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Authors: Reggie Nadelson

Manhattan 62 (7 page)

BOOK: Manhattan 62
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“I'm glad.”

Better dead than Red. Strange, how it would turn out JFK himself said he'd rather his kids were Red than dead. It didn't come out for fifty years until one of his girlfriends published her trashy little book about him, our handsome young Irishman, our best President; and he would be dead a year and a half after I had that conversation with Max on MacDougal Street.

“In Greenwich Village, many of us feel socialism can be good,” says a familiar voice, and Nancy hops up onto a barstool. “Hello, I'm Nancy Rudnick,” she says, putting her hand out; she's so beautiful in the soft bar light, it's hard for me to look at her. She's had her dark hair cut very short, thick bangs over her forehead; it shows off her long neck and the round very blue eyes. She focuses on Max as if he's the only person in the bar.

Sliding off his stool and blushing, Max takes her hand, and gives a little bow. “Ostalsky, Maxim. Max.”

“I know who you are. Welcome. It's lovely to have you in New York. I hope we are treating you well.” She smiles. She's playful. She raises one long slim arm—she has these very long arms, and sometimes I think: the better to make you mine—raises it to adjust a gold hoop earring, and this shows off her figure because in the heat she's wearing only a sheer white Mexican blouse, and a full blue skirt, and red cotton shoes she got in France with ribbons wound around her ankles. She kisses me on the cheek. “Hello, Pat, darling, it's been a while.”

I haven't seen Nancy since she let me drive her to Jones Beach in June. Been trying to forget her. “Where have you been?”

“The usual, here and there, but I've missed you, Pat, sweetie,” she adds, always in that husky voice that drove me nuts even the first time I see her, hanging on a strap on the A-train, a spring night in '.

I'm riding the A-train home from 125th Street, been to see James Brown at the Apollo, the first time I've seen him in the flesh. Whatever records of his I can get hold of, I play over and over. Never before tonight have I seen anything like this, it's different from a record or the radio. Clayton Briscoe, a cop works Harlem and who was at the Academy same time as me, one of the few Negro detectives in the city, gets me into the show gratis. I owe Clay. This night changes my life. In return I plan on inviting him down to the Village when Sonny Rollins is on at the Vanguard. He's crazy for Rollins.

So I'm high on it, smoking and whistling tunelessly what sounds to me like a fine rendition of “Night Train”, remembering Brown's moves, how he works the stage, like a man with wheels implanted in his feet.

The A-train makes its fantastic run all the way from 125th to 59th, no stops, and I'm hanging on a strap, singing, staring at the Miss Subways poster, and suddenly I'm aware of a girl next to me. “What are you singing?”

“You call it singing? Thanks.”

“If it makes you feel good,” she says and laughs, a low husky laugh.

“Just something I heard.”

“I saw you when I got on,” she says.

“You're following me?”

“Maybe, but I'm harmless.” She laughs again, and I look at her sideways, this tall girl—almost as tall as me—with long thick shining dark hair held back in a pony tail, the very blue eyes. She's about twenty. She's wearing a straight black skirt, tight black turtleneck sweater, red cinch belt around her little waist. A big brown leather bag hangs over her shoulder, the strap decorated with those peace buttons you see around the Village.

The long legs, the eyes, the voice, the clinging sweater, she is easily the sexiest girl I've ever seen, and she smells like lilies of the valley. I'm glad I'm wearing a new light-blue plaid sports shirt, and slacks I only got a month earlier.

She nods at the Miss Subways poster. “I'm surprised they have Negro girls.”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes, it matters. Definitely, it matters when there is any advancement for the Negroes. Don't you believe that?”

“Why? You're not colored.”

“Never mind,” she says, but I can see she files it, and might hold it against me.

I'm wrong. She comes on to me. I get off at West Fourth, and she follows me. When I ask her if she'd like some espresso coffee, she agrees, and we walk, not speaking, to Bleecker Street where she spots an empty table on the sidewalk at Figaro.

“My name is Nancy Rudnick,” she says, and asks me what I do.

I tell her I'm a cop.

“Gosh. Seriously? Do you like it?”

“Yeah, I do, what's wrong with it?”

“I just don't know any policemen,” she says.

“I'm a detective.”

