In this chapter, the book's protagonist, Steinem Langley, spends a day downtown Brooklyn, New York. PARENTAL ADVISORY
UNCLE BILLY’S FUNERAL was nice; though serene almost to the point of inhumanity. The funeral was downtown Brooklyn; on a quaint, tree-lined side street; about five blocks from Junior’s.
Steinem sat towards the back of the people already seated; because she entered the church as the invocation was proceeding. Others present included Uncle Billy’s immediate, extended and friends of the family. Steinem was only familiar with Uncle Billy’s flamboyant wife, Mavis (known as “Goose” to all who loved her); reclusive daughter Cynthia and shiftless son, Sonny.
It was a resplendent day; the sun seemed to peer through the stained glass of the modest, cozy – if not quite makeshift -- church in a baby blue hue. The cast was as if the transparency and aura of Uncle Billy’s Guardian Angel was blanketing the room.
There was an old, well-worn, regulation, storefront church-standard, dual-keyboard, Hammond organ to the far left of the casket; as well as a brand new and most incongruous drum set; which was covered in the most vulgar, shimmery and orangey flecked vinyl to be seen in any House of any Lord, anywhere.
Uncle Billy was up front inside the casket, but his family had chosen to keep the casket closed. The last time Steinem saw Uncle Billy she was only six or seven years old; so she couldn’t remember the characteristics of his face if you’d offered her a year’s salary in exchange. However, and through some miracle of memory, she could keenly recall the standard, 1960’s issue bifocals he wore; his slightly higher pitched laughter and his time-period required, charcoal grey, gentleman’s trilby.
Steinem also fondly recalled the aroma of Uncle Billy’s apartment. On any given weekend, you could catch Goose making pigeon peas and rice; with an olfactory overload of thyme. Cynthia had a dog named Chaucer, that she was potty-training; and so the laundry area adjacent to Goose and Uncle Billy’s kitchen added the scents of damp newsprint and dried shitballs to Goose’s original, thyme-based, olfactory soup. The combined bouquet was unforgettable.
After the service and benediction, Steinem went over to Cynthia’s pew and Cynthia looked through Steinem as if she’d never before seen her face.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Steinem – Jessica and Derek Langley’s daughter,” For crap’s sake, this bitch doesn’t even remember me, Steinem thought with visible exasperation.
“Ohhh,” Cynthia said, wryly. Then she yanked Steinem’s hand and took her over to Goose.
“Look, everybody -- This is Derek’s daughter!” Somehow, declaration of that fact drew more emotion from the congregation than the entire funeral service evoked.
“You don’t say!”
A random, wrinkled hand surfaced from an equally random pew and tried to pull Steinem’s fingers off.
“Derek died back in --- Hunnie, when did Derek pass on?”
“Are you going to Pinelawn??”
“Pinelawn?” Steinem stammered, “Uuhh, uuhh, mmmm, ummmm … “
“Are you going to Pinelawn?”
“Is she going to Pinelawn?”
“That’s Derek’s daughter!”
“Are you going to Pinelawn?”
Steinem was frozen in abject horror at the prospect of attending Uncle Billy’s burial. To start with, his was the first funeral she’d ever attended as an adult. She’d gone to a few services for elder relatives as a child; but the children in the family were always spared attendance at the actual burials.
Equally terrifying to Steinem was the fact that every living soul at the service was now expecting Derek’s daughter to be ringside for the associated dirt-tossing and graveside histrionics. She politely declined invitations to the Pinelawn Cemetery soiree and got the flock out of Dodge!
Instead of going directly home though, Steinem walked a few blocks down the street to process her thoughts about the day’s event and have a nice meal at the world renowned, Junior’s Restaurant. The walls and windows of this Brooklyn eatery were replete with architecture of the most intricate, yet fantastic gastronomic recollections – built fork-by-forkful -- at this iconic, cheesecake-inlaid center of outer-borough bourgeoisie. Year after year, herds of starving students, artist-types with attitudes and conspicuous consumers answered the daily cattle call of beef steaks on the hot grill; cheesecakes on the window sill and jacketed wait staff at beck-and-call.
