Projection Lounge

Part 1

The green and white lights flickered and spun, showering the stainless dark floor with small circles. They bounced off several dozen bodies; some lights bounced off a shiny watch or flickered within the diamonds of an earring. The DJ played a calm, trancy mix within the minimalist yet chic medium sized lounge, nestled within the basement of one of the city’s most posh hotels.

She was at the bar alone, an after-work haven for many. She didn’t quite stand out in the mostly dark space as she casually sipped on a small glass, filled with ice and an indistinguishable clear liquid.

At 10 pm on a Friday night the mood was serene, yet yearning with potential. Eyes were floating around the well-known Projection Lounge. This place had a reputation for luring Manhattan’s youngest and hottest low-key millionaires. There were no five dollar beers or screaming sports fans here. She remained at her post, slowly sipping her drink and scaling the room.

Her legs were crossed as she sat at the on a bar stool, wearing a tight black dress and the most elegant black Prada heels, showing just enough of her toes to show a metallic silver pedicure.

A man in his thirties approached the bar. He had flowing, mid-length dark brown hair and wore a dark colored suit that may have been black or navy under the lounge’s atmosphere.

“Scotch on the rocks, please,” said the man, now more clearly wearing a navy suit and a light blue shirt without a tie.

The bartender quickly poured the drink, pouring the scotch in a counter-clockwise motion over a small glass of ice.

“Would you like to open up a tab, sir?”

“Sure, why not? And I’ll take a drink for the lovely young lady next to me, too. I’m Malcolm Griffin III, you may have heard of me before,” said Malcolm to the woman in black, now neighbors at the bar.

“Um, I can’t say that I have,” she coolly replied, “And I’m not interested in a drink from you, but thanks for not really asking.”

“I can assure I have no ill intentions, I just figured a young lady at the bar by herself with a glass of vodka might want a drinking buddy.”

She responded with silence and by turning away from the tall, handsome man.

“You know I hear you’re considered an alcoholic when you drink alone.” Malcolm persisted to try and grab her attention.

She again said nothing, carrying on as if his stool was empty.

“Another scotch, on the rocks sir.” the bartender promptly delivered his second scotch.

“Hey, I’ll tell you what, if you’re still that uninterested in me after one drink, I promise you I’ll leave you alone. I just think you’re breathtaking, and I’m glad you haven’t heard of me. Maybe it’s better that way, so you can see that I’m not so bad. Just one drink, how does that sound?”

She slowly turned her body to face him, crossed her legs and locked eyes with his. She waited just long enough to say:

“Sounds like something a guy says before he slips some kind of date rape drug into the drink he just bought for some ‘lovely lady.‘”

Malcolm’s face contorted. He looked surprised and hurt. He looked away, sighed and shook his head.

A silence followed, this time Malcolm was the one avoiding her gaze.

“You can have it if you want. I haven’t touched that drink and you saw the bartender make it, but if you’re going to make me out to be someone like that, then never-fucking-mind. Have a nice night,” Malcolm said, and walked away with his glass in hand.

She tasted the glass of scotch. It was a bit strong, just how she liked it.

A few minute had passed when she walked over to Malcolm, now sitting on one of the many dark purple, rectangular love seats that rounded almost every wall and corner of the lounge.

He was admiring the visual display projected on the wall next to the DJ and stage.

“Hey. I’m sorry about that,” she said, with a much friendlier tone than before.

“Sometimes I tend to push the right kind of guys away, but I can tell you’re genuine.”

“I appreciate it, but I’d rather hear your name, and how you like that scotch,” Malcolm replied.

“Stephanie,” she introduced herself,”and this scotch is pretty good.”

She sat down next to him, encapsulating his eyes into hers as she slowly sipped on her glass of scotch.

“Can I try yours?” Stephanie asked.

“Sure, although they are the same kind,” Malcolm said, as his previous spirits seemed to be restored.

She took a small sip of his glass, grimaced a little, and then stirred the drink a little with her ring finger on her right hand.

“Not bad, but it’s better if you stir it every now and again,” Stephanie said in her silky, confident tone of voice.

