the basement was more or less what he had expected. a bare cement floor and brick walls enclosed a hot water heater, a gigantic furnace. an old workbench that hadn’t been used in years, piles of boxes that god only knew what was in them, and a toilet next to a huge cast-iron sink in one corner. he turned on the taps and water came. it was brown but at least he had water. the toilet actually flushed, too.

he piled all the boxes up next to the furnace to make a sort of wall so he could pretend it wasn’t there, swept out the open space that removing the boxes had made, and moved what was left of his stuff down from the third floor. to his surprise he discovered that with the boxes out of the way, even discounting all the room the furnace took up, he had more floor-space than his last apartment. the basement felt roomy by comparison. there was some good in every evil, he thought.

his bed long since sold, he scrounged around in the department store warehouse until he found several large squares of packing-foam, six inches thick. over the course of a week, he hauled them home on the bus one at a time and made himself what turned out to be one of the most comfortable beds he had ever slept in. it was, he reflected every night as he lay there drifting off, like sleeping on a cloud.

he turned the workbench into his kitchen: cooler underneath, a few dishes and pans lined up on top to the far right, toaster-oven and hotplates and a basket of silverware to the far left. the honorable center space between them was occupied by his precious deserts in endless rotation: today a blueberry pie, tomorrow a box of Congo bars, the day after a chocolate roll-cake with marshmallow filling. on the tool shelf above the bench, he put his canned goods, his cereal, and his sugar and instant coffee. it wasn’t exactly home but it could have been a lot worse.


harvey nitzinger wandered into the uptown bar yesterday afternoon looking like the seven hounds of hell had dragged him through eight of the nine levels and then decided to let him go because he wasn’t fun any more. i’d heard he’d had a reversal of fortune, so to speak, so i sidled up and offered to buy him a drink. you’d have thought i’d offered to take his place on a chain gang, he was that grateful.

“ain’t seen you around in a few months, harvey,” i said. “where you been?”

“if i told you, you wouldn’t believe it,” he said, shaking his head. this i had to hear, so i bought him another drink.

eight or nine years ago, harvey had moved into miss justine ermintrude’s apartment building. at the time, he was a sales rep for a big computer chip manufacturer and riding high. he took miss justine’s $6000 a month penthouse with the built-in sauna and a bird’s-eye view of the harbor and gold leaf in the window trim. he was in his early forties, wasn’t married, was reasonably fit and good-looking, didn’t gamble or drink much, and had women following him around like dogs will follow a steak. he had a pretty good life, i guess, as these things go.

then, three years back this was, he’d gone and made a little mistake. he’d gotten himself involved with the wife of his company’s chief financial officer, one gary welchick, and gary found out about it. he wasn’t amused. the divorce was messy as hell but that was only the beginning. he wanted harvey’s scalp hanging on his teepee pole (that’s the way he put it), and he fixed the books so it looked like harvey had been stealing from the company for months. they fired him, of course, though gary made sure it didn’t go any further than that (though the odds were against it, you never can tell when you might stumble on a cop bright enough to figure out what really happened, and gary didn’t see any sense in taking the chance), but he did make sure the word got around. Before you could say persona non grata, harvey was. everywhere.

he moved out of the penthouse, of course, and took a small three-room apartment on the sixth floor. he had some savings and he was sure he’d land another good job real soon. miss justine was sympathetic. these things happened. she had suffered herself. life was hard but she was sure he’d pick himself up and be back on top in no time.

at first he managed to get a job selling computer hardware for a small outfit over on mott street, but then they moved their whole operation to india, lock-stock-and-barrel, and harvey wasn’t invited to make the trip. he was out of work for months after that and his savings slimmed down dramatically. he moved to an even smaller two-room apartment on the fifth floor. the rooms were so small you could have fit both of them in one of the 6th-floor rooms. he had to sell most of his furniture because he couldn’t afford to store it any more. miss justine frowned and shook her head when she rented it to him.

“seems like you just can’t get a break, mr. nitzinger,” she said. “a good man like you. it’s a shame. but i’m sure your luck is going to improve any day now. you just keep swinging.”


“blind pierre usta play down the gypsy cafe on reggio street,” says carl. “i seen him ever saturday night we usta go in there, have a spaghetti dinner with garlic bread and red wine, blind pierre was playing. some fiddle player, blind pierre. them strings, they’d practically light up like stars the way he played, sometimes to make you cry like a babe in your mama’s arms, sometimes fast as a bordello handshake, like the cops was after him and he had to finish before they bust in and drug him off to the slam.”

“their sauce wasn’t so hot,” big tony says, “watery, ya know? but the garlic bread? make yer mouth water, make yer hips do a jig.”

“what about blind pierre?” i says. “i remember him. I seen him play downtown once–”

“nah,” big tony says, “wasn’t him. he never went downtown.”

“nah,” carl agrees. “never. not blind pierre. strictly a morgan streeter, blind pierre. musta been somebody else.”

