Si Como No

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: & / Personal / Stories / pk by Age / College Years /
@ K. 2002 11 13

1958 Summer

My friend Alan Ravage and I were walking on Macdougal Street in the Village when Alan overheard some guy raging about how a couple of guys had let him down. He was off to Mexico and they were supposed to gallery-sit for him and now they’d finked out. The guy is dressed Mexican and he’s standing in front of a little shop with Mexican stuff all over the place. Sandals, blankets … and some Pre-Columbian pottery. Alan grabs me and makes sure I hear him ask the guy to repeat his predicament. Within five minutes we’d agreed to run the Si Como No for the guy for the summer while he went down to Mexico to replenish his inventory.

The guy explained that he could just walk around the pyramids and pick up objects d’art off the ground. Tourists flew off with Mexico’s treasures all the time: openly. Highly illegal now; perfectly legal and open then. The guy looked familiar to us. Sure enough, soon after he’d taxied to the airport, we realized why. The shop keeper had had his picture in a recent Esquire magazine, playing his (Mexican) guitar at Washington Square, even’tide, alone on the fountain’s concrete circle: full page, full color. It’s been a while, but I have a feeling his name was Alan too. Alan made us promise to take care of his cats: one a Russian blue, the other a black Manx. Oh, and could we please not mind if his “friend” came and went? He has his own key. He stays out of the way. Once we got a load of the friend, he was something. Tall, black, shaved head, shaved legs … bright green socks … His name too was distinctive: a single, unusual name, more than one syllable: Barnaboo? Or Clarence perhaps. To each his own.

Macdougal St
Macdougal Street
thanx nymag

The idea appeals to me instantly. Without some such obligation, I was all too likely to waste my summer school time and tuition drinking in the Whitehorse Tavern. This would keep me off the streets, maybe make me some money instead of me spending it. We hoped we wouldn’t be too successful. I had to read and read and read: for an American novel course: taught by Quentin Anderson, Sherwood Anderson’s son.

Elsewhere here I tell of my first wonderful love: Jackie and I were first in each others arms in the Si Como No.


The Cat & the Neighbors

One afternoon that summer, late in the day, I emerge from the Si Como No. The store was set down a few feet below sidewalk level. There was a stairs: go down a few steps. Next door, the store front business went up a few steps: to the Caricature Coffee House. (The space next to that was empty but would soon become the famous Gas Light Café. I step up onto Macdougal Street. I barely saw the guy, tee shirt, strapping, as he stepped into me: “Son of a bitch.” Wham! Uppercut. Full under my jaw. Lifted me midair all the way up the flight of steps and sprawling heels over head into the Caricature Coffee House. I’d flown. I’d landed. I wasn’t hurt: just surprised. I pick myself up. The guy has gone. Marched straight up the stairs on the other side of the Si Como No: into the brownstone that our “gallery” was the basement of. Alan comes rushing out onto the street. “What was that? What happened?”

“I don’t know. Guy hit me. Built like a tank. Hardly bigger than a fire hydrant but his punch lifted me off my feet and knocked me clear into the coffee house.” We went back inside, Alan brushing me off, soothing me.

Alan had a theory. I bet he was right. The Village is frequented by weirdoes: hippies, beatniks, students, queers, jazz lovers, folk artists, intellectuals, pot smokers … and … the longtime residents and working class Italians. They don’t approve of the circus they live amid. They have their San Genaro Festival. The culture is Sicilian. Catholic. Conservative. OK, that I know. Alan reminds me anyway. “So you probably got hit because of Susie,” he says.

“Susie?” I ask.

“Yeah, Susie. She’s in the loony bin at Stockbridge. With Greg. They’re out for a few days. They visited me this afternoon. I brought them here. The cats are making free with Susie’s handbag, poking their heads into it, sniffing this and that.

“Suddenly Susie shrieks


The cat ate my diaphragm.’

The guy upstairs yells down the airway that he’s gonna get us, Alan continues. Susie leaves. You arrive. You step back out and right into the fist of the guy from upstairs.”

Had to be.

I’ve been hit hard a couple of times. I know that it’s never hurt at the time. But man, oh, man, can it hurt later. But that time it didn’t hurt later either. No loose teeth. No bruises. Just a free ride through the air.

Macdougal Street

This pic shows the local architecture: half-basements visible from the street, half-stairs ascending to the residential parts, stores both below and above street level. Note the Minetta Tavern: this view is across the street. So, the stairs here are a bit east of the stairs I got knocked up: same, uptown, north side of Macdougal.

Pre-Columbian Woman

We sure didn’t sell much that summer. But we did cover expenses. I remember selling a couple of Pre-Columbia sculptures to a guy from Brentano’s uptown. He paid me $40 each for a couple of clay figures. He’d take them uptown and sell them for $80. Our rent was $20 a month. We owed Alan 50% of what we grossed in sales. So we owed Alan $40 for two months rent, another $40 for the two sculptures, $4 for an $8 pair of sandals our friend Peter bought … and another $20 for a Toltec sculpture I kept for myself.

