DECEMBER 1993 - 1/3
A DAY WITH MY BROTHER
Wed. December 1st: I intended to go to Midtown and show a few berets hanging from long sticks, the sticks being planted in gravel in a big plastic bottle. That was my idea to circumvent the violation of the city ordinance that prohibits unlicensed vendors to sell in the street. I would show a few samples, swatches of fabric and photographs of my berets so that if the bogeymen con- fiscated my stuff it would be only six hats and not half my stock, about 40 hats. Even artists' paintings had been confiscated by the officers of the Department of Consumer Affairs who came in plain cloth with a van and put the handcuffed artists and their art in it. Then the city sued the vendor on the ground that he was defrauding the city/state of the sales tax, and the vendor had to pay a fine, I have heard of $250, to get one's stuff back. But it was no sure thing at all to get one's stuff back.
So at 9am I was ready to leave, dressed in black pants with a red jacket and white shirt, to go first to get some gravel in the park to plant the sticks in. At this moment Joe, the new superintendent, knocked at my door, saying in a servile attitude that there was a man outside who said he was my brother. I said I was getting out right now. Fran‡ois was facing Bonarti's office. His blond hair had turned dishwater blond and was ill cut, he was unshaved and pale. His smile was forced and his teeth were all gray. He looked dirty although his clothing was clean. I offered him my cheek coldly and didn't return the kiss. He said "That's all?" I said yes. I didn't mention that he was not respecting our appointment but on top of all the rest, it made me resent him more.
I asked him to come with me to the park. I asked him to kick some dirt loose and started to fill the container. He asked what it was for and I said it was for my cat. I had to lie to him. With the people in my family, it is impossible not to. Then I found some dry gravel, which was what I had come to get, but the asphalt had just been laid on the circular road on top of the Hill, and I had not found the gravel that was there a few days ago.
During the operation, I told him that he and the whole family had betrayed me in a most ignoble way. [The amnesia had returned and I no longer knew that my family had made an attempt against my life.] He asked how but I didn't answer. I said he and our other siblings thought they were very smart but in fact they were fools, because what was rightly theirs, they could obtain only at the price of a heinous betrayal of their own sister. He asked what they lost, meaning what penalty there was for them to pay for their betrayal. The way he said it, I understood that he didn't think there was any price to pay. I hesitated looking for words, finally I said that dishonesty was bad for the head. Then we went to my place. Fran‡ois told me to lay the gravel for the cat but I said "Not now." He gave me an order in my own place while showing up ten hours earlier than the appointed time.
I fell back on my old attitude of pretending I was not offended and nothing was wrong, made no comment about those two hostile acts on his part when we hadn't seen each other for over ten years, and had met again not even an hour ago. I showed him my berets. The three-drawer file cabinet was full with XL, L and Medium. He smiled politely and gave me faint praise, unlike most people who come across my berets, see them all different and get caught in the game of turning them over to see the color of the lining and not knowing which hat they like best. He observed that I had a nice little stock. After I had closed the drawers he reached to a piece of Ultrasuede which I use for the headband, and asked what it was, wasn't it suede? I said I had started to make them with real suede but that some people don't like leather and such. I felt he was trying to embarass me with a fake-suede approach, as if I were pretending it was real and defrauding the customers.
I don't know what the proper reaction is to such attaks, as I never knew in the past, but my brother was being extremely aggressive in a devious way. He had this laid-back way of moving and speaking, the same that deceived me in 80 when he allegedly returned from his two-year trip in Central and North America. At the time, I interpreted the anger, mistrust and resentment I felt towards him as originating from my own inadequacy, and felt guilty about those feelings but now I knew better.
Then I offered to go out. He suggested that we have a cup of coffee. We walked toward Broadway. On the way I showed him the school and the Youth Hostel, two buildings of architectural interest with, I believe, Dutch influence. Strangely, I felt like a fool doing this, as if I were falling into the role of tourist guide I had already played with Agnes, when in fact both siblings knew the place. I asked him if he was still raising goats and he said he had stopped almost completely and that now he was doing almost exclusively tourism. He said that he used to kill the kids in the spring. [He used the verb tuer, to kill, instead of abattre, to slaughter.] I asked, a bit horrified by the association with children, if he used to kill them himself. He said that no, of course, he brought them to a butcher, but it sounded like he was lying, saying this only to make believe that he wasn't that kind of guy.
