The first Saturday of the new year was one of those mangy sweep-up days on the sidewalk. Not as bad as the previous Sunday, the first sweep-up after a blizzard. I don’t know what it is about blizzards that brings out the wet, floppy pieces of cardboard. But every time we’ve had a major snowstorm, the following thaw always deposits huge chunks of blown cardboard on the sidewalk. On top of the rock salt and dogshit.
But the past few days had been a wind tunnel with sub-freezing temperatures. Any time we have high winds, forget it, there’s all kinds of stuff on the sidewalks. Living near a night club, a few blocks away, there was some of the usual stuff. I’m always seeing the remnants of cigars pulled apart so the user can stuff the inside with marijuana and smoke his big ganga stogy before, yo, goin’ to the club. Usually the cigar box, too. And the plastic bag that held the pot. But it’s always the torn-up cigar innards that get me. There’s the usual small empty zip-lock pouches that held designer drugs like X – not tons, but enough to let me know some Jersey Shore-style douchebags were out there last night getting tuned up in their car before, yo, goin’ to the club. (Sidenote to New Jersey readers: I recognize the irony of this show's title, that these people aren't from New Jersey at all and, in fact, tend to be NYC-based guidos renting beach houses. Just goin' with the flow, know what I'm sayin'?) And someone has to fill me in on this, as I found this, too: a clear surgical glove? Not the first time, and I live nowhere near any medical facility. I’m guessing a woman is getting funky with a guy’s ass and doesn’t want to get her fingers dirty? Sorry if my imagination is too vivid, but why am I occasionally finding clear surgical gloves on the sidewalk?! I’m assuming doctors aren’t getting stoned in their Mercedes out there.
And there was the usual junk: plastic bottles, shopping bags, fliers, cigarette butts, beer bottles, a lot of Dunkin’ Donuts detritus (cups, container tops, napkins, bags) … one opened up recently an avenue block south … and I’d say the most common form of junk now on the sidewalk is Dunkin’ Donuts dumpings. The Dumpin’ Douchebags. Which unfortunately underlines my theory that the more fast-food/generic the eating establishment, the bigger the slobs who consume there. You can see this if you pay attention near any urban fast-food establishment: their junk will be all over the sidewalks in the immediate vicinity, even if public garbage bins are plainly visible.
But something really caught my eye this time. It looked like a scrap of cardboard, some type of form, but there was a black magic-marker message scrawled on it: “fuck you god and your bastard child.” It was on the back of a Super 9 Lottery scratch-off card. Well, someone’s a sore loser, I thought as I deposited it into the garbage bin.
Fast-forward about half an hour. I’m in the middle of laundromat loads, hustling back from the supermarket to my place so I can dump off my groceries and catch the load coming out of the dryer. I’d just left the supermarket, in front of the marble-cutting factory up the block, ready to hit the small hill leading up to my place. When I notice something on the ground: a Super 9 Lottery scratch-off card. It can’t be, I think. But I kneel down and flip it over out of curiosity’s sake. Sure enough, the same message: “fuck you god and your bastard child.”
This changes everything. It wasn’t just some one-off angry lottery loser … it was a conspiracy. Someone had it in for God … and His “bastard child.” A few thing I could already establish. This person was a Christian, no matter how bitter. If you don’t believe in God, then you don’t curse Him – He’s a non-entity if you’re an atheist. And this person was a pretty dumb Christian. Christ wasn’t a bastard. Mary was married to Joseph. You could make the case the Joseph was cuckolded by the Almighty, and must have had the patience of a saint to roll along with a deep WTF situation. But I gather you’re not too steamed when you’re poor as dirt, wandering around with your knocked-up old lady on a jackass, the only place you can find to settle down for the night is a dirty manger (must have been convention week in Bethlehem for the “no room at the inn” treatment they got all over town), and out of nowhere, as your wife is giving birth, three kings show up and start laying out expensive gifts to the son you know isn’t your own. I think at that point, you just throw your hand up and say, well, I’m not happy that the old lady is having someone else’s child, but I don’t have a pot to piss in, and this is all getting very interesting in ways I hadn’t anticipated.
