Thursday, January 28, 2021

“The River and the City”


 It was the worst possible kind of day, and what better sort of day to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge and end his pathetic life once and for all?

Addison (not his real name, but that’s what everyone called him, so let’s call him that) stood looking down at the East River flowing toward the Atlantic Ocean beneath the cold dirty steel of the bridge. The sky was bright blue, not a wisp of a cloud in it, but the wind was high and freezing. He stood there with his right arm holding onto a girder. He had always been afraid of heights, and yet, here he was, way up here, about to end it all.

What did he have to live for? No one liked him, let alone love, no, love was out of the question, even his own mother didn’t really love him, nor his grandmothers or his aunts and great-aunts. They might send him checks, but that didn’t mean they loved him.

All he had to do was jump.

But.

But on the other hand he was a coward, and always had been. So then the question was, what was he more afraid of: jumping and ending it all, or continuing to live the miserable pathetic life he had always lived?

“May I intrude?”

Addison was so shocked that he almost jumped off the bridge by accident.

A little old man was standing to his left, wearing a cloth cap, thick glasses, a ragged overcoat and scarf. He had a smoking stub of a cigar in his mouth.

“Jesus Christ!” said Addison.

“Oh, I wish!” said the old man.

He seemed vaguely familiar, like someone Addison had seen in Bob’s Bowery Bar.

“Do I know you?”

“We have not been formally introduced, but I have been keeping my eye on you. They call me Bert, Bowery Bert.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I am here because you are here, Addison.”

“How do you know my name, not that Addison really is my name.”

“Nonetheless it is the name that everyone calls you.”

“I know, I know –”

“All because you’re always trying to be witty and acerbic like Addison DeWitt in All About Eve.”

“I know, I know, you don’t have to tell me.”

“It could be worse, maybe they could call you Waldo, after Waldo Lydecker in Laura, ha ha. How’d you like it if everybody called you Waldo?”

“I wouldn’t.”

“So Addison’s not so bad, is it, Addison?”

“Wait, just who the hell are you, and what are you doing here?”

“You saw that movie It’s a Wonderful Life, didn’t you?”

“Yes. And I thought it was sentimental tripe.”

“Well, irregardless, you remember that scene where Jimmy Stewart was gonna end it all, and suddenly a lovable little angel shows up?”

“Yes, what nonsense.”

“Well, I’m an angel, sorta like in that movie. A guardian angel.”

“You’re my guardian angel?”

“Not exactly. I always have to explain this to you stupid humans, so here I go again. We ain’t got enough angels to give everybody on earth their own guardian angel, and so instead we angels are each given districts to take care of. Me, I got the Bowery, or at least a big chunk of it. Which is why they call me Bowery Bert.”

“So, what, you’re here to talk me out of jumping off the bridge?”

“I ain’t here to talk you out of nothing. I’m here only to get you to think about your life for just one minute, but from like maybe a different angle.”

“Oh, like, look how great my life could be, if only I, if only I –”

“May I be honest, Addison?”

“Of course.”

“Your life will never be great, my friend.”

“Wow.”

“You will continue to be shallow and pathetic and untalented. You will never amount to nothing, you will get older, you will continue to drink and smoke too much, your body will deteriorate, and then you will die, friendless and alone, quite possibly after a painful disease.”

“Gee, thanks a lot. I guess I’ll just go ahead and jump now then, if it’s okay with you.”

“Be my guest. But first, consider this: if you decide not to jump, and just walk back to land, think of all the fun things you can do.”

“Fun?”

“Going to see Audie Murphy movies. Reading a good book, even if it’s only a Nero Wolfe mystery. Dunking a doughnut into a cup o’ hot chicory joe at Ma’s Diner –”

“Yes, okay, I get it, the little things, sure. But, don’t you see, I’ll still be me.”

“Yeah, that’s the hard part, ain’t it?”

Addison stared at the little old man, and waited. Waited for what? A word of wisdom? But all the little old man did was stare right back at Addison through those thick glasses of his.

Addison turned away and looked down at the river. For some reason he had chosen the northern side of the bridge to jump off of, and so he was looking upriver at Manhattan on the left and Brooklyn on the right, all these thousands of buildings filled with millions of people.

The air and the wind were bitter cold. Like – like what? Like frozen daggers? No, what horrible triteness. Can’t you just say cold, fucking cold, and leave it at that? Must you always try to be clever, even when you’re getting ready to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge?

Addison turned to his left, but now the little man was gone.

So that was it?

That was all?

The little jerk had had nothing more to say?

But, wait, what if the little man had been a hallucination?

What if all there was was this? Just me, inside my head,  looking down and out at all that, at the whole incomprehensible world?

Suddenly Addison felt vertiginous, as if his body might take flight of its own accord and go sailing out over the river, and then that’s what happened, he sailed off the bridge, his arms at his side, headfirst, sailing down and down toward the cold grey river, but then, so strangely, just before he was about to crash into the water, he swooped upward, upward, high into the bright cold blue sky, higher and higher, and after a minute he leveled off, and sailed along, looking down at the islands full of people far below him, and way off to the left he could even see the stretches of New Jersey. 


Addison sailed along for a few minutes, and then, somewhere over Long Island Sound, he made a great graceful curve and began sailing back, back to the river and the city.



(Kindly go here to read the “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, profusely illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}


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