Dad was awake and talking a mile a minute. He saw us and waved his cigarette and the ash fell off. He came out of the truck and gave us both a hug. I’m proud of you guys he said.
Hey we’re all still alive. That’s saying something out here and he looked around. A police car cruised by. All the guys on the nod on corners or waiting in line.
In a car across the street there was a loose Lucy going down on some guy who kept breathing hard and saying: Almost there. Almost baby,
You aint even hard, she yelled and we all laughed up and down the street.
The guy with the door open shrugged his shoulders. Another day on the block and I knew what my dad meant and loved him for it.
So what’s this show you want to see?
I played with him once.
Yeah it was here in the village. Asked if he could use a second guitar. Always could, he said.
Asked if I could play bottle neck.
Said his songs always sounded better that way. Unless it’s McGuinn.
Yeah Dad, Gene Clark has a new album. He’s an artist now.
Always was, Dad laughed. Could never play the song the same way twice. No rehearsal.
I hear he doesn’t care if he sells records,
Dad scratched his belly and lit another cigarette.
You came from your mother?
Did she ask about me?
Of course. She said hello.
He smiled and lit another cigarette off the one he was smoking. He looked at both and laughed, handed the burned one to some guy standing there who was high and looked like he could use it.
The rush hour copline was just starting to form. They all watched Rockets for a sign and he gave them the five minutes five fingers sign.
The Nods stood out there all day. And Rockets would trade right there in the street for dope, so the guys had all kinds of sundry items they had brought to sell.
One guy had his sleeve up and was showing off some watches. Another fellow had a bike. There were lots of bikes. Another street guy ran a bike shop on the sidewalk halfway down and Rockets did business with him.
Rockets RedGlare was a man who had a piece of everyone and it was all right somehow because he was such a nice guy. And he never had to use muscle and there was no credit. You got the thumbs up or the thumbs down and if Rockets said no, Well there was no argument you just had to go somewhere else. He and my father were best buddies. And Rockets was the boss of the block. The King Pin. He spoke in this old hipster patois and called my dad Big Chief and that was cool too, while my dad might hit someone else for that.
Maybe they would sell twice a day or three times or not until after dark but the regs would be there all day reading the paper and talking and acting like they were not there to score dope until they got the signal that it was open.
Rockets would clap his hands and they would form into a line. All types suits, working Joes and straight up junkies.
Get your money ready, Rockets said. No shorts. He was a legendary figure that Rockets, worked the door at the cop spot by day and the Mudd Club by night seemed to never sleep and had the build of a sloppy kind of fat linebacker.
He was like the Mayor of 7th Street and the dopers respected him because he ran the cop dope line and the dealers respected him because he could keep all the junkies in line.
It was a symbiotic relationship.
Mark Zero came by with his Kodachrome camera; he was the Movie archivist of the block. Funny story he took reams of film of our scene for years and then his building was condemned one day and they lost everything. They weren’t allowed to go in for their pets under police orders. What any of us would give for those movies today.
What any of us would give for one day to go back to the lives we used to live. It all slips by so fast. If I knew my dad would die with a needle in his arm and I would never see him again maybe I would have hugged him harder. That day. Maybe.
It was a graceful thing for Rockets to do for our father. To let my dad feel like a big shot, like a dad on our birthday and I could have kissed Rockets for it and for the graceful way he nodded at me and my quiet twin brother who’s hand he shook and said, You’re going too?
Dad slapped our backs and as we walked away, Diz showed me the twenty bucks Rocket had palmed him.
You know what Rockets said? My brother said. He talked to me a lot more than he did to anyone else because we were twins, I guess.
He said your dad told me to give this to you.
Did you believe him?
We were both laughing and happy all over the place.
I want to, he said. I want to believe him.
And that’s how we felt about my dad. We wanted to believe him. We always did. Because he meant well. He really did. Rockets waved us back. You guys got ID’s he asked.
We looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders in unison.
Rockets winked and pulled out his wallet. The weird thing is I started coughing and after it went on for awhile my brother shot me this Killer Joe look. I wondered what was up with him.
Meanwhile Rockets thumbed through the cards inside. It was as fat as a Bacon and Egg Sandwich from the Stage Deli. The waiter there has a big old belly and can hardly fit behind the counter.
I thought of that looking at Rockets.
Here take these he said. They’re military. No one questions a military ID.
I wanted to see, but Diz reached out and stuck them in his pocket and we were off.
Tambourine Man: Gene Clark is co-published with the East of Bowery blog.