“I see. Where did you go to school?”

I tell her Fordham. “GI Bill. Korea. Graduated in '55. You?”

Idly, she twirls her hair around a finger, and looks down into her coffee. “Upstate,” she says.

“New Paltz? I have a cousin at the state university there. Or Binghamton?”

“Vassar.”

But we drink a lot of coffee, and she tells me about how she grew up in Greenwich Village, about her father's house on Charlton Street. She tells me she plans to be a painter and has her own little studio at her father's place and, out of the blue, she invites me over. “Them Village girls are all nymphomaniacs, they believe in free love,” my pop would say. Me, I think, if so, good. Great. This girl I just picked up in the subway—or did she pick me up—I'm hooked.

“Do you like music?” she asks when we're at her place, and I nod, and she says, “Crazy”, and without waiting for an answer, selects an LP album by Odetta, the folksinger, not my thing, but then Nancy pats the bed that doubles as a couch and is covered with an orange and blue Indian bedspread, and she's singing along to “Dark as a Dungeon” with so much fervor you might think she comes from a long line of miners. So I fall for her. I fall for it that she loves singing and just like me can't carry a tune. For this girl, I'll listen to anything. I'll listen to her politics. For the legs, and the eyes. “It's kind of not your thing, is it?” says Nancy, and shuffles her albums, puts on
Songs for Swingin' Lovers!.

“You like Sinatra?”

“Everybody likes Sinatra, what did you think, I only listen to stuff about the workers? Don't be silly. I have almost all his albums.”

We smoke a little pot for a while, and giggle, and eat lumpy brownies she baked earlier, maybe with some hash, I can't tell for sure because I'm so high from being around her, and so excited I'm half out of my mind, especially because she tells me straight out that she has a diaphragm and we don't need to worry about her getting pregnant. I'm not used to girls like Nancy.

After that night, I always connect Nancy and James Brown doing his thing at the Apollo, the two great events for me that spring of 1959. Then she's gone, and it's not until the fall of '61 that I see her again, this time in the park, eating a toasted almond Good Humor. Offers me a bite. Says she graduated college, went to Paris to meet some artists, and is now starting grad school at NYU.

I can't take my eyes of her. I'm hooked, and a little desperate; I think of wild stuff I want to do to her, with her, things that I could never tell anyone. We go out on and off, but she's not making any commitments. I'm jealous. I figure if she slept with me when we just met, who are the others?

That year I start signing up for courses at NYU. I follow her around like a dog and sometimes she feeds me scraps, like she was doing at Minetta that night she shows up, when I'm sitting at the bar with Max.

“We don't all believe what Mr Hoover tells us,” Nancy is saying to Max. “Some of us even believe that Karl Marx was quite a smart fellow, perhaps Lenin, too. My father believes. My cousin Irma went to a youth festival in Moscow in 1957 and she says there are many wonderful things in the Soviet Union, and everyone was very nice, and all the students danced together.”

This makes Max smile. “It is true. I myself was at the festival. It was quite amazing with so many young people debating, declaring friendship, promising to support peace and love, it was such an important event. One young lady taught me to do the Lindy Hop.”

“I've been very much wanting to say hello,” Nancy says. “I saw you at a party the other night, the artists, over on the Bowery? You know, Maxim, I know my father would like to meet you. He would be so interested,” she says. “Please, Maxim, do come to Daddy's house, or we could go listen to some music. Or both. Do you like folk music, or jazz, Maxim?”

“Oh, yes, very much. We like jazz quite a bit in my country, and we have a few good jazz musicians of our own.”

“Who do you like?”

“I very much like Stan Getz, Ella Fitzgerald. We like many American musicians. The great Paul Robeson, of course. Pete Seeger. Mr Van Cliburn, of course.”

“Do you like Miles Davis?”

“Yes,” he says. “But I only know his music from records.”

“I have a feeling Pat makes you listen to his stupid rock and roll. We'll go hear Miles one evening,” she says. “It's a disgrace how badly Miles Davis was treated as a Negro, even though he's a genius.”

Max is all ears, and though he sees it's proper, as he might say, to address himself to me from time to time, all he can think about is Nancy. His face is pink. He's taken his glasses off. He's leaning as close to her as he dares, then he pulls himself up, gulps his beer, and turns to me.