“Try it now,” she said as she stirred her own drink with her middle finger. He took a sip of his scotch on the rocks, now about halfway full.

“It tastes a bit more watered down like that, but to each their own, I guess,” Malcolm said.

“You have really pretty eyes,” Stephanie said, her ice cold walls melting fast.

“You have really pretty everything,” Malcolm said, with a smooth half-smile.

After a few minutes the music seemed to have gotten louder, as did everyone’s voices and the otherwise muted street noise outside.

Malcolm and Stephanie seemed to be hitting it off.

“Oh my god! I know where I’ve heard of you before. Didn’t your like, grandfather or something invent something really important? I’m sorry, I’m horrible at these kinds of things.”

“Well, sort of I guess, I don’t know how important they are now, but he came up with the idea of public phones. He patented the first pay phone and sold the rights to the big phone companies of the day,” Malcolm replied.

“That’s quite the family history, don’t be so modest!” Stephanie said with the green and white lights twinkling off of her smile and sea green eyes.

Malcolm smiled back, looking a bit more fatigued then her.

“So you must be some kind of heir to the throne, huh?”asked Stephanie.

“Eh, I try to not to flaunt it,” replied Malcolm, “I’d rather make my own name in something, something different. It’s hard to do that when I’m literally named after my grandfather and my dad,” said Malcolm as they both chuckled.

“How about you? What do you do?” he asked.

“I work for a few modeling agencies,”said Stephanie,”Maybe you’ll see me in a magazine or on TV one day.”

“I hope so,” said Malcolm, wiping sweat off his brow.

“Whoa, you’re really sweaty,” said Stephanie, her voice sounding half-concerned at best. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah, it’s just a little hot in here, ” said Malcolm as he unbuttoned another button in his shirt.

“Could you go for another round?” he asked.

“That depends,” Stephanie answered, “Do you have that brand of scotch at your place?”

They locked eyes for a few seconds. “I’ll get us a cab,” Malcolm said, trying his best to play it cool.

_____  _____  _____

Malcolm’s eyes opened from an uncomfortable slumber. He heard an unfamiliar, rhythmic beeping and had to shield his eyes from fluorescent lights.

He saw two gray rails on either side of the twin sized mattress he was on. After blinking several times, he drifted back to sleep.

He remembered hailing a cab with Stephanie, telling the driver his address, and then ferociously making out with her in the backseat. His consciousness shifted between memories of kissing her, having his hand on the back of her neck, and feeling her hand reach into his pants on the way to his place.

His memory went dark.

He was lying in bed sideways, naked, covered only by his sheets, watching Stephanie get dressed. He couldn’t speak and couldn’t move at all, except for his eyes. It felt like a bad dream.

As she finished putting on her dress and heels he heard her talking to someone with her phone in hand. She was speaking a language he couldn’t recognize; the only thing he understood was her saying his address to someone on the other end.

His memory went dark again.

His eyes opened. Back on the hospital bed again. The rhythmic beeping was a bit more familiar.

He jumped up into a sitting position.

“Nurse! Nurse!!!” Malcolm frantically pressed the nurse’s alert button.

Three nurses came in, one woman and two men.

“What the fuck happened!? I want to speak to a doctor! Get me the fucking doctor!”

Malcolm tried to get out of bed, his face bright red, struggling to move.

“Sir! Sir, just calm down-”

“What the fuck happened?! What did she do to me?!”

“Mr. Griffin you have to stay in bed now!” The head nurse bellowed, drowning out his frantic yelling.

“Stop moving so much! You’re lucky to be alive. If you move like that you’ll rupture the stitches!”

“Stitches?”

“Yes sir, on your lower left side. The doctor will be here shortly to explain everything to you. There are also two detectives who need to speak with you.”

He sat up in bed, and reached around to his left side. He felt a jagged scar sealed with large staples around the area where his left kidney should be.

The news was on the old TV mounted onto corner of the ceiling.

“Police are on the lookout for this woman, last seen on security footage from the apartment complex of Malcolm Griffin III on the Upper West . . .”

