Wednesday, June 26, 2013

WALKING by Christina Franke

I walk up St Marks Place toward Second Avenue.  I'm young, very young, with a soft pretty face, long wavy brown hair, sad, watching, alone, wearing a baggy sweater, walking in the cold winter sun, looking at the people who walk toward me, looking at the men, the young men, thinking, "Is this the one?" "Is that the one?" and a young man with a face I like catches my eye and looks at me, reaches out his hand to touch my hand and smiles and says, "You're a girl I could fall in love with."  And I look at him and I smile and keep walking.

I walk on Avenue A between Ninth and Tenth, in the black cotton dress I wore all that summer, the dress I’d bought in a little store over on East Fifth, a dress with a drawstring neck, in black cotton, a cotton heavy enough that I wear it without a bra, walking in the heat, feeling almost naked in my cotton underpants and black cotton dress, my shoulders bare, arms bare, hot, my hair long and limp from the heat.  I walk, thinking about nothing, looking at nothing, and a small, wiry man comes up beside me and kicks me in the shins, kicks me hard, mumbling something I can't understand.  I stop walking, shocked, hurt, looking around, tears suddenly covering my face.  I stand on the sidewalk with all the people walking past, ignoring me, ignoring the crazy man who is now a bit ahead of me, still mumbling, walking fast, not kicking anyone else.

I walk downtown from Fifth Avenue and 28th Street, all the lights off, everyone walking, the horns honking, the Empire State Building black, the sun going down, the streets getting darker and darker.  I walk downtown to my neighborhood, to East 11 Street, up the dark stairs  of my building, into my dark apartment and I heat a can of bean and bacon soup on the gas stove, the telephone not working, with no tv, no radio, only knowing what I see and what we all see, that New York City is dark, that the lights have gone out.  I try the phone over and over but can't get a line so I leave my apartment, not wanting to be alone in the dark, and walk over to Avenue B looking for my friend John Efferson, the crazy poet who has an apartment swarming with cockroaches.  I pass a group of men standing in the dark around a large metal drum, full of fire, the light of the fire lighting them, warming them, and one of them looks at me, and says, "Get off the street little girl, you shouldn't be here, get off the street."

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


We had a punching bag set up in the garage of my Orange County youth. And boxing gloves that laced up your forearm. This was the domain of my dad and my brother. Dad kept the garage door closed of his makeshift boxing academy, creating this familial sanctum, private and secluded from the neighborhood boys, and expressly for us to learn to fight. After all dad was a football player, and boxed too. He was part of the tough-Jew club, not the nerdy, get straight A sort. My brother, fearless of punches coming at him, learned to pound the orb hanging down, 1-2-3, 1,2,3,4. 1-2,…..with a brutal rhythm that scared me at age 5 and 6. I’d flinch when my brother hit the bag, and I was several feet away!  I don’t remember dad spending much time with me in here, in his mighty world of musk and manhood imagined by a hard ball hanging from a hook-- with our ping pong table pushed to the side, making room for the sparring.

You can smell the car oil on the floor from our ever-present fleet of white Dodge Darts that dad bought used. Here in this indoor-outdoor room, that bridged the inside -- the world of mom, all that was artistic and erudite, that spoke to my sense of self, that spoke to fun and beauty and acceptance -- to the outside world -- pick up football games, ‘Smear the Queer’ on our front yard, fights with the neighbor boys that I stopped winning by age 7 because I didn’t know how to predict a left hook to the Adam’s apple after Jeff Byars’ dad must a’ taught him a thing or two in their garage.

When it came to fighting, I wasn’t a natural. But my brother Frank was. We fought. Brutally fought, my entire childhood. And well into my twenties.  Some highlights:  crouched in the corner kicking Frank off of me, the only thing strong enough to protect myself, my solid tap-dancing thighs, so he couldn’t start walloping me. I felt so helpless and brutalized by my brother who was almost 4 years older, completely overpowered. He would get a kick holding the pillow over my face until I panicked, thinking that I was going to die. Attempt to protect myself: throwing a solid brick at my brother’s face. It didn’t hit.