggle of little pills, then walk away from it as long as you never go back to it.
You’re suburbanites; you come and go everywhere. Anything you survive is trivial to a commuter.
Remember, you can’t really walk thorough Bed-Sty authentically without being stoned on something. It’s not the way the residents who live in it daily genuinely experience their locale. You want truth; everybody hungers for honesty as long as it’s not unpleasant. You’ll get it in Bed-Sty you won’t be able to take it these ugly streets sober. Folks, in life the authentic is always raw and coarse; it’s the lies that make you feel good because they’re attractive. Hey, what do you want, truth or fun’
As you wander through the streets in loose fitting purple sneakers you have to keep a lookout for muggers who have nothing to lose by taking you on in a boulevard or an alley. They’ve spent most of their lives in jail.
Many of them will kill you first and then go through your pockets for a nickel. Who could blame them’ What could happen to them if they get arrested’ Since there are no police anywhere in sight, who the hell is even going to want to catch them’
You could get killed running after criminals; believe me, the police know better than that. They have big guts from eating all those doughnuts; they couldn’t catch anything that stayed still much less ran from them.
Enjoy the danger; it’s worse out there for the natives than it ever will be for you. An authentic crook from Bed-Sty is probably better off in the slammer. A lock up is more safe than these streets. Most of the Bed-Sty residents sitting in the cooler try to hurt somebody or fake being nuts; then they can get solarity confinement. They figure, hey, if you’re alone in a cell, what can happen to you’ Probably nothing; who knows’ Maybe at worst you get older, you’re a little bored and then you die. Neither one compared to Bed-Sty is so bad.
As Dracula says, there are some things worse than death. You’ll spend just six days and five nights in one of them. You’ll feel better than Dracula.
When you have lots of neighbors that go in and out of jail for good reason or no reason at all you better make sure you have a gun ready when they pass you and nod to you civilly on the avenue. They have one and they don’t trust you either. They are likely as not to try to take you out before you do it to them. Freedom is like that sometimes. Just keep on smiling whatever happens. Always be civil even to the passing rats. You don’t want to rile or offend anybody; it might be the very last thing you do on your vacation.
Scan those walls you see in the distance next to the Welfare office near the fast food hamburger joint. Many o your suburbanites take photographs of the juvenile arts graffiti that decorates the hallways; some experts, most of them graduates of city community colleges with Associate Degrees in Brain Surgery, compare their productions to Egyptian and Mayan ideographs. Maybe at one time both Egypt and Mayan country was like Bed-Sty. Who knows’ Historians always lie. So do prophets. So do newspapers. Sometimes I don’t even believe myself. You shouldn’t either.
These brick walls are often sold piecemeal to Patagonian art galleries by corrupt dealers who rip down everything and cart them away to be purveyed for substantial lucre. You’re not likely to see such Tut-like dealings every trip; if one does, one should smile and photograph the rascals.
You can show them absconding with the loot on slides for friends later chez toi, tu sais, mon vieux’ Don’t mind me; I like to drop a little culture into the sewer here and there. Doesn’t everybody’ We all know anything French is sophisticated, don’t we’ That’s why I talk it whenever I can, even to myself. Everybody listening to me at the next cubbyhole in the latrine thinks I’ve got a Junior High School Degree at the least.
If you spot a cockroach in the streets or elsewhere don’t be afraid to step on them. It is not against the law. If it were, who would arrest you’ The cops are elsewhere, busy protecting parades on Fifth Avenue from the snow, guarding garbage dumps in the swamps in case any terrorist attacks them with a bomb. It makes crime for yourself if you are on in the mood a felicitous little caprice you can pull on a bank or a passing old woman with a pocketbook with impunity.
You will know felicity and fulfillment in your life as you thoroughly destroy these cunning little insects. They have no nutritive value; nobody will ill mannered if you pulverize one and leave its corpse to decay on a bit of spittle and old chewing gum. Nothing is their life is as piteous as their death if few knockovers will be more trivial to you.
You won’t get the same microscopic thrill from a lover or a bit of exotic action on the news. If you can take out a rat, you might feel a big shiver you’ll remember.
You’re been in Bed-sty on hour; it’s time to apply for Welfare. In the lobby or in intake you’ll come across a few or even several dead corpses rotting on the benches. Don’t feel any sense of alacrity as you pass them on the way to be interview as an indigent. Life has its losses and conflicts. When you finish the interview, grin and take the money. Don’t forget to ask for the special mango allowance. It’s free.