Malcolm’s eyes were more fixated now on ‘Stephanie’ than ever before.

Another memory from last night came to mind:

“‘I work for a few modeling agencies,’said Stephanie,’Maybe you’ll see me in a magazine or on TV one day.'”

________________________________________

Part 2

“That bitch! That fucking bitch!”

Malcolm yelled in a rage, frantically shaking the grey rail on the right of the hospital bed.

The head nurse quickly left the room while the two male nurses pinned his arms down and urged him to calm down.

“I’ll fucking kill that bitch! Get the fuck off of me!”

The head nurse returned to his bed side with a large needle prepared.

“Turn him over,” she said, with an emotionless, militant tone of voice.

“Sir, we’re giving you a shot ’cause you’re presenting a danger to yourself right now. When you wake up, you will need to stay calm or this will have to happen again.”

“Don’t you fucking dare! I’ll fucking sue this whole hospital!” Said a red-faced Griffin, arms secured against his back, legs pinned, face down on the mattress.

“I’ll put all of you quacks out of a fucking job! Don’t you dare-” A jolt of pain, followed by a yell from Malcolm interrupted his threats as they administered a sedative by needle to his right buttock.

The effect was almost instant; his violent barking was reduced to heavy breathing, his limbs gave up the fight to leave the mattress.

He was gently turned over by the two nurses to a more comfortable sleeping position, pillow reset underneath his head and covers pulled over him. He fell into a deep slumber.

_____  _____  _____

Malcolm and Stephanie slowly staggered off the elevator to his condo. Malcolm slouched and leaned on Stephanie as they slowly walked toward his door.

“Have you ever done this before, honey? It looks like you can’t hang,” Stephanie asked Malcolm, with a menacing giggle.

“Uh, I . . . I’ve, I’ve done this. I wanna do YOU, Step uh nee . . .” Malcolm’s vision looked like an incomplete kaleidoscope, a mix of lights and colors that faded in and out with each closing of his eyes.

“Mmm, I think I hold liquor a teeny weeny bit better than you, big boy. Let’s get you inside,” Stephanie pressed her body against his, now semi-conscious, with the strength of a crash test dummy.

She kissed his dazed face, digging into his pockets.

“You’re so hawt, you’re like . . . yeah,” Malcolm said as she found the keys to his apartment.

“Show me to your bedroom, baby,” she said as she unlocked his front door.

“Come this way,” Malcolm pointed with one arm and hung on to Stephanie with the other, his one-night stand and human crutch.

They made it to his bedroom, as she let him collapse sideways on his king size bed. She left the lights off as a enough moonlight leaked into the room from the floor-to-ceiling windows.

The elaborate spread of Malcom’s liquor cabinet caught her eye.

“Hey sexy, how about that night cap before the real fun starts?”

“I dunno . . . I’m kinda fucked up, baby . . .” an almost fully sedated Malcolm managed to say, laid out sideways along the bed, arms and legs spread wide, struggling to keep his eyes open.

“Oh come on . . . take a trip on the wild side, you big, handsome man!”

Stephanie pulled up Malcolm by both arms, stirred a glass of scotch she just poured a few times with her ring finger on her right hand and fed it to Malcolm.

He swallowed the scotch. She lay him gently as he was before.

Stephanie visited the bathroom within his master bedroom, and turned him over on his  stomach. She unzipped her wallet and spread out a very small set of stainless steel surgical knives.

Stephanie called an unsaved number in her phone. A short conversation in Russian followed.

______  _____  _____

“Can I try yours?” Stephanie asked.

“Sure, although they are the same kind,” Malcolm said, as his previous spirits seemed to be restored.

She took a small sip of his glass, grimaced a little, and then stirred the drink a little with her ring finger on her right hand.

“Not bad, but it’s better if you stir it every now and again,” Stephanie said in her silky, confident tone of voice.

“Try it now,” she said as she stirred her own drink with her middle finger. He took a sip of his scotch on the rocks, now about halfway full.

______  _____  _____

Malcolm woke up in the hospital again.

