Looking For The Jersey State Trooper
(excerpt from the novel of the same name)
Summer – 1980
Lulu was gone. She had disappeared from Alphonso’s life before but usually it was only for a short time, at most a year or two. This time he feared she was gone for good.
Alphonso slumped into a worn, bulky black armchair next to a window that overlooked Kennedy Boulevard. The heat was stifling in his small apartment, but he hardly noticed. He searched the refrigerator, found the last of the Budweiser, and rubbed the cold bottle across his forehead. Alphonso had been alone in his apartment for two full days and still couldn’t convince himself that what he had seen had really happened.
“I know what I saw. I didn’t imagine it,” he said to an empty room. “I’ve got to tell someone.” He got up from his chair and picked up the phone. He stopped, the buzz of the dial tone the only sound in the room. Lulu was the only one he could talk to about things like this. But, Lulu was gone. Her brother, Jimmie was gone too. He hadn’t seen Frankie or Louis in months; it would be hard to just call them out of the blue with a story they probably wouldn’t believe. Candyman, the other member of their gang was gone too, so many of his old friends, gone. He put the phone down and went to his bedroom closet looking for his sneakers. In the back, on the floor and partially covered by a fallen bathrobe he came upon an ancient reel-reel tape recorder. He hesitated then heard a voice whispering in his ear. It was Lulu urging him on, ‘Go ahead, Alphonso, give it a try. What have you got to lose?’ he heard her say.
He took the microphone in his hand and pressed the record button. He stared silently at the slowly moving tape for at least a minute.
“Shit,” he said, switching off the tape and heading for the door. “I can’t do this.” He got only as far as the hallway. Lulu was in his head, whispering to him again, ‘Alphonso, do it, It will help. Trust me.’
He sat back in front of the recorder. He brought his left hand up to his eyes, lowered his head, then squeezed the bridge of his nose. He wiped tears away from the corners of his eyes, and again switched on the recorder.
“It, it was about…four…in the morning, Saturday night. Really Sunday morning, I guess. I was coming home from this party on Long Island, goin’ along towards the George Washington Bridge, heading for Jersey. I was feeling real good, real high. The party had been dynamite.” He spoke with more enthusiasm now, less aware of the tape.
“We were dancin’ to old Stones and new disco music and I was blasted on rum and coke and a few hits from a joint by 11:00. I started dancin’ with this Latin chick from Staten Island and she was really grinding it out with me. Later we went to one of the bedrooms and got it on, so all in all, the night couldn’t have been better.” He was gesturing with his hands, his mood animated, drastically changed from a moment before.
“Anyway, there I am flyin’ along around 70 or so, on the top deck of the GW bridge, top down, music blasting. I’ll never forget the song that was on.” His pace changed; what had been rapid and animated became slow and deliberate.
“See, I had been listenin’ to this Bob Seeger tape. The music was real hot road music. Then this slower, ballad comes on, ’Going Home’ it’s called. It’s softer, more nostalgic, sort of sad, with this saxophone solo that always gets me, gets me in the gut. Anyway, I was listenin’, waitin’ for the sax solo when I saw this car in my rear view mirror. It was an old MGB roadster with the top down must and going at least 90 miles an hour, swerving in and out of the lane, goin’ so fast it was not holdin’ the road, you know rockin’ back and forth. Then I notice there’s a chick drivin’. So she gets in back of me for a second, then quick turns into the right lane and pulls up to pass. Now is when I hear her music. She must have had at least 20 watts per channel on at full blast. I turned down my own music and then I realized I knew that music. But see, it wasn’t rock and roll. It was this soprano voice blasting out so loud I was sure it could be heard from the Bronx to Bayonne. And, fuck man, I knew that there was only one chick who would be drivin’ in an MG convertible at four in the morning on the GW bridge, listenin’ to that music. It was Lulu.
“Lulu was so into the music, she was not on this planet. You know, I got four speeding tickets in my life and I can tell you what song was playing each time. It’s the fucking music, man. It just carries you away, and that night it was Lulu’s turn. Anyway, I look over and there’s Lulu. She looked pretty much the same as the last time I saw her, frizzy light brown hair, pulled back and tied, a red bandanna around her forehead, bright red lips and rouged cheeks. ‘Lulu,’ I said softly, then I yelled it out as loud as I could, ‘Lulu, Lulu!’ But Lulu didn’t hear me, and then quick as hell, she’s leaving me in her dust.” Alphonso grinned, “Fuckin’ Lulu'” he said, shaking his head. “I hadn’t seen her in years, but, Jesus, I’d know her anywhere.”
