We need people like Andrew. He’s the kind of mouth and muscle you need in Little Italy, New York, in December when some sour grifter attempts to fleece you for the cost of a cheap “I (Heart) New York” sweater. Or when a used car salesman tries to sell you a hoopty hidden under a coat of fresh paint. Yes, that’s when Andrew’s kind comes in handy. His tongue pierces and his eyes burn, and he knows when to turn it on. But he’s also the kind to crawl into town unannounced with hardly a dollar to his name and a heart so obviously broken that all he can talk about is how good things are for him lately. Which is, of course, a lie. Yes, Andrew—he’s an asshole, and a good person.
So it was recently that I’d received a text from the drifter, the rolling stone, late in the night as I slept lightly, listening to the clacking of naked tree branches violently snapping against one another just outside my window during a windstorm. “I’m in town, man,” he wrote. “Where are you? Come out. Play.” It was 2 a.m., so I ignored him, rolled over and listened to more branches breaking until the sun bled through the blinds.
6 PM, FOLLOWING DAY: Al Sharpton goes off like a grandfather clock, booming and bellowing about 20 yards away from my desk at the other end of this studio in Rock Center. He’s at it again, reeling about the bigotry and arrogance of the GOP, of Boehner and Ryan and other tea-type tarts. He cut short his didactic screed today to shamelessly pitch his latest book. I scan the newsroom to see if anyone else can mouth his scripted sermon, which has, at this point, grew so hackneyed that it’s like a good song gone bad with repetition.
By 8 p.m. I’d grown seriously restless. Too much ugly news coming through the wire, and far too much Sharpton. Indeed. I’ll meet Andrew here soon, I thought. Kill two birds – meet him for a drink and forget all about the maniacal religious who light up shopping malls with bullets & bombs in the name of their God, or maybe I’d rather expel the image of that dog, chained to a fence, left in the bitter cold. No food. No water. All the while his fat owner sits naked on a soiled recliner, ignoring the whimper coming from outside. …
Yes, the wire was foul, and I needed to take my mind off it, at least for a night. We’ll hit it again in the morning, I thought. Report the shady – it hates the light.
I flung open the lounge door and found Andrew at the far end of the dim bar with two drinks and a plate of questionable food, laughing loudly like he’s known to do, and with a blond woman leaning into his shoulder, grinning, twisting his hair with her finger.
“Khola!” Andrew shouted as I approached.
“Do you want anything to drink? It’s on me!” he said.
“It’s cool. I can get it.”
“This is Erica,” Andrew said, gripping the lady at her waist. “Erica, meet Simon.”
“Hi. Andrew’s been telling me about you,” she said.
“It’s all true,” I quipped. “Even the bad stuff.”
“Angie was here earlier,” Andrew said, shouting over the blare of the muzak. “She had a drink then left. She seemed pissed.”
“You know why,” he said, quickly glancing at Erica.
“Ah. Yes,” I said. “That.”
Angie, the Apache, an old friend of ours, doesn’t approve of Native men dating white women, so when she showed up to the lounge that night, Andrew said, she quickly ordered a drink, banged her glass against his with a welcome-to-town, ignored Erica, used the bathroom, then boomed out the door.
“It was quick,” Andrew said gruffly. “I had hoped she’d stay longer. I just don’t know what her problem is.”
“Yes, you do,” I said. “She’s told you before,” I said. “Back home, in Colorado, when you showed up at the March Pow Wow with what’s-her-face.”
At this point, Erica, wiggy and rheumy-eyed, was having her own conversation with a couple standing directly behind her, vying for the attention of the bartender, leaving Andrew and I to chat on our own for a bit. In an instant, I saw in Andrew’s black eyes that a heavy thought clicked somewhere in his skull. This is when he went off the rails into a mad rant:
“You know what, Simon, the heck with her!” he yelled. “Who is she to judge me about who I date? About what I do? Dating Native women is fine and all, but goddamn it’s incestuous! Often enough the chick’s already taken, and has been since, like, high school. And shit, man, it goes the other way, too. I bet you the women say the same thing about us. Some dude they like has already dated some friend or cousin of theirs, and they say, ‘That guy has, like, four kids,’ or something.”
This lovesick bastard, I thought. Somewhere someone had a grip on him. His mind was still with her, whoever she is, the heartbreaker.
Still, I don’t know how he came to town or on whose dime, and I sure as shit don’t know how he met Erica, but Andrew’s sudden arrival meant something seriously bad went down back home – something he needed to get far away from. And now here he is, in New York City, in body, but not mind, sitting at a seedy bar in the Upper West Side with a woman who’s, at the moment, not paying much attention to him, loudly damning the poor dating scene in Indian country, calling for more bad bar food, drinks and then asking me if he could spend the night at my place.
“Why don’t you date white women?” Andrew asked.
“I have,” I said. “I’ve written about it. You know that.”
“But you don’t prefer them,” he goaded.
“I’ve had bad experiences with their parents, mostly,” I said. “Ma & Pa can’t handle my opposition to Thanksgiving, (Abraham) Lincoln, blind American nationalism and all that jazz.”
“Bullshit!” Andrew exclaimed. “You’re an ass guy! Just admit it already!”
“I’ve never denied that, you shithead,” I said. “Yeah, I’m a curves guy, and keep your voice down.”
Andrew laughed heartily and turned his attention back to an unsteady Erica, so I called for the tab, paid for my drink, told Andrew to text me if he needed a place to crash, said, “Goodbye. Nice to meet you” to Erica, and then headed for the 1 train.
I didn’t hear from Andrew that night, and still haven’t. I assumed he stayed with Erica or begged Angie to let him sleep it off on her couch.
Oh well. Word is he’s home now, fat & happy and probably with somebody new. Good for him. Salud.
And the point of this piece is: don’t judge your friend’s date or preference or pals – or find yourself stuck in a newsroom-turned-studio with Al Sharpton at 6 p.m. in Midtown on a Monday night. These are all crippling things that will invariably warp your mind and chap your ass.
Now, I’m off to the gym. Snagging season is upon us. Cheers.
Simon Moya-Smith, Oglala Lakota, has a Master of Arts degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He lives in New York City.