I’d like to picture some middle-aged guy, angry with the world, buys a handful of lotto tickets, scratches them all off, lost again, and in his anger, at the world, at himself, at his poverty, angrily scrawls out “fuck you god and your bastard child” on the lotto cards and throws them randomly on the sidewalk in hopes that other people out there will find his bitterness, like a message in a bottle, and perhaps take a moment, and think, “Yeah, fuck you god and your child.”
But I suspect the reality isn’t quite so romantic. For one thing, the handwriting wasn’t so angry. It was carefully crafted, as though someone took his time to write the words clearly and concisely, slowly working the magic marker over the slim piece of cardboard. The person put thought into it; he didn’t explode in a moment of rage. For another, that sort of shadow figure whom life has forgotten, skulking around in his shadow world of broken dreams and mild rage, gets harder to find in this neighborhood, replaced by the spunky girl with an iPhone who peppers “you know” and “like” and “totally” in her cellphone conversations while discussing boyfriends named Chase and Dylan.
No, I’d picture the darker side of the brat pack who’ve been moving here en masse. The aging wigger who just ditched the nose ring two years earlier because you don’t wear those kind of things in the office. Faded family pictures from Christmas 1999, Dad, Mom, little sis with a smiley face, in front of the gaily-lit Christmas tree, and Vanilla Ice, yo, in a size XXXL Atlanta Falcons football jersey and sideways baseball hat, arms folded, fingers held in gang signs, glaring at the camera as if he was America’s Most Wanted, vainly trying to grow the wisp of a peach-fuzz goatee. This picture, of course, no longer exists because he made sure to tear it up Thanksgiving 2006, a few years after he dumped the gangsta pose, and the evidence of his growing pains slightly pre-dates the digital age, thus there might be some negatives buried deep in a drawer back home, but they’ll stay there, hidden and gathering dust.
That’s the kind of guy I picture scrawling such a message on a lotto card. And not so much because he’s angry with the world. More because he’s angry with himself, feeling himself drifting further away from that culturally-fueled teenage rage that pushed him straight through his mid-20s, but seemed out of place and childish at his 10th high-school reunion. And now he’s an adult, for lack of a better word, and that anger has no place to go. It has to die, and hopefully come back as some similar form of adult rage, although never felt as strongly. Pissed off at the boss. This job sucks. How about those (insert political leaning here that somehow offends your sensibilities). It’s always something. But never the same as being 19 and pissed off at everything in sight.
God can take it. His bastard child can, too. Just dump it on them, they’ll absorb it. World’s big enough for you anger, and then some. They get it, too. Angry message scrawled on the back of a losing lottery card. Good one! Scrawl it again. Spread the word. Drop this wondrous message on the sidewalk at various points in the neighborhood. Viral marketing. Nothing personal, God. Don’t really care about You. You’re just a pawn in my game here. But somebody’s got to take the hit for me here.
Of course, if the real culprit of this infantile crusade was found, it would probably be a 13-year-old kid from the neighborhood who’s pissed at his Dad for making him go to Catholic school! Found worthless, scratched-off lotto cards in the garbage bin, and the lightbulb went off over his head. Who knows. But I find people sincerely angry, truly enraged with the world, generally aren’t this calculating. This felt more like a failed art school experiment by someone with a mediocre mind and just enough education to be stupid. The sort of folk who’ve been piling in here lately … pining for a Trader Joes to open up just like the one back home … missing those Pita Puffs with Sea Salt so much it fucking hurts … ah, Trader Joes, Walmart for the baccalaureate set. That’s how it works in the city these days. If you build it, they will come? Nah, if they come, you will build it. And I just saw two fliers the other day heralding the rapture.