From my hometown, New York City was a two-hour drive I never took. My first sight of the skyline came when I was sixteen, aboard a regular yellow school bus, in June heat, while friends and I imitated barnyard animals in lieu of an overhead movie. In the window seat beside me, Zach gave up trying to open the pinch-in/slide-down window and lowered forlornly. The rubber seats, slashed with initials, stuck to your skin. We complained, but we always complained. Up front, our chaperone tried on various faces of authority. We were going to the American Museum of Natural History. We had been given packets to complete.
Instructions were shouted, arms waved as we squealed into our designated parking zone; shuffling commenced through the aisle. As we approached 200 Central Park West in a parody of order, I remember being impressed by both the number and popularity of hot dog stands, the sheer touristic weight of the place. Central Park was verdant, the street hummed with life, and well-tended apartments ran on forever.
What kind of kids were we? Mostly we liked to fuck with people, especially teachers. When supervised, mock-incomprehension was our default mode. Our favorite game was “Clog.” It called for at least five sturdy participants and exploited our school’s heavy traffic and narrow corridors. We weren’t so much angry as relentlessly dissatisfied.
Two hundred well-behaved field trippers idled a full twenty minutes in the museum’s vestibule as the last stragglers were corralled and regrouped. Once we’d been counted, sorted, and warded through the turnstiles, three of us—Zach and I joined by our friend Adam—feigned deep interest in some glassed-in remnant of a dead civilization, waited until the ruck had moved on, and about-faced, back through the lobby and out into the New York summer sunlight.
We passed the rump of Teddy Roosevelt’s marble steed, the bizarrely racist African and Native American “guides” flanking it, the tourists taking pictures of it, the vendors selling hot dogs to the tourists. We turned left.
Five minutes into our stroll it was no longer up for debate: The guy walking ahead of us was definitely smoking a joint. Broad daylight, swank locale. A squad car rolled by and only whoop-whooped and drove on. This was new.
I think we made it to the park’s northern bounds before turning into some Upper West Side enclave. I remember one-way streets running through unblemished stone, fire escapes, and scaffolding. I remember nice haircuts toting shopping bags. Porticoes, balusters, molded cornices. I didn’t know these terms, but I felt them flex above me.
We gadded about and drifted. As always, there was more banter, schemes, and free-association than conversation. Eventually we decided on lunch. What do they eat in New York? They eat pizza. So we found a place, one of those long, narrow rectangles where you order at the back and pay up front, not unlike a school cafeteria. Which was great for us because Adam, among his many talents, had a knack for free lunch.
While Adam was inside, Zach and I kicked pebbles on the sidewalk and rehashed the latest development in Clog. The prime locus, we knew by now, was the cafeteria’s lone, Thermopylae-like egress as one lunch period ended and another began, which due to oppositional flow plus the hallway’s crossway traffic was a jam even without our help. In a spirit of malcontent genius, Adam had begun flinging full milk cartons at the exit’s overhang, raining 2% on already-peeved crowds. Results were sensational.
Adam subscribed to the just-walk-out-confidently school of petty theft. He smiled his way through the doors and we were off, extra-large everything pizza in emboldened hand. “Why stop here?” was the general consensus.
Enter a man we would never meet: John Pelaccio, twenty-year-year-old New Jersey resident. The previous fall, Zach and Mr. Pelaccio both saw the Patriots drub the Jets at the Meadowlands. Both made use of the same restroom, where the elder fan dropped his license and the younger plucked it from the urinal’s shadow. Zach said the card gleamed as he bent to the floor. The minerals in piss could be very reflective, we agreed.
Zach and John Pelaccio shared little more than a buzz cut and a vaguely Irish appearance but it was a rare event to be shot down at a corner store, and today was no different. A six-pack of Miller High Life was procured in Mr. Pelaccio’s name, with cash, from an unmemorable bodega. This time it was Adam and me stifling our giddiness on the street, ad-libbing burlesque snatches of conversation when passersby came within earshot.
We got away with everything, totally. Punitive parties were none the wiser. The three of us, scoffing at the real world, found some random stoop and sat on it, ate pizza from the box and drank tall boys from paper bags. We watched the real world go. We had ducked work, rote condescension, authorities who didn’t seem to register open mockery, petty teenage chatter, anxiety, stupidity, disembodied voices over intercoms, the buffoonery by which we kept our dignity.
Three hours later we were back in the yellow caravan, stuck in rush hour traffic. The return trip took twice as long, a good chunk of that time spent shouldering through Manhattan, Harlem, the Bronx, unknown grayer sprawl. People waited at bus stops. Someone’s completed packet made the rounds. The warehouse-and-abandoned-warehouse vista gave way to a graveyard rolled out over hills, and then hedged tree-lines and the roofs of occasional minor headquarters behind them, overpasses behind whose abutments I glanced by force of neurosis for cops doing radar.
There was tall grass in the strip between I-684’s north and southbound roads because the day was Friday, and they mowed on the weekends. Soon would come summer vacation, that beautifully long weekend. Dusk rolled in. We crowed like roosters at dawn.
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Charles Forsman was born in Pennsylvania in 1982. He graduated from The Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, VT and won two Ignatz Awards for his self-published minicomic,Snake Oil. He lives in Hancock, MA, where he runs Oily Comics.