I grabbed my camouflage army jacket, instead of my denim, which I had been carefully nurturing with the most perfectly placed patches. I pulled the hood of my black hooded sweatshirt up and threw the jacket on. I stepped into black suede pumas and stuffed my keys into the pocket of my jeans. Certain nights are engraved into your memory. From what you wore to the taste of the blood in your mouth. The house swelled, moving under my feet as I checked on my father before leaving for the night. He was right where he was supposed to be, where he always was. I closed the door to our house, twice making sure it was locked. I didn’t trust anyone. Was that a problem?
It’s not like we had anything for anyone to steal, but still, it was the principle.
Ozzy was waiting for me on my corner. The cold air bit our faces as we forged along 150th street to the bar. We talked, Ozzy and I always had the best conversations, had I the foresight I would have spoken to him about a more substantial topic, something more profound. We brushed through last night’s close call on the expressway, the loss of the Malibu, Mr. Craven’s reaction, Parm, and Phil’s night at Central Bookings. We walked that walk a thousand times together. You never think when you’re in the moment, when you’re taking that walk or having that conversation that it is going to be the last one you’ll ever have. When you are young it’s never even a thought. Although we may have felt him close by, Peter Cushing, was never a real concern.
“Do you hear that?” Ozzy asked me.
“I do, I said to him. You could hear the music playing on the jukebox from outside The Vault.
“Rocket Love,” we said in unison. A song from Stevie Wonder, off of his 1980 album Hotter Than July. A song that was older than us. A song that the Rza sampled on the Gza song, “Cold World,” from his second album Liquid Swords. And you got me locked down in this cold, cold world. Mr. Craven had that Stevie Wonder album on vinyl While I tried my hardest to wear out that Gza album on cassette. Classics.
The Vault was one out of four or five shitholes located in the vicinity of the Whitestone Village. You have to remember for the guys on our roster a shithole was prefered, so it’s not necessarily an insult to anyone. The Vault was a particular tavern, originally used as a bank in the early 1900s, and named affectionately for its history in the town and for the vault that occupied the space in the back of the establishment for years. I wished I knew exactly how long it was a bank before becoming a bar. The Vault changed hands and awnings less than the other bars in the area and despite fewer name changes, no one called the bar by its current name, instead it would always be referred to as The Vault. Wild flowers and short life spans. The Vault was the only bar in the village that we really fucked with. The Vault and The Memorial Park Bar were it as far as us regularly showing our faces and pickling our livers. There were many bars and far too many fucking assholes in such a small distance, ourselves included.
For all the outsiders who disliked Whitestone, or had beef with one of the various cliques from it or engaged in rivalries with it, it was funny that sometimes we might be lumped into it, and Whitestone was most definitely home but nevertheless we also hated many of the people that we unfortunately had to share our beloved town with. We would never want those people to represent who we were but to our dismay, the uninformed would make that mistake. It was a generalization we had to live with.
We walked up the four steps that people tended to fall down. I went up first and held the door for Ozzy, he nodded in gratitude and entered the bar. Viggo and Philip were already posted up at the bar with a couple of neighborhood kids, teammates. The Vault was to our surprise packed with many unfamiliar faces. It was the type of place that was hit or miss. Any given night there could be a hundred people partying or just Me and Ozzy and the bartender getting hammer smashed face until closing or beyond.
“What the fuck is going on in here tonight? Who are all these people?” Ozzy asked, looking around at all the strangers.
“It’s some broad’s birthday party here tonight,” said Viggo, finishing up a shot, while scoping out the potential. We all greeted each other with handshakes and hugs.
I asked if it was a girl from the neighborhood.
“No. I think she’s from Woodhaven or Glendale. Something like that,” Viggo said.
“Who the fuck would want to have their birthday party here?” asked Ozzy.
“Uh, you did. Just last year.” I made a face feigning confusion.
“Yeah, but I live here. There’s a fucking difference.”
“Don’t make excuses,” I said.
“You guys want to do a shot?” asked Viggo.
“Didn’t you just do one?” I asked. I knew it was going to be a messy night. I was either going to be sleeping on the bar at some point in the near future or I’d be drinking myself sober. One of those two options.
“I believe I did and now I’d like to do one with my team. So shots all around?”
“When you put it that way.”
