I found him crying by the phone moments after his brother had refused to lend him more money, so of course he asked me. “I’ll walk you to the bank,” he said in that anything-to-help tone they get when they’re beginning to worry their last chance might just back out the door. And don’t kid yourself, normally I would have, except that now I was his very best friend—at least as long as it took us to get there—and by then I figured it was well worth the money just to be rid of him for a while.
. . . nor a lender be.
But it wasn’t enough that I’d loaned him the money, he wanted me with him as he spent it, as if to let me know just how much he now valued our time together. And here I was feeling pretty good about myself anyway, having just saved him from an angry landlady, perhaps, or a week without food, and so I tagged along if only to learn that the very first thing one buys in such desperate circumstances are cassette tapes to mix the music for the big party you’re planning and that, second, it’s probably best not to know.
Cathie and Patty were neighbours and best friends. Childless Patty helped with Halloween costumes and car rides to soccer; she even dressed her Lawn Goose in a Fern Falcons T-shirt in an avuncular show of school spirit. In return, Cathie flew a novelty flag emblazoned with a Golden Labrador that bore a striking resemblance to Wasilla, Patty’s dog. Then suddenly a painful falling out involving a candy-stuck Mary Maxim catalogue. Now they are just neighbours. The banner came down and was replaced by silkscreened Sunflowers. The bird reverted back to his yellow Sou’wester, perennially braced for the stormy weather ahead.
Early morning a friend calls announcing he’s leaving NYC. Self preservation made the decision. Taking a lung filled breath, I sigh selfishly, quietly. The town taking more than it once gave, The Big Apple’s now sauce. His flight is set South to regroup, reenergize, replace woes with renewed vision that the pavement beat out of him. As my day started on this path, the avalanche continued its ominous stretch, like a train wreck, broiling blue skies into tar with Murphy’s Law as an ally. Evening settling into night, heavy eyed, wrung out, thinking of him, I smile, “Phoenix.”
Image: Detail of a painting by David Cunningham, oil on wood panel, private collection.
Robert Jeffrey’s career as a subway operator ended abruptly during the late evening rush hour of August 11, 1995, when he sped through three red signals and plowed into a train waiting to enter Dupont station
with such force that the two trains integrated themselves with each other for 18 feet. Three passengers died and dozens were injured, but Mr. Jeffrey survived to appear on the news that night where we’d eventually learn that he’d only been on the job two days but had already learned how to override the safety systems and turn a hot summer night into hell.