To be continued…

Tightrope Walking

So close, yet so far once again, he was on the roof of the wrong building. He tried to open the door leading back downstairs; locked.

His back lay on the gravel and grit of the pebbles spread across the roof. Hands behind his head, the grey sky creeped along. Feet crossed, jacket unzipped and jeans ripped, he closed his eyes as the rain fell.

He awoke after what felt like an eternity. His surroundings hadn’t changed except for the sky, a smug grey now a cloudy black, save for the streetlights near and the skyline from afar. He turned his gaze from Manhattan’s lights to a solitary window, directly across from his rooftop sanctuary.

Window closed, lights on, white curtains parted, he began to regain hope. He knew those picture perfect curtains, just as if he had seen them yesterday.

The temperature was dropping. The cool Autumn wind was now a stinging gust, sure to be below freezing. His socks had some holes; his shoes had more. Underdressed, malnourished, and down to his last few cents, his long journey had come to a halt right at the end.

They had made arrangements before he left. Every night at 11:11pm, she would look out of her living room window, onto the street, waiting for him. Before he made the jump. Before he turned all his pesos into dollars, stuffed whatever he could into a tattered backpack and took off.

He said he would be there by September. Before he got beaten and robbed in Alabama. Before he narrowly escaped ICE in North Carolina. Before traveling from house to house, doing odd jobs for next to nothing. Before begging in broken English for 5 weeks in DC. He scraped money together for a Chinatown bus and a few calls to her on payphones.

As the November winds frosted his young face, she prayed and prayed, prayed and prayed again for him to get to her safely. A love she may have lost, but hopes to God she didn’t. She worked at the daycare in the morning and at the hotel in the evening. She said a prayer whenever she could for her love to come, but hadn’t heard from him since his troubled lips whispered “Te quiero tanto” on the phone two weeks ago.

Stuck on the roof, there he was, beginning to shiver from the frigid Northeast winds. He looked across to the white-curtained windows. He knew. He knew it had to be where she lived. He memorized her address, for the most part; he knew she was in apartment 5C. One street off makes a big difference when it’s below 30 degrees and are stuck on a roof.

He saw the roof doorway of the building across slightly ajar, light peaking through the cracks. A solitary cable ran from his roof to hers. He hoped with all his heart and soul it was hers; deep down, he knew.

He approached the barrier surrounding the rooftop. The cable connected the two buildings over their wide, adjacent alleyways, about forty feet apart. Looking down, he saw a 5 storey difference between the roof and the concrete floor.

Slowly, timidly, he placed both hands on the freezing cement ledge, brought both legs over, now sitting on it. He tapped one foot lightly on the cable; a thick cable, no shock, not slippery. He planted his right foot as firmly as he could. He felt his weight depress the cable. Adrenaline and fear consumed him unlike ever before. He knew the cable would bend, but not break under his weight.

He remembered the one time he went to the circus as a child, and cautiously lifted his left arm while holding onto the ledge with his right. As the sky decorated his filthy hair and clothes with light snowflakes, he knew that he had to find shelter. The shivering young man planted his left foot in front of his right, and let go of the ledge.

Before he knew it, one foot had stepped in front of the other; right over left, left over right, right over left, left over right. Small, balanced steps, he took, each leading him closer to the roof ahead. Arms spread, legs moving, he found an unexpected rhythm in his footwork. He focused on the cable ahead, not on the concrete floor below, and recited prayers to himself over and over. Right over left, left over right, right over left, left over right. A gust picked up over the alleyways, but he was not deterred. He had come too far to fail.

He reached the opposite ledge. He climbed over, arms chilled to the bone, and fell onto the opposite roof. He hurried into toward the door, not looking back at the aerial gap he had just conquered.

He ripped the door open to the warm, well-lit building. Down the stairs one flight, his stiff, wet legs descended, and he was on the 5th floor. He slowly approached the door marked ‘5C’, with tears already falling, warming his frozen cheeks. He rang the bell several times and yelled her name, a faint cry at best. He heard frantic footsteps and many locks unlocking.