“Pat, do you believe the racism in this country is quite terrible, what would you say?”

“It's not good.” I hate putting Americans down in front of a Red, but he's right; the racism is as deep and embedded and hard as the schist underneath the city. “What about Russia?”

“Socialism precludes all racism,” says Nancy.

“Yes,” says Max. “It's forbidden.”

I can't tell if Ostalsky wants to fuck her or make her a commissar.

“Max, you might like to join us on Saturday in front of Woolworth's on 39th Street. We generally picket the store because it refuses to serve Negroes in the south.”

Nancy stretches out her long legs, then crosses one over the other, wiggles the foot, making us, making everyone look at her. She sips her wine and sighs a little, with delight perhaps, or just a general sense of owning it all; in Greenwich Village she is a princess, anointed by her father, secure in the strange mix of left-wing politics and fancy schooling.

Max is enchanted.

This is how it begins. It's my doing, I introduce them, and the fact I find myself eating my liver about Nancy and Max is all my fault. At first I tell myself Nancy just takes a fancy to the idea of a real live Commie. At first, I try not to think that maybe she just likes him, but even then, that first time they meet, you'd have to be dead or dead drunk not to feel the electricity between them in that bar.

Never again am I going to date somebody who doesn't like my music. I tell my sisters, “Don't go steady with a boy who has different tastes in music, it will come to nothing.” They think I'm nuts.

Nancy looks at her watch. “Oh, God, it's already 9.30. I have a paper to write. Walk me home, Pat darling, would you?” Nancy says suddenly, and on the way to her place on West 4th Street, she puts her hand in mine.

She wants something, she knows how to play me, and she never looks back at Max, standing in the window of the bar, watching us. He's said he'll stay on for another glass of beer, but somehow I get the idea they've arranged to meet later; like two spies they have some secret, something they managed to communicate without me knowing how, or maybe I'm paranoid. Drunk, too. Very tired.

“I guess you're pretty excited meeting a real goddamn Communist, right, Nance? Is that right?”

“Don't be so sarcastic. Why do you do that, Pat? It's a nice night. Please, be sweet.”

“And your dad, Saul's gonna jump for joy when you bring him home, right? A Russki, a Red, and educated, too, speaks languages, probably can converse on the finer points of Marx.”

She doesn't bite. Instead she squeezes my hand. “Are you OK, sweetheart? I know this case on the High Line must be giving you terrible anxiety.”

“I'm fine. Thanks for asking.”

“This case, your dead girl, this is the dark side of the human psyche, I believe. Tell me about the girl, Pat.”

“Not right now.”

“Was she beautiful? Do you think they cut her up before she was dead? It's horrible, and you have to tell me about her. I'm doing a thesis about the psychology of fear and the way people can watch a murder and run the other way? It's a big deal in the world of social psychology.”

Nancy never stops, always in motion, always with a paper to write, or a picture she's painting. She has other projects, her job at a community center for poor Negroes, the Women's Strike for Peace, her guitar lessons, her attempts to get a short story published in
Mademoiselle
magazine. She goes at life with enough energy to kill a horse. “I love to eat, you know,” she said to me at a place uptown where we were eating ribs once, as she gnawed the meat off the bone, her mouth covered in barbecue sauce.

Once I watched her play the piano over at her father's house on Charlton Street, and she kept her foot on the pedal hard, and played so fast you could barely see her hands. She wasn't good, but she was loud and she had drive. Nancy. Driven. Opinionated, always sure she's right; but when she wants something, she moves in, all smiles and charm, so I know I can't escape, and I'm like a fly drowning in honey, or maybe a sucker swarmed by bees, at least those rare times she lets me stay with her at her place.

At her building on West 4th and Sixth Avenue, after we leave the Minetta Tavern, Nancy kisses me lightly, and leans against the wall. From her large leather bag, she takes a glass flask, the shape of a cigar case. “Look what I got? Bourbon. Isn't that what you like, Pat? Pat darling, you look awfully nice in that new shirt, but your eyeglasses have a crack. Why don't you go see my lovely friend Jorge, who works at the shop, you know, on 8th Street. He's so nice, and he'll give you a break on the price.”

BOOK: Manhattan 62
4.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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