In the first forty-five minutes at the rag house, I feel my throat begin to close up and start producing mucus in an attempt to trap and/or keep out whatever I was inhaling. My sneezes come like lion roars. This can’t be good for me. I try to find gloves and a mask on a few occasions but can’t seem to come up with any. When I walk around the warehouse and see that no one here is wearing any form of protection I am surprised. These people must of lungs of steel. Four hours of digging through bins and I am spent. Actually, Whitney went full steam ahead for the full four hours; I stopped at about three and stood around ho humming and scratching my elbows.
We pay for our finds while the owner makes jokes about if we want to knock back some Vodka before the cab ride home. He says he needs to find his hat because he’s driving. This doesn’t make any sense and I don’t think it’s supposed it. This is because there’s the strong possibility El Jefe is already drunk. He reminds me of one of the characters from that show Dinosaurs back in the 90s. The only thing I remember about it is the stupid baby dinosaur trapped in a high chair squeaking, “I’m the baby!” in this hideous pitch that makes me want to kill the director even ten years later.
The owner looks like a plumper version of John Madden, and probably just as insane. When I come in to get my remaining things he offers me a “snackle crackle” which is in reference to the candy treats crammed into the glass jar on his desk. He calls Whitney and I “beautiful ladies” that he’ll do just about anything for. I never see him out from behind his desk. I think he just grew from the floor there back in the 50s.
They call another gypsy cab for us to drive all the way into the city. Whitney’s got a forty-pound trash bag full of dust-riddled items and I’ve got maybe half of that. I’m a cheap bastard, but there’s no way in hell I’m lugging this up and down any subway staircases. We say thank you and enter back into the depressing landscape that is Middle of Bumblefuck, Brooklyn.
We’re only two steps out the door and the gypsy cab has already arrived. These guys might creep me out, but I am sure impressed with their speed and efficiency. Our driver is a boy, probably twenty-four, with the pale olive skin of someone from the Caribbean. We find out that he is from the Dominican Republic after Whitney and I start talking about how good Chipotle sounds right now and he chimes into the conversation.
“You talking about Megian foo?”
His English leaves a little to be desired but I can pick up what he’s throwing down.
“I hate Megian foo. Too much spicy.”
Whitney goes into a tirade about how his disdain for Mexican food makes sense because the food in the Dominican Republic is bland. I hope he can’t understand what she’s saying and I hope that if he does he doesn’t find this assault on his cultural palate offensive. I stare down at the singular broken piece of salted pretzel lodged under the seat in front of me and hope I don’t get murdered in a fight over the merits of plantains versus salsa verde.
Just as before, I am totally clueless as to what neighborhoods we are driving through. Each block is as equally dismal as the last. Broken windows on ever other house – some of them boarded up, some of them not. A series of ramshackle cars sit lazily next to sidewalks. Occasionally there is a suspiciously expensive car waiting at a street corner.
When we drive past a duplex with a white iron fence and a grass lawn, I have an unexpected and terrible knee-jerk reaction: Who the hell do they think they are? Only then do I understand that mentality, that need to drag people down when you’re down so low already. My next thought is that these people are brave. Brave to have a lawn in this gray place and brave to have a shiny toy bike on the porch. It looks like a normal house. But it recedes from my vision, giving way to reality: more broken windows, more rectangles of plywood, more concrete, no grass, no trees, no air.
I’m Googling Chipotle on my phone to see if there’s one that’s close to my house. I don’t know if it was the Mexican radio I’ve been listening to all day burrowing into my subconscious but I’m craving some guacamole. The driver looks at me in the rearview mirror.
“You doing GPS?”
I tell him that I’m just looking up a Chipotle. I think his question is strange and a little intrusive but then again, I’m in a gypsy cab with three pine-tree-shaped air fresheners tied to above my door and four tied above Whitney’s. This ride isn’t want I’d call typical.
The driver with the pale olive skin turns back halfway and tells us that he’s stopping to get his brother because his brother “left his keys”. It’s hard to tell if he’s being generic in the way a terrible liar is generic or if the sparse and obtuse sentence is a reflection of his poor handle on the English language. He asks us if that’s okay and despite the fact that now I think that I am going to get gang raped in about fifteen minutes, I make some agreeable statement because I figure in these situations, if you make a fuss you’ll only incite more rage when the inevitable moment of your demise comes. May as well make hell less hot, if you know what I mean.
Only an intersection later and he pulls over to the side of the road. I look out the back window at a boy coming towards us. Shit. Shit. Shit. I’m going to die. I. Am going. To die. He gets into the front seat. They do not look like brothers and there are no keys exchanged. They start talking in Spanish and all I can siphon out is “loca” and “ellas” said while motioning to the back seat. Yep, I am totally going to die.
I have been in this type of situation before. That time involved hitchhiking through New Jersey around midnight when I was eighteen. Apparently the trains stop running into Manhattan at 10 PM. That night taught me a valuable lesson in pre-planning. But at least that driver spoke English. I was able to talk to him the whole time in a nervous and frantic attempt to befriend him just in case he was thinking about murdering me and my best friend, that way when he pulled out his gun/knife/pick axe I could plead and say, “But Guy, we were getting along so swimmingly!”
Whitney is taking this drive much better than the aforementioned best friend who sat next to me in the back seat without saying a single word for about an hour. When I looked over I think she had tears in her eyes. Whitney looks at me and says that this exact same thing happened the last time she was out here with Mariel and Mariel had a shit fit. I’m pretty much doing that right now in my head. Yep, pretty much having a heart attack right now, actually. She is casual in the way someone has to be when they know they’re life is no longer in their hands. Brain surgery…the electric chair…a gypsy cab…
I, however, am not so calm. I’m an internal thrasher. I think back to when he asked about looking at my GPS and I panic because obviously he must have done that because he didn’t want us to know where we were. I look down at my door and see that he’s locked ours and note everything in the backseat is child proof (AKA Rape Ready). I am going to die. I am going to die. I am going to die.
We’ve been driving for fifteen minutes by the time I start looking for an address to type into my phone. Broadway. Broadway and what…Dear God, Broadway and what?! I find a cross street and type it in rapid fire. Whitney’s doing the same thing on her iPhone and beats me.
“We’re going the right way,” she says as she points at her iPhone screen. My heart rate decelerates. Had we been heading the opposite direction, my fear that today was my last day on Earth, or at least my worse, would have been spot on. Knowing that we are at least heading towards Manhattan means that my likelihood of survival has increased tenfold.
Hood Brooklyn morphs into Orthodox Jewish Brooklyn. Little kids in yamakas sit cross-legged in the onion-shaped bars encasing their windows. They look like fish in iron bowls. Monkeys in cages. Orthodox Jewish Brooklyn turns into Williamsburg turns into the Williamsburg Bridge turns into home, where the cabs are yellow and the rent is high. I stop sweating.
They drop me off on the side of the road and I pull my heavy trash bag out of the back. I say goodbye to Whitney, trusting that they’re not going to kill her in the one block it takes to get to her house. Once again, I am proven wrong. These gypsy cabs are going to be the end of me. My heart can’t take another trip like this. Nor can my ever eroding, occasionally handy stereotyping of humanity.