“i’m telling you, i saw him. he was playing jazz with a combo down the old blue moon club. amazing stuff, i wouldn’t have believed it if i hadn’t heard him myself. what about him?”

“oh, he’s dead,” carl says around the walnut he’s cracking between his teeth.

“dead? when?”

“yesterday, yesterday night, whenever.”

seems carl was passing by blind pierre’s place on jimson drive just off morgan when he sees all these crowds of people milling around on the sidewalk and they all had these black armbands on, so he goes over to see what’s up, he don’t think right at first it’s got anything to do with blind pierre, he’s just curious. you know. but it’s got to do with blind pierre alright. it’s his funeral.


one night, belinda c, a woman of substance, a woman of enormities, passed through her back door and into her tiny garden like a warship oozing from the dock and heading out into a sea hardly big enough to contain it. there were noises in the garden, noises that did not belong and that she should not have been able to hear above the surface noise of the street, strange noises like clucking and high-pitched giggles and the sing-song falsetto of a 33 record played at 78.

it’s never really dark in the city. the garden was lit by streetlamps on both sides, neon lights from commercial signs on the roofs of nearby buildings, the spill from the rooms where wakeful neighbors watched television with the windows open, and even by the headlights of a passing truck or two. it was about as dark as a very very cloudy day.

she rumbled, the machinery of the warship’s cannon searching for a target. the noises had stopped. she stood for a moment, not sure if she had heard anything at all; maybe it was the whiskey whispering low and sultry and playing tricks on her like it used to do in the old days before she got better, before the house of pain. and then the noise came again, off to the right, near the fence. she swiveled carefully, quietly for a woman so large, and focused her guns.

she was prepared for a rat. she was prepared for a kid swiping her tomatoes, dry, shriveled things that they were. she was even prepared for a burglar, though what he might have hoped to steal in a neighborhood like this would bear explaining. of all the things belinda c was not prepared for, at the top of the list was what she actually saw–a leprechaun perched on her chickenwire fence, munching on a lettuce leaf and talking to himself. or maybe that was singing.

“shoo”, she said. “shoo. shoo.”

the leprechaun–if that’s what it was and what else could it have been?–looked up at her with mild amusement in his tiny hazel eyes. “i’m not a housefly,” he said. “or a timid field mouse with his racing shoes on at the slightest crack of twig. i’m not that easy to get rid of, if that’s what you’re hoping. why don’t you sit down in that old stuffed chair you threw out last year, and we’ll have a talk.”


cat-blonde went into the emporium for a piss and came out with a pile of laundry attached to price tags. she didn’t mean it, it was just one of those things, just one of those fabulous flings, a trip to the moon on credit card wings, just one of those things, but she was pretty sure big tony wasn’t going to see it that way, big tony being what you might call a bit of a stinge, or cheap, to use the vernacular (and why shouldn’t we? it’s as much ours as anybody else’s). so she went to another emporium and bought a plastic trash can. then she tore all the tags off the new laundry, threw them into a passing egg crate, and stuffed the now tagless new laundry into the trash can. when she got home, big tony was on the porch, sunning himself in the shade (big tony likes the idea of sun, he just doesn’t like the fact of it since he insists he has delicate skin that burns easy only nobody knows whether that’s true or not because nobody’s ever seen big tony go out in the sun long enough to find out), and he says, “what’cha got there, girl?” and she says, “nothin big tony. a trash can is all,” and he says, “whad’ja buy a new trash can for, we already got one.” and she says, “it’s got a dent in it big tony, i’m ashamed for the neighbors to see you carry it out when it looks like that. this one’s plastic and it won’t never dent.” big tony just shakes his head–wimmen–and goes back to sunning himself without taxing its strength by actually being in it and cat-blonde takes the trash can around the back.

now she’s got a problem, see, she’s got to get the new laundry with the tags missing out of the trash can and into the house without big tony seeing her and there’s no telling if big tony’s going to pick that very moment to decide he doesn’t want to sun himself any more and come back into the house where there’s a layer of brick between him and it, so she just leaves it there. which is a good thing because big tony picks that minute to come in after all and he would have caught her with her arms all full of new laundry with the tags missing and they would have had words and cat-blonde doesn’t like having words with big tony because he doesn’t have any and it ain’t a fair fight. so she leaves it there with the missing-tag new laundry in it and goes on into the house where she makes big tony his favorite meal–baked beans and franks with plenty of salted onions–and they watch tv and then after awhile, in the natural course of things, they go to bed and a little while later big tony is snoring like a moose and cat-blonde sneaks out of the house and downstairs to the kitchen and snaps on the outside light and goes to get her new laundry with the missing-because-she-threw-them-into-a-passing-egg-crate tags out of the trash can.

only when she comes out on the back steps she sees, froze there in the light like a scared baby rabbit is all her new clothes setting on a totally different female body other than hers.


they say there are 8 million stories in the naked city and i intend to tell every one of them but only if they get some clothes on. it’s disgusting. man, i can’t look at you when you’re like that. at least turn around….