Employees of the Housing project were piling kitchen cabinets in front of a building, which came from the apartments. It looked like all the old cabinets were being replaced by new ones. I told my brother that the mafia was into this kind of business, bribing city officials to get the big contracts. Fran‡ois asked me if I believed that the police also was corrupt. I exclaimed that it was obvious, that there was no doubt about it. Then we arrived on B'way.
I wasn't sure where to go. There was "Positively 104" and the coffee shop connected with the welfare hotel. In the first, people were quiet, reading their newspaper and our conversation would have disrupted the atmosphere. I decided to go to the other one.
THE COFFEE SHOP INCIDENT
There was a leather jacket lying on the seat of the only free table in the back. I asked whose jacket it was and lifted it off the seat. A guy at the next table who was with three other people said it was his sister's, so I put the jacket on the backrest of the seat at his table. Underneath the jacket was a leather bag rather heavy and I also put it at the other table then Fran‡ois and I sat down facing each other. I explained to him my situation. The impossibility to obtain a vendor's license, the risks of selling in the street without a license, the fact that to sell to store buyers, it is advisable to exhibit at trade shows six months in advance of the season, that to exhibit at crafts fairs you also have to register several months in advance and that you need a collapsible booth that you need storage space for, and that you have to submit you work to a committee.
I explained that berets are still very much in demand, that it was not just a passing trend last year. I told him that in all kinds of advertising, models were wearing them and that with the money I needed I could develop a successful business. I told him that even for my music activities, money was necessary to make a demo tape for instance. He then said that sure, with the berets and the music I should be able to make a living. He was quoting word for word what I had said a few days earlier to the jewelry street vendor who said he was from Belize. It couldn't be a coincidence. He had to know my brother.
I talked about music and how I had been able to stop taking cocaine when I started again with the guitar five years ago. I asked if he still had my congas. In 1986 he had let me know that he was taking them, not even asking permission. I resented him for that. He said that it was ridiculous for these instruments to be in storage instead of being played. I said he didn't even know how to play them. Then I told him how, two years ago, after not having played the congas for three years, I had the unexpected opportunity to play. I had come with my guitar to play at an open mike session and some guy had brought three congas but hardly knew how to play them. Finally I had played more congas than guitar and singing and at the intermission, the women who had seen me play had come to tap on the skins because they thought that any woman could do it.
My brother said the pair of congas with the tripod stand was worth about eight thousand francs. I said that I didn't want to sell them, that I was attached to them. "I'm not attached to things," he cut in with a holier-than-thou tone of voice. "Look who's talking" I retorted. He looked annoyed. He couldn't pretend he was not interested in material things after taking my instruments and having done whatever betrayal was necessary to come into his inheritance at age twenty five. I continued to explain my situation to Fran‡ois. I had showed him the sorry state of my living quarters, and now I asked him if he thought it was normal for me to live in this dump while everybody else in the family was housed in comfort and ownership, while Maman was withholding the money that was mine. He protested that he didn't really own the property he had been living on for the last ten years, as if he were hardly better off than me. "But you have the use of it!" I exclaimed.
He started into a discourse, talking in a patronizing manner, using images and gestures as if he were addressing a five year old, saying that some had receive more than others and that when the building in Pantin was sold, all the inequalities would be leveled. I said Maman and the notaries had promised at least ten times in three years that the profit from the sale of the building at the Pre-St-Gervais would be given to me and that I had been very patient but that I would not sign for the sale of the Pantin building unless that money was given me. My brother said that if I didn't sign, the situation would become ugly. There was a veiled threat there. I asked what he meant. He said the IRS might find it was taking too long and would become suspicious and want to pore into the accounts. This reply made me understand that he knew I had contacted the French IRS. Like my mother, he was using a technique of disinformation or intellectual terrorism, whereby he said the opposite of a truth that he was not supposed to know, thereby letting me know that he knew. He was not supposed to know that I had contacted the IRS, but by saying that the IRS might audit the accounts, he was saying that so far they were not, which was untrue since I had contacted them. And the only way he could know about it was from a telephone tap because I had called Mme Danger one month after I had sent the letter and we had had a nice talk on the phone. She was the only one so far who agreed with me.
