Excerpt from No Man’s Brooklyn, novel-in-progress.
The binge ended. It could have been longer, could have been worse. It was what it was and while there was residual shame and disquiet, there was also gratitude that I had stumbled out the other side. That’s what it felt like, stumbling, but at least forward.
It was also a matter of vision, or an adjustment of vision. Whereas, in the thick of despair, I saw tunnels at the end of the light, in the palm of hope, I saw a beaded speck of light at tunnel’s end. That Angie the Hammer would play a pivotal role in this tunnels-and-light business was not something I would have imagined.
I had been walking around the park at night, drinking a 40, acting like a thirty-seven-year-old teenager, cloistered warmly inside a gaping wound, a state of wet, mute nostalgia, and I made my way onto the baseball field, across the darkened grass of the outfield, pausing where Anya and I had laid together, where our sides had touched, where we had narrated the trajectory of moving stars, and I continued onto the diamond, past the light-bleached hump of a pitcher’s mound, and into the dugout where I sat and looked out. That’s when I saw him. A figure walking on the tennis courts, which were adjacent to the baseball field. When he moved onto the baseball diamond and into the light, I realized that it was Angelo.
I called out his name. No response.
I called out louder and waved my hand.
This time, recognition, as he made a beeline for the dugout, taking earbuds out of his ears.
Hey Daniel, what’s up, what the fuck are you doing here?
I held up my bottle—Drinking. You want?
Nah I’m good, I’m straight these days.
Straight, like straight-straight?
Straight up and down brother, Angelo smiled. No weed, no alcohol, no drugs, no nothing. Well except for smokes.
As if cueing himself, Angelo squeezed a Newport from its pack and lit it.
Angelo continued to stand, leaning against the dugout fence.
So what’s up with you, how much longer you here for?
I’m not sure. Things have changed.
Oh yea, how so?
I confessed to Angelo that I had been sober for almost three years and had relapsed. That I was, at present, relapsing right in front of him.
Angelo narrowed his eyes and nodded. And said—It’s hard man, I hear ya. I’ve been clean now for almost a year and a half. It’s hard but it’s worth it. My life was nothing but dead ends bro.
I liked hearing Angelo say it was hard but worth it. Liked hearing his voice. I wanted to keep talking to him, to keep listening to him. It felt like a shot in the dark was coming through.
I asked Angelo questions. Which is how I found out that he had gotten clean in jail, and that he was coming from an N.A. meeting when I saw him. I thought of my Uncle Eddie, who had been going to N.A. meetings for a long time, and wondered if he and Angelo encountered each other in the rooms, if they swapped stories.
Angelo asked me how the comic book gig had gone, and I told him it had gone well, and was touched that Angelo had remembered the gig, and had thought to ask of it, and, in wanting to be thoughtful in turn, I asked him about his wife and daughter.
Heading back to my beautiful ladies now, Angelo smiled, and then he showed me pictures of both on his phone, called himself a lucky man, and I could tell that he meant it.
I shouldn’t be here, Angelo said, I should be dead, so many things I did, so much stupid stupid shit.
Angelo shook his head, looked at the pictures on his phone one more time, put the phone away.
His mention of death brought Anya to mind, and I asked him if he had gone to her funeral.
Nah, he said. I don’t think Boris and Vera would’ve wanted me there, which I understand. Me and Anya . . . a lot of bad shit went down between us. We both had our share of crazy, ya know? Don’t get me wrong I loved that girl, but we were toxic to each other.
Angelo paused, exhaled a long stream of smoke.
You know, she used to talk about you all the time?
Yea Daniel, all the time. I definitely got jealous sometimes . . . you know, me and my bad temper.
Angie the Hammer—
Yea Angie the Hammer, Angelo softly chuckled. I was jealous but also I got it. You two had been tight since you were little kids, that’s a serious bond, right?
Yea it was.
Yea and I think she saw you as some kind of, I don’t know, she put you on a pedestal, like you were a hero because you did your own thing and followed your dream and moved to L.A. I think she respected that a lot.
Hearing those words—hero, pedestal, respect—while I was sitting in a dugout, drunk on malt liquor—made me feel disgusted with myself.
I turned within to a different memory, Anya and me as kids, with me explaining the rules of playing war with G.I. Joes, and Anya listening with an intensity that was both grave and amusing.
Compelled to do something, anything that qualified as a dramatic affirmation, I hurled the 40oz. bottle as far as I could. I anticipated the sound of exploded glass but the bottle landed in the outfield grass without breaking.
Some throw, Angelo said.
And it didn’t even break, I said.
It might’ve but we just didn’t hear it, Angelo suggested.
I had to know. I walked out to left field, retrieved the bottle, brought it back.
Completely intact, I said to Angelo, then tossed the bottle into the garbage can.
I kicked the side of the can, which resounded metallically.
Anya’s birthplace, I spoke glibly.
The garbage can?
Yea the garbage can.
Angelo nodded, smiled.
I heard that story a lot. And how she came from nowhere.
She told you about coming from nowhere?
All the time.
I felt a twinge of jealousy. Her speech about coming from nowhere hadn’t been exclusive to me. I wondered if she had ever levitated for Angelo?
Instead I asked—Do you know who Emily’s father is?
Oh I didn’t know her name was Emily.
I felt slightly vindicated, knowing that I knew Anya’s daughter name and Angelo didn’t.
Nah, I don’t know who the father is. I just know it ain’t me, Angelo smiled.
There were other questions I wanted to ask Angelo, which I didn’t. Other things I wanted to do, like retrieve the bottle from the garbage can, knowing that there was still some liquor left in it, or run laps around the baseball field until I collapsed. I didn’t do those things.
I got quiet and Angelo peeled himself away from the fence and said he had to be getting home to his ladies. He placed his right hand on my shoulder. I thought of that hand, its notoriety, its bluntness, its reputation, Angie the Hammer, except now it was a soft, open hand cupping my shoulder as Angelo said—Good talking to you Daniel. If you wanna hit a meeting with me tomorrow, give me a call.
Then Angelo removed his hand, wrote down his number on a slip of paper, gave it to me, placed his earbuds back in his ears, and left.
I sat in the dugout for a while longer. Then I went to center field, lay down in the grass, looked up at the night sky, and asked to be forgiven. As if, in that very moment, or perhaps for my whole life, the unmistakable fact that I existed warranted a sincere apology.