Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Story of the Ghosts

By Pauly
New York City

The other morning while on the shitter, I thumbed through the latest issue of my college alumni magazine. It's a glossy and overproduced magazine with pictures of diverse students and little blurbs about how other graduates are making a difference in the world. I skip over those fluff pieces and head straight for the back.

I always check the obituaries section first. I wanted to know if any former college classmates kicked the bucket. That time... there were none. Then I checked out the latest news from various alumni from my graduation year. Out of the twenty or so listings, I only recognized three names. One guy from my fraternity announced that he had another kid and named her "Angelina." That was pretty lame. He used to be such a wild and creative guy. He once drank a half of bottle of Jagermeister and ran down fraternity row completely naked. He's now a cardiologist living outside of Chicago.

The other name I recognized was a girl who I had a slight crush on during my junior year. She was from New Orleans and we had a couple of poli sci classes together. She used to date one of my friend's fraternity brothers. Rumor had it that she loved to suck cock, but wouldn't swallow. When she was a freshman, she blew one of the guys on the swim team. She tried to swallow and ended up puking all over the guy in the backseat of his car. That was 15 years ago. Now, she proudly announced that she had her second kid and is happily married to an attorney in Virginia.

I have been wandering around the streets of my old neighborhood. Some of the shops have changed while others have remained the same. I recognized some of the faces while a whole new wave of people have moved in. A couple of times I passed people on the street who did a I was the ghost... that had not been seen in a very long time.

On one of the main streets, there now stands a Starbucks and a Subway franchise. That corner used to be the crossroads of South Riverdale. At different times, the corner store had changed hands from an Irish deli when I was a kid to a gourmet deli in the 1980s to a Travel Agency in the 1990s and now it's fallen under the corporate shadow of fast food entrepreneurs. It has become a Subway. Same for the spot across the street. It changed from an art supply store to a video store to fast food chicken joint to a Kosher Chinese restaurant to now a Starbucks.

On one of the corners still stands an independent pharmacy. It's been like that since as long as I can remember. They have not been driven out by the larger pharmacy chains like Eckerds and CVS... which both have stores within a block of the mom and pop one. I wonder how long before they are forced out by higher rents or squeezed by the drug store conglomerates?

Within a 24 hour period, I ran into the biggest former crack dealer from my neighborhood and Derek ran into the girl who I took to my high school prom. Talk about flashbacks.

Pedro was a former crack dealer and he attended the same Catholic grammar school as me. When I was busy prepping for the SATs and playing varsity hoops in high school, Pedro had dropped out of his public high school and was hustling on the streets. He pulled in twice as much as my father made and drove around in a white BMW while slinging crack at its peak in the late 1980s. Pedro started out as a lookout and eventually was promoted to a runner. He eventually went out on his own and would ride the subways to do deals in stations on the platform or actually on the train. It was an amazing system and provided Pedro a means of escape if the police happened to show up. The subway also allowed him to reach a larger client base as he amasses a small fortune.

I heard that he had gotten busted at some point but I still don't know what he does today. Is it legal or illegal? I didn't care. But he had five or six kids from three or four different girls from the neighborhood. When we saw each other, he said that his kids were getting bigger and bigger by the day.

"How many do you got now?" I asked. "Five? Enough for at least a basketball team, right? Can you field a baseball team yet?"

He wished me a Merry Christmas and I did the same.

On the same day, at separate times, Derek said he saw my high school prom date. We both attended the same grammar school and she went to high school in Manhattan right across the street from me. She was an interesting mix. Her mother's family were Irish and her father was from the Dominican Republic. Irish-Catholic-Latina. That's the Bronx for ya. I had not seen or talked to her in almost fifteen years. I bumped into her once many moons ago when we were still in college. I had not seen her since.

Then on Christmas morning, I ran into a kid who I used to play Little league baseball with almost 25 years ago. He was with his wife and they were headed to his parents house for Christmas with a couple of big bags of gifts. We made small talk... the entire conversation lasted less than twenty seconds. It was chilly and he needed to get going. That was fine with me because I really don't like talking about myself. I really never know what to say, especially when people ask, "What do you write?"

I hate saying "poker" because it gets such an unusual reaction and then people (not in the industry) start asking me a million and one questions or worse... they tell me a bad beat story or want to discuss poker strategy. Poker is my job and a part-time hobby. It's not something I actively seek to discuss while bumping into old friends on cold street corners. That's why I say, "I write freelance for a bunch of magazines. Boring stuff. So how are your kids?"

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