The door opened. There she was.

They embraced like never before, with more passion then they ever would again. She had a rosary in one hand, cell phone in the other, with the time on the screen reading 11:11pm.

Straphanging. Part 1

The following is a collection of stories that have recently taken place on or around the trains, platforms, and buses of the Greater New York City Area. They are all true. And awesome:

Kung Fu Car Transfer

So I walked aboard the F train headed to Queens at Lexington Avenue – 59th Street Station. In my train car it was just empty enough that there were a few seats available here and there. I went for one of my favorite spots when I’m feeling tired, the good ol’ corner seat, all the way at the end of the train. I like this seat for a few reasons: being right across from either a map or a window as well as being right next to two exit doors, and if you needed to transfer cars, you could do that too (although it’s illegal, no one really cares).

A few stops in, I was lounging as comfortably as I could along the steel rails and plastic seats and began to doze off as the train went further into Queens. I was just about to fall asleep, eyes closed and all, when I heard a loud and sudden “HYAAAA!” that practically catapulted me to my feet. I woke up, startled and confused, to see a black man wearing a silver and black North Face coat in his 30s right in front of me with his leg in the air, from what was apparently a roundhouse kick straight into the car transfer doors. This guy legit roundhouse kicked the door open, with Bruce Lee sound effects and all. It blew my mind.

This of course sparked much laughter from the rest of the train, most of which coming from my own mouth. One Latino dad-looking kind of man and I could not stop laughing. It was quite the wake up call; after that I didn’t even feel like sleeping.

The Ridiculously Bad Saxophone Player

Last summer I got on the train really late, around 2 or 3 am. I was on the 5 train, headed downtown. At 125th Street a man with a black square suitcase and multicolored cornrows got on the train. At that point I should have known he would pull some off-the-wall-type shit. He was a middle aged African American with neon red, light blue, neon green and yellow cornrow braids, about 5’6, a shorter guy, wearing a white tank top and acid wash jeans.

He was talking to younger man as they both got on the train, saying things like “Yeah man, check me out on SoundCloud,” and “Look out for my documentary.” The young man bade him farewell as he sat down with a smile, but then looked at me, looked at the multi-colored cornrow man, back at me, and just shook his head. I didn’t know what to expect. Neon Cornrow Man (that would be a great superhero name) began opening his suitcase. He started introducing himself as he revealed a saxophone from its case. After a rather long shpiel about his social media presence and upcoming documentary, he began to play the sax.

His saxophone skills were out of control in the very worst of ways. It looked like a 5 year old playing Mortal Kombat for the first time as he mindlessly mashed all the buttons along the instrument, and sounded something like a mutated ambulance siren. He had strong lungs, I’ll give him that much credit, especially since his sax was blaring at a surprisingly loud volume for almost 10 minutes. He did not really know how to play. He just blew all the air he possibly could into that saxophone and randomly pressed on the valves, occasionally holding an excruciatingly high note for several seconds.

Me and the man across from me had our sides splitting. It was hysterical. Many of the other passengers were rudely awakened by this mysterious, and possibly intoxicated multi-colored cornrow man. After what seemed like an eternity of the most belligerent saxophone solo I had ever heard, Multi-Colored Cornrow Man finally transferred to the car next to us. My train car breathed a collective sigh of relief as he took his ‘talents’ next door.

He began playing his out of tune tirade of a performance in the next car, but there were several gangsters on the next car that were just not having it. After about 30 seconds a few young men in snapback caps and bandanas approached Multi-Colored Cornrow Man and angrily asked him to stop playing. After a few words exchanged between the young men and Multi-Colored Cornrow Man he packed up his trusty saxophone and left. The young thugs did passengers a favor that night, surprisingly; their aggressive act of kicking Multi-Colored Cornrow Man off the train literally helped everyone else sleep that night. I’ll never forget though, aside from laughing harder than I had all year, the look on Multi-Colored Cornrow Man’s face as the gangsters kicked him off the 5 train that fateful night: disappointment, sadness, and frustration written all over it.