“Lulu was my best friend, Jimmie’s, kid sister. She was about three years younger than us, and used to hang with us guys right here in Bayonne. You know, a real pain in the ass little kid. But she and Jimmie had no father. He had split right after Lulu was born and no one had seen him since. Their mom worked two jobs, so Jimmie had to take care of Lulu whenever his mom was at work. When Lulu was just a kid she would come along tagging behind Jimmie wherever he went, and everybody would always be tellin’ her to shut up and shit like that. And we’d call her names like ‘Stick’ cause she was so skinny. But still we all helped Jimmie. The truth was, although she was a real pest, all us guys really watched out for Lulu.
We were 13 or 14 that summer, too young to get jobs so we spent our time playing baseball in the morning with the garbage men as they finished their early morning runs, then in the afternoon we’d sit around playing pinochle a game Frankie has learned by watching his father play. Lulu would play ball with us when we let her, but she had no interest in cards. So she just sat nearby readin’ something or other or listening to this rock ‘n roll station. That Lulu, here she was only ten or eleven years old and she was never without a book or radio.
“ Most nights we had to be in our house by eight or nine at the latest. But sometimes, when it was real hot and no one could sleep anyway, our moms would let us stay out late, we’d climb up on one of the garage roofs in the neighborhood, lie down on our backs, look up at the sky and the stars and we’d wait. For what? Flying saucers of course. We were sure that we were goin’ to see a UFO one of those nights. I mean people were seein’ them all over the place in those days. A couple up in Vermont even said they had gone for a ride in one. Well none of us had ever done anything like that, but we were sure that if a UFO showed up over the skies of Bayonne that summer, we would spot it. That summer, ‘64 I think it was, we went up on that garage roof at least a couple of times a week. One night we stayed up there till dawn – I remember it was 91 degrees at ten o’clock that night and no one could sleep anyway, so our folks didn’t make us go in. In fact, the first time I ever missed Sunday mass was after one of those nights. I told Lulu that years later and she said real sarcastic and know-it-all. ‘I wouldn’t worry about it Alphonso. I had more religious moments on that dirty old garage roof than I ever had at Saint Mary’s.’ Lulu was always sayin’ shit like that.
“So there we were all lined up on the roof, lyin’ flat on our backs. Me, Louis, Candyman, Frankie, Jimmie and at the end, Lulu. We tried to convince Lulu not to come up with us, but she was a great climber and usually the first one up on the roof. So we’d lie there and talk about things like space travel, whether there was life on other planets, the kinds of space ships that were going around up there, all that kind of stuff. But Lulu, Lulu was always puttin’ in her two cents. We could never get her to shut up. Like I’d say, ‘Man, look at that bright star.’
’It’s not a star, Alphonso, it’s a planet,’ says Lulu.
‘How do you know, wise ass,’ I say back to her, real quick.
‘See how the light from it is so steady, it’s not twinkling on and off? That’s because it’s reflecting light from our sun and not emitting any of its own. Those are planets, Alphonso. The one you’re looking at is Venus, it’s the evening star this time of year.’
‘How the fuck do you know all that, Lulu?’ I say, real pissed off.
‘I read it in a fucking book,’ she answers.
“Hey! Watch your language, Lulu,” says Jimmie.
“Fuck you, Jimmie,” says Lulu. ‘I’ll talk any way I want. When you and your ignorant friends stop using that language, then so will I.’
Alphonso laughed to himself, and turned off the recorder. He walked around the room once, stared out the window, still grinning, then a few minutes later, returned to the tape deck and pressed the ‘record’ button.
“Man, that Lulu was tough. Remember, she was only ten or eleven, but she was street-wise and nobody, I mean nobody, told her what to do. Jimmie had even threatened to hit her a couple of times, but Lulu still did what she wanted.
“That night on the roof Candyman got real mad at our arguing, and he says,
‘Hey will you two cut it out, you’re ruining a beautiful night. With all your bullshit we’ll miss the Martians if they buzz Bayonne tonight.’ We all nodded and Lulu muttered something under her breath.
‘What did you say, Lulu?’ I challenged her.
‘I said, it’s unlikely there’s life on Mars, so there are no Martians.’ We all groaned. ‘I’m not saying there’s no life in the universe, boys. I’m just saying it’s not likely to be on Mars.’