Junior’s looked a little different on the outside to Steinem because years ago there was a great fire and the fire had pretty much gutted the place; but when they renovated it, it looked very nice, indeed. The colossal, multi-bulb lit word, “Junior’s” on the DeKalb Avenue side of the restaurant was still prominent and the cake processing area at the entry had been expanded; though thankfully, not at the expense of the steak-grilling area. That’s where; ad infinitum, successive slabs of marbleized Heaven were slapped smack and sizzling atop of hungry, charbroiling flames.
Steinem sat down by in the front of the restaurant, so she could people-watch over the French café styled, ruby red curtains on the main window. She recalled bringing in many HAPPY NEW YEAR celebrations at these very same, white linen outfitted tables with former Brooklyn Technical High School and Long Island University classmates.
Brooklyn Technical High School, eighth wonder of the world and right up the street, she mused. Some of the predecessors to the Tech experience were: folk singer Harry Chapin; television stars Kim Coles and Lou Ferrigno; and General Manager of the metropolitan hip-hop music station, 98.7 KISS, Barry Mayo. When Steinem attended Tech, there were some seven thousand students enrolled and – hand to God -- well over forty percent of them got in through bribery. The test proctors were salaried wimps and the mandatory entrance exam was simply, too difficult to cheat (comprehensive, Steinem’s mother would often suggest). So entered the likes of Alvarez, Lynden, Swann and Pou Putt; Luxevan, ‘Pickpocket’ McLaughlin; Brown, Green & the Pinkhouse Brothers; James, Tygers, Robinnette; plus a host of Who-Knows-How-Many others. Some got lost in the military after high school; most of them had a child along the way somewhere (whether they knew it or not); a few of them tried their luck in college and one of them died.
One time at Junior’s, Steinem and a group of her Technite cohorts crammed six or seven up into a back booth of the restaurant and ordered cheesecake like it was going out of style.
“I gotta pee.”
“You’ve always gotta pee, Steinem; put a cork in it,” some random retorted.
Steinem pushed her way from the middle of the booth crunch and went to Junior’s second-floor restroom area. While she was indisposed, kitchen shift crews had swiped their string mops over the hexagon shaped, terracotta tiled floors of the restaurant.
Now, you DO KNOW -- that tile floors take fucking forever to dry, right?
So here comes Miss Steinem; all giddy and feeling like a new woman because she’d just left the potty; not paying the least bit of attention to the waiter carrying with one hand -- easily five full meals on a huge round tray in front of her.
THE CRASH & MASHUP of
WAS HEARD CLEAR TO THE NEXT BOROUGH
“Steinem! I’ll be damned.” A hand ran across Steinem’s back and returned her mind to the present.
“Wow! Uh… Wow. Oh my God – how are you? You scared the shit out of me just now… Wow! Nice to see you!”
Edmead Lynden, the former and up to now, the elusive, non-reciprocating love of Steinem’s life, sat down at her table; exchanged cheek pecks and ordered a piece of cheesecake for them both. They hadn’t seen each other in at least three years; since 1983. That’s because three years was pretty much how long it took for Steinem to come to terms with the fact that this fucker would go out with any and every girl but her. With Steinem, he’d been content to whisper hopeful, intellectual nothings in her groupie-issue ears and fuck her brains out in storerooms, basements, and whatever back-alley based hole you can think of.
“You’re looking good, girl.”
“I just came from my Uncle’s funeral. The service was four or five blocks away from here.”
Lynden was chubby, but then Steinem had a super-freaky kind of thing for chunky men who managed to clean between all their folds and come out smelling like soap. Sadly, like many chubsters, he had a pencil dick under those belly rolls – but damned if he couldn’t slither it around faster than a salamander in shallow water! Steinem loved this boy; and was prepared to have his baby on a word.
They were both macking their scrumptious cheesecake slices and out of the
fatboy Lynden threw his weight into the center of the ring;
“How do you feel about me, Steinem? Do you still have feelings for me?”
Are you fucking serious? Is this fucking guy serious? Steinem stuffed some cake into her mouth to feign composure.
“I love you, Lynden. You know that… I’ve already told you that... ” Another piece of cheesecake found its way to Steinem’s pie hole. She knew that her declaration of affection for this jackass was falling on deaf ears. This time though, it was cathartic. With that last utterance of vulnerability, she magically (sort of) and completely purged the urge to consider the possibility of a future life including Mr. Edmead Lynden – the fat assed salamander.
Causes LiNCOLN PARK Supports
Any and all programs which support literacy, technology, the environment and keeping people fed, clothed and housed.