Many of you like to go to funerals in exotic places to catch the flavor of that important rite of passage; you will find very few funeral parlors in Bed-Sty. The whole place is a theatre for undertakers but there aren’t any. They might get robbed. Don’t be disappointed. There aren’t that many weddings either.
Once out of the Welfare office and back on the filthy boulevards where the garbage is never picked up and stands three stories high like a temple for the brainless worship of trash you will hardly know where to go first.
Shall you scoot up the block to the corner crap game where the locals play with dice with symbols older than the symbols on the rings of Egyptian pharaohs’ Most of the children learn to count though these ancient whimsical games of chance. Who else will teach them’ Not the teachers. They are busily hiding in the classrooms with doors locked, guns in hand, waiting for a flicker in the shadows.
Some of them are also even further out in Brooklyn than Bensonhurst, the best of them hiding in Long island, eating doughnuts. The cutsy little Bed-Sty kids learn ho to read by deciphering the clever little erotic commentary they find written on the facades of latrines.
Walk slowly under a marquee for a church, savor the garish light of these rhinestone temples, sometimes once movie theaters for Westerns, other times a bankrupt asylum or a hospital in receivership. As you pass them with a hurried step, take in the fervent singing to invisible gods, those divinities they hope to be immensity manifest to rid them of their woes. Listen to them talk in tongues larded with rich and glottal babble they hope are echoes of the sacred babble of many an honest prophet in Babylonia.
They are talking nonsense as natives do everywhere in the hinterlands to their ancestral saints and local gods, hoping for succor from merciless and punishing gods. We talk nonsense that’s clear anybody can understand. Tat’s why we are who we are, whatever that might be.
These servants of God are for good reason as you can hear very involved in their sins. They aren’t sure what they are; to be where they are they must have offended something or somebody. We all do in lifetime, don’t we’ We should always know whom we can insult with impunity. We’d do better to kick dogs generally.
You’re struck as you take in a main street what’s not there. There are, as you had surmised before you showed up, not a single insurance company. They all fled or went bankrupt long ago. There are certainly no brokerage houses. You could also spend a long time in Bed-Sty looking for a psychiatrist.
People are very civil in Bed-Sty; they don’t want any more enemies than they have. All too often even in a jaunt to the grocery store run by friendly if unnaturally alert Arabs and Koreans you can be slaughtered by virtually everybody and anybody. You should try to be as polite as everybody else is unless they are robbing you. If that doesn’t work you might find yourself in a classical shootout; likely as not, either you or your neighbor will be thrown into the East River for lunch for a passing sand shark.
Bed-Sty on its coasts and even inland is good for sharks. It’s not optimal for people but what the hell, you’re on vacation. You don’t have to live in any place you visit, do you’ It’s not as if the natives are your family. You’ll probably never see them again. You’re a commuter like me. That’s the way you and I like it, isn’t it’
You might stop of in aa bar, drink a shot of watery booze among some noisy folk staggering though lakes of vomit and talk about baseball with a raffish crowd; you could open fire on a few passersby and rob them of whatever coin they have. Nobody will stop you, believe me. They might even help you. It doesn’t ever hurt in a tough situation to have multiple firepower. That’s why the army has atomic missiles.
You don’t have to be a bad guy or wear a black hat to kill people in Bed-Sty. It’s a wonderful feeling of freedom to realize you are on your own and ready to lie or die, just like the American pioneers or an animal felling tigers in a rain forest. You’ll be a little panicked now and again but you’ll like it. Hey, life may be occasionally terrifying; you’re a big animal. You are the one people should run from, not the other way around. People are always running away from me. They should. If I could I would run away from myself.
At first after a season in the suburbs or a long winter in a gated community with illegal aliens guarding you with imported Korean machine guns as you sit in the inner gardens, in a place of freedom like Bed-Sty you’ll be initially afraid of everything. After a while you’ll react to your fear the way anybody does and has since Atlantis: with feral rage. You’ll want everything and everybody to be very afraid of you. You’ll get angry at nothing to scare strangers across the street. You’ll shoot a few pigeons on the rooftops to keep everybody around you honest.
If you’re a little bored after a while with drinking bad wine and sitting in the gutter; it’s time to amble over to Thomkins park where the big gang wars are always being fought by different groups you’ve hear about but have never been all that close to.