“Ah shit,’ said Louis. ‘Can’t you do something about her, Jimmie?’
‘Yeah, hey Lulu, take a break will you?’ Jimmie was real angry, and Lulu shut up for a while. But ten minutes later it started all over again. What a summer!
“Sometimes Lulu would fall asleep on the roof, while the rest of us were talking sports or something. One night, no one noticed that she had dozed off, and before we knew it she started to roll down the roof. The roof wasn’t that high, but it was over a paved driveway, so you’d land right on the cement and she could have hurt herself. She woke up half way down, but couldn’t stop the slide.
‘Jimmie!’ She screams and in a flash, Jimmie is up and sliding down the roof too. He plants his foot in the rain gutter to stop from going over the side, and reaches out in time to catch Lulu’s arm just as she’s slidin’ past him. I hustle down to help out and grab hold of Jimmie’s free hand, his other one is still holding on to Lulu.
“We balanced there for what seemed like minutes but the guys said later was only a few seconds. Jimmie was straining to hold onto Lulu’s hand. So, I got a better grip on him, then reached down to help with Lulu. I grab her around the wrist, and that’s when I see the look on Lulu’s face. She’s hangin’ there, dangling over the edge of the roof, her body frozen stiff looking up at me and Jimmie with these gapin’ eyes, really scared. Her mouth is wide open, but there’s not a sound coming out. When we finally get her back on the roof she can’t catch her breath. Then, she falls into her brother’s arms cryin’ her eyes out. Jimmie is trying to calm her down, you know stroking her hair, holding her tight; but Lulu can’t stop shaking. Finally, her breathing gets more regular, but she’s still crying.
‘Jimmie,’ she says, ‘Jimmie please, please don’t let me die, don’t let me die!’ We all looked at each other not knowing what to say.
“See, we all were really scared about what happened with Lulu; not about her falling off the roof; the roof wasn’t all that high. The most that could have happened was a broken bone, or something. But in Lulu’s mind she might as well have been falling off the Bayonne Bridge. She really thought she was goin’ to die. We were all scared and I don’t think any of us knew why.”
Alphonso turned off the recorder and walked to the window. He scratched his three day old beard watching the late afternoon rituals of the working day in Bayonne. The early shift was just emptying out and some of the stream of factory workers headed for the bus stop, while just as many went into O’Rourke’s Tavern on the corner. A few moments later Alphonso turned back into the room and fell onto his bed. He held a pillow to his chest, brought his knees up so that his body surrounded it, and immediately fell asleep.
When he woke it was dark out. The only light came from O’Rourke’s blinking neon sign which periodically filled his room like a soft blue strobe. He splashed water on his face, then went to the kitchen and switched on a lamp. He took a deep breadth, sat down in front of the recorder and began again.
“I didn’t see Lulu for a long while after that time on the roof. Jimmie told me that all she did the rest of the summer was read and listen to rock ‘n roll. That fall she started this UFO club at school. We all laughed at her and only one kid signed up, this real nerdy kid, Jerome. But Lulu didn’t care. I don’t think she ever cared what anyone thought about what she did. For Christmas that year her Mom got her a chemistry set. After that, Jimmie told us that Lulu and Jerome spent all their time in the basement doing experiments.
‘I’m afraid they are going to blow up the whole fucking building,’ Jimmie told us on more than one occasion.
“The school year dragged by and the next summer, me, Jimmie, Louis, Frankie and Candyman still hung around together, but Lulu was old enough now, her Mom said, so Jimmie didn’t have to watch her all the time. I saw her once or twice in the beginning of the summer, then we got on this red hot baseball team, and we all thought we were going to be pros. I was going to be the next Clete Boyer. Everybody said I had the surest and quickest hands in the league and the arm to play third, just like Clete. We played ball every day that summer, even on the hottest days. ‘The Yanks don’t call a game because it’s too hot,’ I’d say. ‘Let’s play.’
“About halfway through the summer we started going up on that garage roof again. But now we’ talked more about girls, than flying saucers. One night we must have talked for 3 hours about how you go about finding a girl’s vagina when you’re making out. At that time none of us had ever touched one, of course. I guess if we had, we wouldn’t have talked about it for so long.
