Saturday, December 26, 2015

BOXING DAY ON THE BOWERY by Peter Nolan Smith

Boxing Day has been celebrated on the day after Christmas in the UK and host of Commonwealth nations such as Australia, Canada, Ghana, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Nigeria, Kenya, Guyana, Trinidad , Tobago, and Jamaica since the 1830s.

For years I thought 'Boxing Day' was when the aristocratic rich gave the poor ornate empty boxes in lieu or a gift, however the holidays was when the tithes from alms boxes were distributed to the parish needy.

Boxing Day sounded like a holiday to most Americans, who honor December 26 as 'Left-Over' Day.

Every Christmas my mother cooked a 20-pound turkey, I mashed seasoned potatoes, and my sisters set the dining room table with yams, creamed onions, turnips, peas, stuffing, and all the fixings for my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandmothers, friends, cousins, sisters, and brothers. Grace was said with bowed heads. Our plates were swept by forks and knives. Conversations were dominated by the retelling of old tales. Gifts from under a brightly decorated tree were exchanged before dessert of apple, pumpkin, and pecan pies. A fire burned in the fireplace. The wood came from Maine. We were one big happy family.

There wasn't much to do once the china had been cleared from the table, the pots were washed, and the silverware packed into a velvet-lined cedar box. My parents lived in the suburbs, which had been paradise for a teenager and a purgatory for a young adult in his 20s, especially since I had no car.

On December 26, 1978 I thanked my parents for another superb Christmas dinner and caught a southbound train from Route 128 to Penn Station. My hillbilly girlfriend was with her family in West Virginia and Alice wouldn't be back until the weekend.

I phoned Anthony Scibelli as soon as I reached my East 10th Street apartment. The photographer was a native New Yorker. We were both weary from pretending to be good boys to our parents.

"Suicide is playing at CBGBs." Anthony loved the subdued fury of Alan Vega and monotone drone of his keyboard player Martin Rev.

"I'm in." Suicide was a solid remedy for too much Christmas cheer, plus CBGBs was the only bar opened that evening in the East Village. "Come down to my place and we'll catch them at midnight."

"I'll get us a treat." Anthony lived in East Harlem. They had hard drugs up there.

I went out to buy beers from the corner bodega. Snow scurried against the brick tenements and I ran back home with shivers penetrating my spine.

Anthony showed up at 11 with a bottle of amyl nitrate.

"I couldn't find anything else."

"It's better than nothing." Poppers were beat, but the ghost of Santa Claus died on the first huff.

After listening to the Dead Boys on my stereo, we headed for CBGBs along 2nd Avenue to avoid the frigid wind tunnel of 3rd Avenue.

Snow trapezed beneath the street lights. The temperature was in the low teens. We crossed 3rd Street and cut through the gas station to the Bowery.

A crowd of derelict was gathered before the Palace Hotel.

A man lay on the concrete sidewalk.

A groan signaled that he was still with the living.

According to witnesses the 50 year-old derelict had stepped out of the third-floor window of the SRO hotel.

The short drop had snapped the gaunt man's legs and arms.

A dingy sheet was draped over his naked body and blood pulsed from a jagged bone protruding from his leg. His chest heaved with rapid breaths and he asked with a pained voice, "Damn, where am I?"

"Where you think you are, you dumb drunk." A fellow misfortunate answered from the huddle of broken dreamers.

"Not the Bowery, please tell me I'm not going to die on the Bowery." His grizzled face strained into the air.

“No where else?” One bum chortled with a bottle of Zapple in his hand.

I lifted a warning finger for silence.

A distant siren filled the air.

Help was on the way.

I kneeled over the bleeding man and tucked the sheet under his wasted frame. I had been a math major in university and calculated his impact on the sidewalk and said, "You're not going to die, old man."

"Maybe you ain't gonna die, but you look like a used condom." His relentless heckler and the bums laughed at this comment. They were a tough crowd.

Anthony quieted him with a kick to the shin.

The police from the 9th Precinct showed up a minute before the ambulance and the cops cleared space for the EMS crew.

"If he ain't family, then move on. Same goes for the rest of you." The driver motioned for me to get lost.

I surrendered my spot and we walked into CBGBs.

Merv the doorman let us enter without paying.

The bartender Allison glommed us a round of beers.

Suicide took the stage before a sparse audience. I counted 19 people.

Martin Rev stood impassively at his keyboards and Alan Vega smacked the microphone into his face between stanzas of CHEREE.

Anthony handed me the vial of poppers.

My head exploded on the first inhale.

It was Boxing Day on the Bowery and tonight was as a good a day as any to be alive in New York City.

To see a live performance of Suicide playing CHEREE please go to this URL

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRcHi5Nasn4

This video was filmed Merrill Aldighieri at HURRAH in 1980.

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