Mapless in Blue Eyes
notebook madness...too many of 'em...if I had every notebook I ever kept...you too eh?...this small one has the melding of banalities and bizarre-ness of a night's work hacking the streets of New York...the man who ran off on a $7.90 fare... my momentary outrage and oh well...then the nasty English chap from a bar in Williamsburg...who gave me the finger because I didn't know the way to where he was going..."But you're a cab driver," he'd insisted, incredulously, when I told him I couldn't figure a way there from here, and if he didn't know the way, we were out of luck...of course this isn't true...I have a map...but I didn't feel like resorting to it with this arrogant prick...I didn't like his looks that's all...the whole stiff upper lip bit and he didn't do it well...I could see him directing a firing squad in South Africa...he insists that I must know the way..."It's off Metropolitan Avenue" he says apparently not-knowing we are on Metropolitan Avenue...I tell him I don't know where Metropolitan Avenue is...he is outraged...but he doesn't know where it is either obviously...the sign is right in front of him...I tell him "Yeah well I didn't ride around New York on a bike with a map for a year like they do in London. I been here 50 years off and on and I don't know every street."..."But you're a cab driver!"...I am thinking oh...kay...mother...fucker...I have fleeting vision of doing something vile perverse and unforgivable to him...to confirm his worst suspicions...give him a taxi story for the boys back in the pub ...he can't believe he has captured a taxi driver on the taxi-starved corner and he won't do what he demands...finally he gets out stands on the sidewalk and gives me the finger...I tell him across a lane of traffic that I would have found it on the map if he hadn't had such an attitude...thus the finger...I laugh at him and hit the BQE for the Williamsburg Bridge...my thoughts like old cars on a wet freeway...switching lanes moving thru invisible synapses and blinded by oilslicked wipers of logic...sliding confused from the absurd to the inane at the corner of profound and divine...through the underpass past the squalid dark garbage bins steel and green...overstuffed iron boxes on wheels waiting under impassive gaze of vacant human-less windows seemingly etched into the concrete monoliths of steel and glass...every window an eye...garbage-trucked on 37th St...bus-bullied on Sixth Avenue...suffering superior evil glances of lazy mean cops in Times Square...all I can do not to give that smart-aleck there the finger...
I will tell you a story about him...after I told him the truth about the ticket he'd said open yr trunk we'll see if you have a fire extinguisher...I nearly laughed in his face...I opened the trunk...see he said, no fire extinguisher...imagine that I said, folding my arms...an equipment violation I explained, goes to the fleet owner...I have nothing to do with it...he let it drop and told me to get on...entrapment plus harrassment of a citizen...I record it in my memory for the Tribunals someday...I hope to testify at the trials...I have a list of crimes and misdemeanors longer than Route 80...the city installs a no left turn sign at 46th and Seventh Avenue where I've been turning for 50 years...it's the last eastbound street to bypass Grand Central...is there a cop directing my attention to the new sign?...no...it's beneath the exalted dignity of a heroic New York cop to stand in an intersection with a whistle in his mouth...it's too sensible!...it worked for hundreds of years but we're progressive now...four rookies under his command lurk around the corner with flashlights waiting for the unlucky sucker who never thought to look for a sign where he has been turning for 50 years...130 bucks...I made the same mistake again a week later and got another one...yes I know maybe I'm too old to be driving a cab...don't think the thought hasn't surfaced...on the other hand these cops are nothing but tax collectors for Mayor Mike Bloomberg...they don't direct traffic...they obstruct traffic so they can give tickets...oh yes they do...check out the traffic jams and you will find a cop car up at the head of it...five will get you ten...the bastards!...I know...it doesn't bug you at all...well I don't really give a damn either...it really makes no difference to me...I just mention it is all...nothing I can do about it...I'm not superman...I just get up like a zombie everyday and put one foot in front of another until I fall back into bed some indeterminate time later...after having sent in another hundred bucks or so to the City Entrapment Bureau...or to a lawyer...somebody has to keep them in potato chips...even if they are a bunch of hired goons...everybody's got to eat...that's how I see it...the Universe is eating itself...every single thing in it is eating some other thing somehow...we chew swallow and shit our way through life and then the planet eats us...no matter how many preservatives or bullet-proofed tombs...the earth will devour us...it's a done deal...Manhattan won't out-last the pyramids...they built things better back then.