“We also began to discover that all the good things to see from that roof were not in the skies. About a hundred feet behind the garage was a four story apartment house. On the second floor lived this Puerto Rican girl, Miranda, we all knew from school. She was a couple of years older than us, had long shiny black hair and breasts that were as perfect as any we had seen in ‘Playboy.’ When I look back now, I think Miranda was a little kinky. See, she liked to leave the bathroom window open and take her clothes off real slow, like a stripper, turning her back to the window as she released her bra, then turnin’ slowly to face the window. Sometimes she would have music on and start dancing as she came out of the shower. Man what great fantasies I used to have about her that summer.
“Lulu wasn’t with us those nights, of course. But one night near the end of August, she snuck up behind us around two in the morning. We were all on the roof, and this night Frankie had brought his binoculars. Earlier, we were using them to watch craters on the moon, see if we could see anything moving. But around one or so, Frankie starts surveying the apartment windows. We started watching Miranda around midnight, then a little after round 1:00 we found this young couple on the ground floor who left their shade up and lit the room with candles. They were clearly more interested in making love than wondering whether anyone was watching. We had a great view and were passing the binoculars around from one to the other, when we heard Lulu’s voice behind us.
‘I thought I’d find you here,’ she says. ‘What are you guys doing?’ We all jumped and together tried to quiet her. We had been lying on our stomachs, peering over the top of the roof and now began to slide down to where Lulu was standing by the back of the garage.
‘Listen,’ said Lulu. ‘If you really want to see something, come with me.’
“We were all embarrassed at being found out, but Lulu didn’t seem to be aware of what we were up to, so we all muttered, ‘Oh yeah, Lulu, OK, Lulu. What do you have in mind? Where are we going?’
We slid off the roof as quietly as we could and followed her down the alley and across the street. She led us through a few back yard shortcuts and then we were at the edge of Bayonne Park.
‘Lulu, what’s this all about?’ says Jimmie. But Lulu didn’t turn around or stop, she just headed across the softball field, then through a small grove of trees and into a clearing. In the middle of the clearing was a birdbath, and sitting on the birdbath was a rocket ship! That’s right, a fucking rocket ship sitting on a birdbath in the middle of Bayonne Park.
“This thing was about six feet high and had wires coming out of the top that were connected to trees on the edge of the clearing, holding the rocket upright. The rocket, painted a bright silver, shined like a precious gem in the moonlight. Up on the top, was something written in red that I couldn’t quite make out until I walked up closer. ‘Lulu,’ it said. When I thought about it later, I wasn’t surprised.
“There were at least 15 people gathered around the birdbath. One was Jerome, from Lulu’s UFO club and who, we all knew, was the smartest kid in our school. The others were Lulu’s girlfriends and some other kids we didn’t know.
“Lulu stood a few feet in front of the rocket and motioned for us all to be quiet. It took a few minutes, but she waited and when she had our undivided attention she began.
‘Before you,’ she says, ‘you see the first rocket ship ever built in the cellars of Bayonne, New Jersey.’ We looked at each other and then her friends let up a kind of quiet cheer. ‘This space explorer,’ she continued holding up her arms to quiet us down and pacing back and forth for effect, ‘was built by Jerome and me,’ she gestured toward Jerome who didn’t look up but kept making adjustments on the rocket, ‘and we have named her ‘Lulu’ for obvious reasons.’ We laughed and nodded to each other.
‘We have chosen this night for our space shot because all of the critical environmental factors are in our favor: visibility is excellent, there’s a full moon giving off plenty of light so we can see what we’re doing, the flight path from Newark airport is not over our heads, and most important, my Mom is working the 11 to 7 shift.’ We laughed again.
‘Hey Lulu,’ called out Frankie. ‘I hope there’s room on that rocket for you to go along, ’cause when your Mom finds out what you’ve been up to, there’s not a place in Jersey that’s going to be safe.’
‘He’s right Lulu,’ said Jimmie. But Lulu didn’t answer. She just waved to everyone to be quiet. Lulu was already in space. This was her moment and she was milking it for all it was worth.
‘You might notice,’ she continued, ‘that the rocket is modeled after the one used by Flash Gordon in the 1930s serial. But curiously enough, it also looks a lot like Jimmie’s dick!’
‘Lulu!’ Jimmie yells. But we were all roaring, and Lulu just went on with her little speech. ‘The design is simple, aerodynamically sound, with enough fuel to allow the top most portion, the Lulu capsule,’ she said for emphasis, ‘to escape the earth’s gravitational pull. Isn’t that right Jerome?’ Lulu turned towards Jerome, who nodded and then went back to his business. ‘If our calculations are correct, and with some luck,’ she said in a low voice, ‘we should be sending a message from Bayonne to the outer reaches of space.’