My brother then explained that he was going to Mexico and Belize to try and set up a branch of the tourism business he was doing in France. He said that during the summer they were very busy but during the winter they had nothing to do and they were cold. Then he asked if I would be willing to help as a contact in New York. I was offended that he would request my help. It was like he had no consideration for what I did by myself, as if he assumed that for him I would drop everything. The memory of his betrayal twelve years earlier was still vivid. He had drawn me away from the path I had set myself to follow with his half-baked ideas about doing business in Central America, and after I had gone out on a limb, moved out of my studio into the big apartment Papa put at his disposal, he had disappeared without warning, causing my father to evict me.
And he was trying the same thing again but I had wised up. I told him that I didn't have the time, I had my own life to live and didn't want to get involved with other people's business. I asked why he would need me anyway. He said that a contact in New York would be helpful for his Central America business, and better than a contact in France, that "it would look more serious". He asked what my plans were. I had become wary of this question. Every time I had answered it truthfully, I had found that the information had been used to disrupt my plans. I told him that my projects were unchanged, that I was sticking with music and berets. He asked if that was all with a tinge of disbelief and sarcasm. I said one is born with a limited number of talents and abilities that it is better to stick with, and that one cannot keep changing tracks all one's life.
We spoke about spending an evening in a live music place. I said whatever we would do, he would have to pay for me. I felt the humiliation of being broke and needing my little brother's money. I used the word "concert" and he reacted as if it were too big an expense for me. I had to explain to him exactly what I meant, a concert in a club, not in a concert hall. I went out to get the newspapers and looked but found nothing. I showed him some ads for jewelry where the models were wearing berets. I mentioned this free weelky newspaper that comes out on Wednesdays and said I would look for it when we went out. Then a strange thing happened.
The fat waitress came to our table and asked if we had seen her jacket and purse. I said what I had done. She did not react with the precipitation one would expect under the circumstances. A few minutes later two cops entered the place. They asked me what had happened. Then they talked with the woman, and I heard them say that they could not ask me to make a report since I had not seen the guy actually take the jacket and purse away. Then they returned to me and asked me to describe the guy, which I did. I said the woman was not very smart to leave her stuff there. Since she had been working there for years she should know better than leave her belongings on a seat in the room.
I didn't feel sorry for her, nor did I feel any responsibility in this incident. Besides, I had myself been the victim of a purse- snatching and I felt I had graduated as a New Yorker, and that there was a lot of chances for everybody to be robbed of their purse or money sooner or later. It seemed that my brother was sort of expecting me to be upset by the incident and have my day ruined because of it, that he would like to see me apologize to the woman. But in fact I was unruffled and I kept talking. A few minutes later we went out. The cops were still around. They asked if we were visiting [as if we both looked and sounded like tourists] and instead of explaining that I lived there and my brother was visiting, I spoke about my brother going to Mexico.
Then the cop mentioned the incident that just happened. I said that once I had my purse snatched at night but that I had taken a cab, followed the getaway car on the West side highway, found a police cruiser, and that the police had arrested the guys and that we found my purse in the car. The cop said that was great, I should be a police officer, then he mumbeled something and I only understood the words "bodyguard". I wondered whether I should make note of the word, which was recurring sporadically in the conver- sations I had with people recently. Was it pure coincidence, or did it prove that the whole incident had been staged, and that it was my brother's way of letting me know that he was paying off the police? Had not my brother asked me, before we reached the coffee shop, if I believe that the police were corrupt?
THE PURSE SNATCHING OF 1986
I decided not to pay attention to the remark, and as we walked up Broadway I proceeded to retell the purse snatching story, explaining that I was returning home from Amsterdam to Columbus avenue around 11:30 PM, a little tipsy after celebrating at Hanratty's with a certain crowd the departure of a woman to California, and that it all happened like in a movie.