You’ve been in the Gangland Hall of Fame in Harlem, the Museum of Home Made Handguns in the South Bronx; you know as much about the local warriors as one can learn from books, visits to martial arts movie sets in your Hollywood vacations and a long season of watching television.
You’ve never seen a real gangfight anymore than you’ve been close to a real Babylonian orgy. Hey tonight’s the night, folks!
You might wander into the outskirts of Thomkins Park where the whores offer you a party, nod at the drug pushers vending coke and reefer, maybe note to yourself most of the old crowd seems to have vanished from the benches and grass. They’ve mostly died of Aids, moved to the suburbs, maybe right next to you or work in live-in Correctional Facilities.
Don’t sleep with anybody in the grass there; you might get some disease and drop dead long before your vacation is over.
You inhale the familiar sour reek from the earth beneath you; Thomkins Park is covered with heaps of garbage. No Sanitation Department filled with White people in its right mind would ask its employees to get killed taring to pick up the trash here or anywhere near here. They do their job if at all in your bailiwick and maybe even live to get a pension and die in a Florida condo.
Finally you spot an authentic gangfight with hundreds of young men shooting at each other and slashing at each other with razors and foot long knives not so far away. You take out your camera and start to document the fracas for the kids. You might even interview a few gang leaders for your home video system. They are usually spiced with a lot of strong opinions about life and death. They’ve seen a lot of both. After a while, so have you.
These are not deceptive spirits who lie to you like professors in college; they won’t sell you an Albanian car that doesn’t run, a house built by inept lunatics, a stock that plummets as soon as you are tricked by some carnival barker into owning some gaudy certificate. You’re too clever for that. You’re from the suburbs.
They are who they are, whatever that is. You feel a relief at their frankness; these gang leaders aren’t suave and nasty white collar crooks. They don’t have lawyers; they settle their own affairs. They don’t even have banks. When they want money, they don’t reach for an ATM card; they knock somebody to the floor, kick him and take his wallet. They are humanity at its most pure. You’re always wanted to discover the center of our species; this is it.
You may have to shoot a few people when they see you have an expensive video camera. Take them out with a few fusillades and hand grenades. It’s worth it. You don’t want to go home without any mementos of your vacation, do you’
For the rest of your life people will admire you for your bravery if you survive this little tour. We all know there are safe vacations you can take if you want to. We can all go to Venice and enjoy the pretty buildings, the cozy little churches with the dead mummies and have a cup of fresh and bitter coffee in San Macro Plaza.
You’re not that kind of tourist. You like a little excitement, even real momentary risk for an instant or two if you can get it. You aren’t quite up to a war. You like a little action and you’re tired of old routine of the Las Vegas and Tiajuana whores and casinos.
You need to spend a week in Bed-Sty. It’s like no other place. It’s the right price too for a bit of mayhem; it’s both very cheap and unforgettable.
Afterwards people will admire you for stepping outside your little niche in an anonymous rich little community somewhere in a posh oblivion to take on a dangerous world.
When you finish your trip you’ll have a lot of bloody stories to tell your fiends over French wine and cheese or reading the Wall Street Journal on the commute that you can’t come up with too quickly if you’ve just been traveling to the Louvre. It’s not too many steps from the real world you know so well, the urban brokerage houses, the backward barbecues in a world divided into lots like a map of feudal gardens. It’s a money deer park that’s made you more cunning and dangerous in a dark alley filled with gold than you ever were.
Maybe afterwards you’ll take out a few of your neighbors in the suburbs with a well placed sniper bullet. They deserve it, don’t they’ They’re all overpaid paper shufflers like you, maybe worse. They have it coming. We all do.
God knows, we commuter also need a little punishment; we’ve all done something really awful we shouldn’t have that needs a bit of serious punishment from Earth if we have to wait for vengeance from heaven. You’ve survived a vacation in Bed-Sty; nobody can be the red hand of God doling out a mild cuff here and there or imitate the justice of the Angel of Death better than you can.
Back in Patchogue or further east people will sense the area of primal power and mastery of freedom about your spirit. They will know in some clandestine but silently savage part of their soul you have been through a hellova season in pits of fire and are still alive. Believe me, will look you over with the fear they reserve for a tiger in a zoo; over the middle range California Shiraz they will finally treat you with respect.