A guy in the back with nothing else to do asks me: "If you could be anybody other than who you are, who would you be?"
It cracks him up...he cackles..."Why?"...I look at him in the mirror...if I were God I could make him vanish...I want to disappear him...I want to disappear the whole scene sometimes...but I can't do that of course...I'm not a magician or a serious revolutionary...I tell him so that I could have instant gratification...he doesn't understand...I let it go and get him out at 14th and Ninth Avenue, where he is headed to a trendy new bar...where do they get all this money? how can I get some of it?...I am thinking about it when this Chinese bitch and I mean bitch gets in...she orders me about like I am her house servant in the Forbidden City...she is imperial...about 40 I guess and pretty but hard...in less than a minute she has me chained to the floor of the cab and is threatening to whip my back with a tapir tail...she orders me here and there...go left!...go right! stop at the light! watch out for the car!...I endure this...I ask where we are going and she says never mind..."I'll show you!"...I go along with it...I meekly submit...I nearly cringe...I am wondering how to properly kowtow in case it comes to that...she takes me away from the congestion on Essex Street into a dank street in Chinatown I never saw before...it is like an alley...not many alleys left in New York...it is full of garbage cans...I see a rat out in the cold scaring up a late snack...she abuses me some more...I wait patiently...finally I say listen lady I am not your slave...she has a fit...she misunderstands..."what?!...I not a slave! I been in this country four years! Never speak to me like that! You hear me? Never! Never speak to me like that!"...She goes on with the never-never routine for a few more sentences...I say please pay the $9.50 fare...she takes money from her purse but holds onto it..."Never speak to me like that! You understand?"...she holds out the bills...I reach for it...she pulls it away..."First you must understand"...she repeats it...I wait in silence..."Never speak to me like that!"...I say please pay the fare...she hands me the money...I grab it as she tries to take it back again...now I have it!..."Now get out of my cab you crazy bitch!" I say...I don't like to say that word it is like saying nigger but my control is slipping..."Aha! Now you have money! You are very brave!"...for a servant...I say get out of my cab...she doesn't move...she asks "You want to call the police?"...gladly I say, taking out my cellphone and stepping from the taxi...I will call the police...I am breathing hard and tense now...I hate to involve the cops...she gets out and yells something at me as I get back in and drive away...I suddenly realize she is drunk and maybe high on coke and maybe an addicted prostitute getting older and just hanging on...I feel sudden shame...ah Mike you and yer big f-ing mouth...give yer ego a rest will you?...you are a slave and you know it...and so is she...that's why she went on like that...maybe she knows it too...nobody likes to be reminded.
That's how it goes some nights.
Then you're headed back to Queens empty and you pick up this quiet classy young dame on Fifth Avenue in the rain...she is quiet and you didn't even see her face...it's a long ride downtown...take the FDR? yes...no traffic now...down Fifth and left on 42nd for the highway...WBAI playing Tracy Chapman..."We are the witness to the rape of the world"...I feel relaxed with her and no need to talk...the rain stops the clouds move and a low white moon shines on the roiling river as the tide comes in..."Pretty," I say. "Yes"...we are in perfect synch..."How long have you been driving a cab," she asks my wasted old face...I laugh..."Since 1873, ma'am, soon after the civil war"...she laughs...are you in the market? I ask...she says yes...I ask is it getting better? she says yes, for some...I am liking her more and more..."How about you?" she asks me...I tell her it has never been worse and I am moving to Thailand...I tell her why and she says that's a good plan...so you don't think it's going to get any better, she asks politely...I tell her no...the ship is going to the bottom...it's full of holes and the bilge pumps are breaking...the Captain's a madman and the crew is homicidal...the steering gear is broken and the gyroscope is frozen...it's blowing a perfect storm and they're panicking on the Bridge...she laughs at my description as I pull up to her big lighted building where I suppose she is working a well-paid night shift...she pays and tips well and flashes a genuine smile... with dazzling blue eyes between damp blonde locks beneath a black wool hat...another one I'll never know...separated by class sex age and money...wearily I go through the hour-plus stuff I have to do to get home to Eric the Cat.