MONKEYS ON CRESTON AVENUE

MONKEYS ON CRESTON AVENUE

The Bronx, 1985

B–short for Beatrice–was the last of the Irish
living at 2208 Creston Avenue.
When I moved there in ‘75 her older brother
was staying with her after a stroke prevented him
from walking without the aid of a wiry,
wheeled contraption resembling a shopping cart.

Across the street in Saint James Park
almost nobody played tennis on the clay courts
once rated second best in the city.
“Jumbo crack! Jumbo crack!” teenagers with Jamaican accents
chanted as I walked along the periphery of the park.
My car had been broken into three times,
and in the building next door the Albanian landlord
had stabbed his Dominican super to death
for flirting with his Cambodian girlfriend.

Shopping Bag Woman, E. 7th St. & 2nd Ave., 1982, photograph by Philip Pocock
Shopping Bag Woman, E. 7th St. & 2nd Ave., 1982, photograph by Philip Pocock

Whenever I ran into B and her brother,
she’d tear into me, “Go on, defend the animals,” she’d say,
“tell me you feel sorry for them because they’re foreigners.”
I’d cringe waiting for her to unload news
of the latest crime in the neighborhood,
all the time looking at her brother
hanging on to the wires of his walker
his lips wet, his chin trembling.

Even a candy wrapper under the stairs,
a cigarette butt in the hallway,
was enough to whip B into a fury.
I would argue with her,
tell her dark skin or a foreign accent
didn’t make the new residents less human than the old ones,
blast greedy landlords and businessmen
who hired arsonists to torch hundreds of buildings,
tear into policemen, who—when I complained about car break-ins–
called the neighborhood a zoo
and told me white people had no business living in the Bronx.

It got to the point that if I saw B in the vestibule
I’d enter the building from the side entrance,
and if she was in the elevator, I’d sneak up the stairs.
Once when she told me the apes even let
their kids smoke pot in the courtyard before classes
“ –no wonder they have no culture!” I lost it.

“So why don’t you leave?” I snapped,
“move in with one of your kids.”
“One’s a doctor, the other owns a card shop,”
she said, her eyes watering, “they have their own lives.”

Less than a month after my outburst,
I came home to double-parked police cars,
two brown-skinned kids in handcuffs,
and a stretcher being loaded into a City ambulance.
When I went inside I saw a tangle of wheels and wire
by the elevator and B holding two suitcases,
her face wrapped in a black scarf.
When she lifted her head,
she yelled in a voice that ripped through me
like a band saw through plywood,
“Look what your monkeys did to my brother!”

Gil Fagiani