My friend Haoui Montauk bequeathed me a Paul Smith suit in his will. We had worked at a punk nightclub together in the late-70s. He had collected the cash and I had worked the door as a bouncer. Haoui liked to call me ‘rough trade’.
He wasn’t wrong. I liked a good fight now and then. He said it ran in my blood.
I was taller and stockier than the poet, but the suit fit my body albeit a little tight. It was not a suit for all occasions, since the material was a bright blue plaid. I wore it pride and considered any venture so attired was like taking Haoui out for a walk through the city he loved the most.
I received many compliments from women for having the courage to sport such an extravagant outfit and my bravery was rewarded with further admiration upon their hearing about my deceased friend having left it to me in his last will and testament, but New York wasn’t the same city as before.
The rich had replaced the poor and the bankers had crowded out the artists. They were very uncool and on one occasion a banker in his 20s muttered under his breath passing me in front of a Prince Street deli, “What a fucking ugly suit.”
“Same as your face,” I wasn’t taking any guff from a Wall Street stooge.
“What you say?” He wheeled around with a gym-strengthened aggression.
“My suit is ugly, but so is your face.” Haoui was gay. People like this man had bullied him as a boy. I wasn’t backing down. My friend Billy O was waiting in the middle of the block.
The young man approached me, as if he wanted to fight, but Billie O was already taking my back. Two against one wasn’t good odds and the Wall Street stooge stormed away with a parting ‘fuck you’.
“And not only are you ugly, but you only have one eyebrow.” I was good at getting in the last word.
The banker looked over his shoulder with eyes blazing with hatred. He picked up an avocado from the fruit stand and threw it at my head. I ducked to the left and it whistled past my ear. A good throw, but a miss and the Korean grocer came screaming out of the store, yelling, “You pay for avocado. You pay for avocado.”
The banker ponyed up the money. Billie O and I had a good laugh, but he said, as we entered the Mekong restaurant, “That suit draws the wrong type of attention.”
“It’s Haoui.” I explained how I got it.
“Maybe it’s haunted.” Billy was Irish. We were both superstitious and I retired the suit for a long time.
Ten Halloweens ago I was stuck for a costume and remembered Haoui’s suit. It fit a little tighter than before, but I could pass for a carnival barker in it. My left knee was sore from buckling on the basketball court and I picked a cane out of my closet. I had one with an 8-ball for a knob. One look in the mirror said ‘carney’ and I limped through the East Village to Nolita, where my friends were waiting at two tables in front of the Mekong.
It was a warm night and we watched the parade of costumes. Most people were heading over to the parade in the West Village. I sat next to our lady friend, Jane was dressed as a go-go girl from the 60s. The English model had the Swinging London look down pat. We were having a good time, until a Batman dropped into an empty chair next to her. Our friends laughed at the intrusion, but then the muscular Caped Crusader kissed Jane and then he stole my beer.
The cheapskate owner charged $6 for it and never bought back a round.
“Jane, you know this guy?” Women were sacred, but beer was holy.
“No.” Jane was horrified by his macho behavior.
“That’s enough.” I grabbed my beer. It was going to be in the way.
“Old man, don’t tell Batman when he’s had enough.” He was in his 20s and sounded Wall Street. His muscles came from exercising and his bravado was bolstered by a few boxing lessons.
“Old man?” I was only 49. It was the youth of old age.
“Yeah, take a look in the mirror. You’re farting dust like a mummy.” He resumed smooching Jane.
“Leave it off.” My friends’ kids were at the table. I didn’t want them to witness a fight. Still it was only Batman without Robin, so I said, “This isn’t your table. Move on.”
“Fuck off, you old git.” Batman grinned like the Joker, if the villain had perfect teeth.
The word ‘git’ ended the discussion. Git was my word. I seized Batman’s cape and threw him into street. He snatched the cane from my hands and swung it at my head. I blocked it with a forearm and caught him with a right to the jaw. I wrestled the cane from him, but he ripped off my glasses and ran away, chanting, “Nah-na-na-nah-na.”
It sounded mockingly like Stream’s hit TELL HIM GOODBYE.
My left knee was in no condition to chase him.
Shannon came out of the bar. The tall New Yorker was dressed as a cowboy. I thought he looked like Robert Duvall in TRUE GRIT. Shannon was a good decade younger and several inches taller than me. We had been friends since the Milk Bar and played basketball together in Tompkins Square Park.
“What’s wrong?” He could see scratches on my face.
“Batman stole my glasses.” I squinted and pointed to retreating Batman. He was having a good laugh.
“I’ll go get him.” Shannon loped down the street at a run.
Batman was resting at the gate to St. Patricks.
“Gimme back the glasses.” Shannon spread his stance. His fighting skills came from the street and not a gym. My money was on the Cowboy Versus Batman.
“Go fuck yourself, dude.” Batman threw a punch. Shannon blocked it with ease and KOed Batman with one punch. Batman slunk to the sidewalk like he was sleeping in Bruce Wayne’s bed. Shannon returned to Mekong and said, “Here’s your glasses.”
“I’ll be going.” Shannon didn’t need to speak with the police.
“I owe you a beer.” It was good to see again.
“You owe me nothing. That guy was a creep.” He downed his beer with an ear cocked for sirens. He knew Billie O and said, “One more thing. Don’t wear that suit anymore. It’s trouble.”
“You got that right.”
Later that night I returned Haoui’s suit to the closet. It stays there most of the time, but every once in a while I take it out for a walk. It’s getting small for me in my old age, but I can always suck in my gut.
Haoui wouldn’t expect anything else from me and neither would his ghost.