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For a few months, inKirk and I were in Boston. Well, probably not medically starving, we did have the olives and slices of lemons we stole from the garnish tray whenever we could. When we first arrived in Beantown we were eating pretty regularly. This was partially due to the fact that YMCA on Huntington Avenue gave you a breakfast voucher to their cafeteria every day; one egg, any style, toast, and coffee. And it was a great beginning to the day. But you can only stay at the Y for two weeks so we had to move on.
Later, when breakfast had to be removed from the budget, we would miss that voucher and would actually taunt each other with the chant — one egg —any style—toast and coffee. The shoeboxes of food my mom gave us at the Greyhound bus station in Oneonta, NY, oh man, they were long gone; the ham sandwiches on croissants, the plastic jugs of Kool-Aid, frozen to keep them cold longerthe apples, the crackers, the pepperoni, the boiled eggs, the cottage cheese containers filled with macaroni salad.
All gone. Now in Oneonta, yeah it was my idea to leave. I admit it. And I made it sound like the beginning of a film. As if we were two desperados. Two beaten men who would head out to make their fortunes and leave the place that had mocked them behind.
And we toyed around with different locales. Miami, we even thought of L. But once we landed on the idea of Boston, Kirk was sure that this was the place for us. We had taken the seven-hour bus ride from Oneonta to Boston a week before, to scope everything out — to see how difficult jobs and apartments were to find — and by mid-morning of that very first day, at our very first interview, we both walked out with two jobs in our pockets. And not just any jobs; for two college kids from the sticks, they were dream jobs. And Kirk and I were hired to be two of their newest employees.
The place was huge and actually held three clubs in one: Narcissus, Celebration, and Lipstick. But Narcissus was the gleaming, Studio 54 jewel of the crown. Since it happened so quickly, Kirk and I went to the club that night to see if the crowds really did bring pockets full of tips for their favorite bartenders, as we were promised. And they were. We were ecstatic.
And as soon as we got back to Oneonta we tossed everything into a few bags and jumped the next bus to Boston. Finding an apartment was the first challenge. We were earning a little bit of money, but the challenge was that there was a pecking order at Narcissus and we had not earned the plum bartending slots yet. Because we worked during the day, Juno scheduled us for a lot of corporate parties and band things where we worked the service bar and our tips came from the waitresses who were supposed to give us a percentage.
Which they never did. The good news was that the work was easy and the place was completely mobbed; we only had a few feet of bar space to cover. He waited behind the door where we lived, and would pop out like a sentry as soon as our feet hit the wooden landing.
If Kirk and I were both working that night, our combined tips would make it with a few bucks to spare. By October we knew we had lost a lot of weight — each time we got dressed it seemed like we had shrunk a pant size — but when the junkies on Washington Street took interest in our new ultra-thin frames, probably thinking we might have a connection or a hit to share, we knew that food had to become a bigger priority.
The envelope — and I can still see it after all these years — Kirk had found on High Street. It was in the shape of a small paper rectangle and had Asian lettering on it and since we were pretty close to Chinatown, this made sense. Inside the envelope was a bright red foiled liner and a small card. Kirk kept punching my shoulder. And we sat there for a long time. Happy because not only did we have a meal, but we actually had the next one covered too. From the remaining money we bought crackers, peanut butter, and beef jerky — stuff we could easily hide from Terry, since food in the room was forbidden and he checked regularly.
We had a certain routine, Kirk and I. Northeastern University had bought a huge apartment building near us and was converting it to dorms. We went exploring one day and found that the laundry room was never locked and within the room was an ironing board and iron. There was this very cute girl in the dorms with red hair that we would see every now and then. She never paid much attention to us but when Kirk went alone to iron his clothes, he would always come back telling me of how she stopped to talk to him and flirt.
But then when we went back together, she ignored us again. Kirk was like that. And then when we worked together, we were invisible. It was the second week of November and I was off for the night but Kirk was working. He came home excited. He told about how there was a robbery and a guy shot one of the bartenders. Then the shooter came back behind the bar, robbed the cash register and then headed out — only to be shot by cops before he hit the street.
But I never had a chance to verify it. The shooting was my excuse. I was going back to New York. Kirk was sitting in the chair by the door as I threw my clothes into a bag. He looked at me with a mixture of fear and pain as I said goodbye. But a regret is when a moral or ethical line has been crossed. And most regrets come from the wrong answer to one simple question. Do I stick, or do I run? A life filled with mistakes is not a bad life at all. I never saw Kirk again. I have no idea what happened to him, since I transferred to Cortland the next semester.
So here is the question.
To get us both someplace safe until we figured out the next step? How difficult would it have been to have thought of my friend even a fraction of the amount that I thought of myself? And neither is the fact that I have very few good memories of Boston — most likely because it represents the ugly parts of myself that I want to forget. But I would like to think if this happened today, thirty years later, that the man I am now would react differently and show just a little bit of loyalty and grace.
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Narcissus Fuit, Or the Death of a Real Club