"The guy crossed the street and I ran after him but he jumped into a car waiting at the corner of Amsterdam and they took off under my nose but a yellow cab was just arriving. I showed the cab driver the direction before he stopped to pick me up and as soon as I got in I told him "Follow this car" which he instantly did. The car took 97th westbound and we lost sight of it and I was disappointed but the driver said "They're going to take the Westside Highway" and he took that direction. I told him that my money was in the purse the guys had just snatched and I would be able to pay for the ride only if we caught the guys.
We entered the highway. Traffic dense but at good speed. Very soon we saw the car and kept it in sight, two or three cars apart, the robbers not knowing they were being followed.
And then we saw a police cruiser and I told the driver to slow down, that I would speak to them. I opened my window and when I was level with the police officer, I told him that we were following my purse snatcher and he asked me to show him the car. We kept going for about a dozen blocks when we spotted the car again. [It was a gypsy cab and the headlights from the cars behind it made a dull reflection on the plexiglass partition, so it was very easy to spot that car.] Catching up with it, we were close enough that I could point it out to the cops. They passed us and as the robber's car entered the 135th street exit ramp, the cops were right behind them and started to flash their cop lights."
I abridged the narrative by saying that I got back all my possessions except the bag which the cops kept as evidence. When I looked at him while telling the story, I was surprised by my brother's silent intensity as if he were very tense all of a sudden, holding his breath about something. I was telling him a real life purse snatching incident that develop into a movie-like adventure with an unusual ending. And instead of rejoicing with me at the good turn of events, he looked uncomfortable. Now I know that he had expected me to be upset about the cop talking about bodyguard, that he was disappointed that I had seemingly not paid attention to what the cop had said, and that I was not freaking out. But there was more than that.
This is so horrible it's a torture just to write about it but on the other hand, writing about it is what permits me to understand the situation and keep my sanity.
It was natural that the woman in the coffee shop having her leather jacket and purse stolen would bring to mind my own experience of purse-snatching. So my brother setting up this incident in the coffee shop hat not counted with my mental association and now looked very ill at ease, particularly when I mentioned that there was a getaway car waiting. And the effect he had sought by having the cops say the expected terror-triggering word "bodyguard" that proved that he has a deal with the police, was lost.
My brother said that he wanted to make a photocopy of his plane ticket and passport in case he lost them. So we looked for a copy shop. He was kind of slow and deliberate during the whole affair. He took out his passport. I took a look at his picture, his eyes open wider than normal and his smile gave him an air not so nice. I took a look at his son Youri's photograph. I said the boy was beautiful, but I was shocked by his air of unhappiness. I did not dare to look at his visa or the date of entry stamped on it, not to betray my distrust of him. I saw a stamp that said "noventa dias". He had said he was going to Mexico. But you don't need a visa to go to Mexico from the US, or do you? And what should have been the white form I-94 stapled to visitors'passport was green, unofficial looking, and attached with a paper clip. Ahem.
He floated his plane ticket slowly before my eyes. I could have grabbed it to check if he was really going there but hadn't I seen the "noventa dias" on his passport? We kept going north in search of the free weekly New York Press that came out today, but it was too early, so we crossed B'way and went south down to 92nd street. He said that V‚ronique's sons had asked him about rap clothing. I explained him the origin of the pants worn three inches below the navel, inspired from the ill-fitting prison garb. He gave me a quizzical look as if he was wondering whether I intended an oblique accusation of criminality.
I said that the kids wore hundred and fifty dollars sneakers and that they could afford the clothing only by selling crack. "Oh, I'll tell them that", my brother exclaimed, "that if they want to dress rap they have to sell crack". We got to the store. The weekly hadn't been delivered there either. We took a look at the pants but they didn't look anything special when not worn. He said that our nephews hadn't given him any money to buy anything though. I felt vaguely that Fran‡ois was leading me on but I couldn't tell exactly how. I was a bit impatient and told him I didn't intend to spend much time looking at clothes. We headed back north.
He asked if I knew where he could buy a summer jacket, because he would need one in Mexico. I said I had no idea. He said that he had brought a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau for me and that we could drink it tonight. I said that I rarely drank wine but for Beaujolais Nouveau I would do myself "une petite violence". I realized instantly that speaking about "inflicting upon myself a little violence" was not the kind of thing to say to my brother.
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