“No,” I said, “Tullamore.”
“And don’t forget beers,” Ozzy reminded Viggo.
“At least there is some new pussy in this place,” said Viggo. “That’s rare, you know?
So where is Martin at?”
“He is home with the girl,” Ozzy said.
“Ah,” Viggo exhaled, “Cheri.” He called to the bartender. Cheri, was a cute girl who sometimes worked at the bar, she was a little younger than us. We all liked her, but I think Viggo liked her most. He ordered three shots and three bottles of Becks. He turned back to us, “For a bright kid he’s a fucking idiot. Dumb smart dude.”
Cheri planted the drinks on the bar. She took money from Viggo’s pile next to the register, which we would contribute to. Viggo picked each shot up carefully and handed them off one at a time, then passed the beers along. A beer in one hand and a shot in the other is a wonderful thing. “To German beers and Irish whiskey and the team.” We brought the shot glasses together in the air, careful not to spill any, then back down on the bar for good luck, and then the brownish contents of the cheap little glasses were gone forever. Slainte. Prost. Cheers. We tapped the bar for luck but there were some other thoughts as to why it was a practice. Some did it for the fallen, some did it to release spirits trapped inside the whiskey, some did it to settle the booze and some did it for the respect of the person tending to you. Anyone of those would suffice our lot. The theory of it being for a lost friend would soon be employed most. Maybe tapping the bar with our shots was a prophecy, maybe we knew all along what was going to happen, maybe subconsciously we knew that we would lose one of our own. If it was going to be somebody, it should have been me.
“I’m getting hammer smashed face tonight. I can feel it.” Viggo was already there. Hammer Smashed Face was the first song off of Cannibal Corpse’s third album released in 1992. It was also our phrase for getting or being shitfaced. “How is Martin’s forehead?”
“He’ll live, we Krazy glued it.” said Ozzy, fidgeting with the Beck’s label.
Everyone felt that we were lucky to be alive, only I didn’t feel so lucky. Ozzy recounted his tale of throwing his beer into Parm’s father’s car to Viggo. That throw was great. I was happy I had seen it in person. Ozzy’s throwing accuracy was always on point. We talked and drank, and enjoyed the company of each other. We didn’t talk about the Navy. We didn’t talk about the heaviness and devastation of losing one of our own. We didn’t talk about the horrible record our Sunday double header softball team had last summer, nor did we talk about how bad our poor Mets were doing, or the trades we felt the team needed, and they needed some trades. We drank more and felt no pain, not a care in the world, albeit momentarily.
The whole world was rotating outside the bar on nights like those but had no impact on us. The world no longer spun and time was indeed lost inside the cloudiness of foamy pint glasses. We loved it, that was partially the point, to escape the real world and all the sadness and the responsibilities that we faced each day. We dealt with stress communally, and used the slightest reason to just be together and partying.
When Philip came over to us, Ozzy asked, “And how was your night?”
“Just shut the fuck up,” said Philip, laughing. “You couldn’t fucking wait to piss inside the place.”
“I’ve never been to the Tombs.”
“It is no different. Fucking sucks. Stupid fucking bench warrant.”
If we had died in the car accident Philip would have been the lucky one. We spent a large chunk of time ripping on Philip, busting his balls for getting locked up in the first place and missing Soilent Green. We always got to Philip easily, he was thin skinned which made him a target, Philip could only dish it out like a lot of weak humans.
A group of party goers were huddled around The Vault’s only dart board. Viggo asked Ozzy if he wanted to shoot some darts, to which he replied, sure.
Ozzy walked over and wrote their names in chalk on the scoreboard under the guys who had next. Ozzy wrote PBEE and HOWL, in bold letters on the bottom right side of the Budweiser cabinet door. Viggo had the coolest tag out of all of us. I always thought that if only he actually liked to write graffiti, it was such a waste of a cool moniker. I thought about that, some other mundane shit that didn’t matter, I was not thinking about that night being the one where everything changed. Viggo asked Cheri to get our darts from behind the bar, we had sets at both bars, it was fairly common for some regulars to keep sets on site, our travel case had XXI written in a medium tipped silver Pilot marker done by Ozzy, the tip of the marker was cut into quadrants with a box cutter, then spread and rubbed against a rough surface like concrete to get a thicker, more juicier line.