NOTE: Not long ago we received this memory from an unnamed Hell’s Kitchen writer, who assures us that his neighbors all pass him on the street every day… without ever seeing him.
When my kids were little, long before I became what I am now, which is a booze-hound, Christmas time was always something special. It still is special for me ‘cause they haven’t yet closed down all the soup kitchens. The City Fathers missed a couple of soup kitchens in their drive to improve the quality of life in this town by killing off everybody who doesn’t work three jobs and make a hundred grand a year just to pay the rent. So I can still look forward to a meal of turkey with trimmings in some church basement somewhere. Along with the food, the do-gooders give us bums little Christmas presents. It’s nice. Don’t you like getting presents? I do. Last year I got some Old Spice and a soap on a rope. It was green and shaped like a seahorse. I liked the way it smelled. But I accidentally left my soap hanging in the rooming house bathroom down the hall one day and that was the last I saw of it. I don’t know why, but when I found the soap was gone I cried like a baby for two hours. And I never cry. A stupid piece of cheap soap. Archie the bartender who took the pledge was right. Booze does turn your brain to mush.
It was Christmas time and I ran out of money again. A card game this time. Looking for free things to do, I thought it might be fun to see the tree at Rockefeller Center. I usually enjoy the colored lights and all the happy kids giggling and acting like, well, like happy kids. So yesterday, even though I had no money to speak of, I left my room and headed over there. In the daylight you could see that this was one hell of a big tree. Why’d they go kill it? I stood in the part of the plaza they call the Channel Gardens cause on one side is a British building and on the other side is a French building. I was looking at the tree when I noticed this woman with her son. The kid was about six, I guess, no more than seven, and the woman had him bundled all up like he was Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon even though it wasn’t really so cold out. It couldn’t have been cold cause I was there and I don’t own a coat. That’s why I’m inside today, writing this. Today it’s freezing out. And I don’t own a coat. So this woman has her kid by the hand and says, “look, Lawrence, look at the nice tree. It’s beautiful isn’t it.” She wasn’t so much asking him as she was telling him. Surprisingly, the kid said “no.”
“But it is beautiful,” the mama said, giving the kid a little tap on the back of the head.
“It is not,” the boy insisted.
“Yes it is,” she said, giving him a harder tap.
“I don’t like it.”
“Yes you do!”
This time she gave the kid a clip on the head so hard that I could feel it. The boy wobbled a bit but held his ground.
“It isn’t beautiful! It stinks!”
“It is beautiful!” she says then CRACK! a tremendous shot across the back of the kid’s head. In my day, I seen prize fighters kiss the canvas on less.
“Isn’t mommy right? Isn’t the tree beautiful?”
When the boy didn’t answer, she lifted her hand again.
“It’s so beautiful, mommy,” he said like he really meant it.
“Don’t you just love it?”
“Yes mommy, I love it. I love it.”
“And do you love mommy?”
“Yes. I love mommy.”
She smiled and they went away, both of them happy. I’d hate to be around when this kid gets married. His wife cuddles up to him and coos, “do you love me?” and he says “I love you more than anything” then he proves it to her by belting her right in the sweetbreads. I only hope he finds somebody who’s into that kind of thing. There’s plenty of them out there.
I looked back at the tree, and so help me, now I didn’t think it was very beautiful. Then I cringed, almost feeling a swift hard smack on the back of my head. I turned around as fast as I could and went across the street and down the block to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I prayed for that kid.