That ceramic was female: with funny little teeny tiny tits: and a wide open vagina: merely a slit in the hollow ceramic. I kept her on my dresser in the dorm the following semester. One day I came in and the sculpture was neatly laid on the dresser in several pieces. She could not have broken so that the pieces fell into that position. So. Marie the maid. I wonder if Columbia University has an idea that it hired maids who destroyed irreplaceable ethnic artifacts: artifacts from sovereign countries the US has cultural alliances with! Do you have any idea what a Pre-Columbia piece started selling for as soon as Mexico decided to close the door on tourists just riffling the pyramids? A basketball star could spend all of his multi-million bonus money and not get much.

2012 03 15 I just remembered a story I’ve never before told from that summer: Usually Alan and I took turns manning the shop, but one evening we were both in the gallery. A couple came in. We showed them the pre-Colombian artifacts: $40 retail. We showed them the sarapes, the ponchos, the huaraches … They didn’t buy, but they didn’t leave. Finally they indicated what they wanted: they wanted Alan and me to come back to New Jersey with them, to come to their home, to be served champagne, caviar, whatever we wanted … and to party in front of them!
Huh? Party?
They thought we were fags! They wanted to watch us fuck!
No matter what we told them, they wouldn’t believe that we were heterosexual. If they had invited us back so the husband could watch as Alan and I took turns making love to his wife, that might have tempted us a little bit. Actually, I still would have refused, and I suspect Alan would have too.
Poor bastard: his wife had to pimp for his perversion. Passive. I spy. Ugh.

2015 06 08 I came here today to add a detail or two. I’ve just named Clarence for example, hope I got it right. More stories float into my head from that distant past: I’ll add one or two: though this first can’t be considered very good until I come up with a name for the heroine, ideally, her actual correct name. Call her Barbara in the meantime.

Throughout the summer our Si Como No was regularly visited by the fourteen year old daughter of the woman who handcrafted women’s leather handbags down the block toward Bleeker Street. It took me a while to realize that Barbara had a crush on me. (I in turn had a crush on her fourteen year old friend, John Lambert’s daughter. Jeez, what a high, cute, round little ass she had. She also had a boyfriend, adult: heroin addict, stay away. Jail bait from more than one talent.)
I used to read ee cummings to Barbara. One day I find a fewpapers, a poem of two papes, laid on the couch. Ah: it was written to echo cumming’s May I feel, said he. She Barbara to poem to confide that she’d been raped: by an old man.
Now, normally around that age, I’d be horny as hell. But I’d just met Jackie. Jackie and I had just seduced each other on that Si Como No couch. Still: it was clear, the purse maker’s daughter wanted sympathy, want comfort: wanted something from me. So, one evening we’re sitting side by side on the couch. The gallery front door is open but there are no browsers. This girl, squirms, and declares that she loves me!
I reach up and yank the chain that switches the overhead light: in this case, off. Now we sit in gloom. I wait for her to squirm closer. What’s the antidote for rape? Affection? a squeeze? A pat? A little pet?
She gets up and bolts.
Later she tells Alan that I’d made a grab at her: “Oh, Paul was just teaching you a lesson, trying to scare you”, Alan explained. Barbara seemed to accept it. But she came around much less.
And I felt like an idiot. ‘Cause I would have squeezed her, comforted her.
What do I know? Well, I learned a lot about women and girls fast after that.

Alan remained my friend for a few years after that, but ever less good a friend. I note a pattern: it was increasingly plain to one and all that I, pk, Paul, was chick bait. I like Alan. Alan knew aat least a little about everything I wanted to talkaboout. He was smart, knowledeable. But he was ugly, the opposite of chick bait. Maybe he thought some of the chicks would rebound off me and fall into his lap. Take Jackie for example. Alan and I arrived at the party where we met her at the same time. We both lunged for Jackie. But I wound up in those first minutes taking Jackie out onto the terrace, while Bird animated the record player, Night in Tunisia, and I embraced Jackie from behind, Jesus, what a rear end! my erection actively exploring that glutteal plush. Jackie bumped her hips and made sure my erection had plenty to feed on. Alan lights another cigarette.
After graduation Alan took an apartment up on Claremont Avenue, toward 120th Street. I go to a party, meet Alice, disappear into Alice for the next month. Then she’s had enough, time for betrayal. I’m pissed, find Alan in the West End. Alan sees I’m a wreck and guides me home: except we hear Beethoven hear a sexy voice, a sixteen year old it turned out, a fantastically buxom sixteen year old. Within minutes I take her home, up the block, play my Beethoven for her: Judy. Alan is happy because meantime he meets cute sixteen year old Alison. He says to me, I like Alison, don’t you make yourself attractive to her, you leave her alone. And I do.
Now it’s sixty five years latter: Alison became my sister in law, she still hates me!
Ah, but you see. A couple of days latter, invited to Alison’s for breakfast, her older sister, Hilary, my wife to be, opens the door. Judy and I walk in, a few minutes later, Hilary and I walk out, go up the block, listen to Beethoven. … I think that’s the straw that broke Alan’s back. He also loved Hilary, wanted her desperately: sabotaged me with her at every turn, as he had sabotaged me with Alison! We’d been friends from 1956 on to 1961 or 62: then sabotage followed on sabotage.
more later

Stories by Age

About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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