‘Aw come on Lulu. That heap of scrap metal, who are you trying to kid?’ I say. Everyone laughs, agreeing with me.
‘Alphonso,’ she says, real sarcastic. I knew a zinger was coming. ‘You again show your ignorance, as you have so often in the past. This heap of scrap metal, as you call it, will be in orbit before you have your next original thought, which I agree may not be for quite a while.’ Everyone laughed but me.
‘What’s the message, Lulu?’ asked one of the girls.
‘The message,’ Lulu went on, ‘is a series of maps. We don’t suppose that our language is like any other in the universe, so we have drawn maps in the form of a booklet. The top one shows the position of our galaxy in the Milky Way, with the approximate location of our sun. Then there is a diagram of our solar system, showing the position of the earth with respect to the other planets. Next is a map of our earth, but laid out flat that highlights the position of the United States. The fifth map shows New Jersey with respect to the U.S., and the next map pinpoints Bayonne.’
“She had us all now. No one said a word, no more wisecracks from me or anyone else. She and Jerome were really serious about this. This was not some idle caper they thought up overnight. They must have been planning this for months and none of us knew anything about it.
‘The final map,’ she coninues, ‘shows the position of this park. See, we figured they’d need a large area to land their space ship. So why not Bayonne Park?’ She turned to face me and the guys. ‘So you see what this means, boys. While you adolescents were lying around on garage roofs, getting your rocks off looking in people’s windows and dreaming about what if a spaceship comes, Jerome and I were taking steps to invite some aliens to Bayonne.’ She turned to me, ‘got that, Alphonso?’
“She was trying to get to me, but I didn’t say nothin’ back to her except. ‘OK Lulu, let’s cut the crap and get on with the show. Let’s see what this thing can do.’ Everybody muttered agreement.
‘Right,’ she said motioning to Jerome. ‘Everything all set, Jerome?’ He looked up nodded, without saying anything. In all the years I knew Jerome I don’t think I heard him say three words. Lulu then told us all to move back from the rocket.
‘Come on you guys. This takeoff should melt the birdbath and scorch all the grass around, right Jerome?’ Jerome nodded. ‘Move back!’ Lulu yelled.
“We did as Lulu said, forming a loose ring around the rocket and the birdbath. We watched as Jerome finished adjusting the wires holding the rocket. He barely looked at us, just kept checking one thing or another. For the next few minutes no one said a word, not even Lulu. I listened to the dull hum of traffic, way off in the distance and I remember listening to Lulu breathing, fast and choppy like. The moon was reflecting off the silver of the rocket as if it were sunlight, and at the top, ‘Lulu,’ in red, stood out like … , well, like Lulu did among the rest of us.
“Finally, Jerome approaches the tail of the rocket. He looks around one last time, smiles just a little out of the corner of his mouth, then takes a Zippo lighter from his pants pocket. He lights the fuse, checks to make sure it’s burning, then runs for cover. But he goes about ten feet further back than any of us had gone. We looks at each other for a second, then look at Jerome behind us and quickly scramble for spots even further back, behind Jerome. The fuse burns slowly. That was the way they planned it, Lulu told me later.
“When nothing happens after 20 seconds or so, I look up from my hiding spot, but can’t see the burning fuse. I was about to say something, when all of a sudden there’s an explosion that we found out the next day was heard in Staten Island, Jersey City and parts of Newark, not to mention all of Bayonne. We hear glass breaking in the distance, but when I pick my head up to look, all I can see is Lulu. She’s standin’ there, surrounded in smoke, lookin’ up to the heavens. Then I look too. But there’s nothing there just the remnants of the spaceship strewn around on the grass.
‘Shit!’ she says. ‘It didn’t make it.’
“We all got up and brushed ourselves off, looking around trying to see what happened. There’s no more birdbath, and the grass around it is all burned up, just like Lulu had said. But also, there was no more rocket ship. It had been blown to smithereens, and as far as we could tell, it hadn’t gotten off its launching pad. Right about then, we start to hear sirens. Next, lights start goin’ on in houses all around the park.
‘Aw shit!’ yells Jimmie. ‘We’re gonna get killed for this.’ We look at each other for a second, then everyone takes off in different directions. I run through the park, then into a neighborhood on the other side from where we live. I make a few zigs and zags around this corner and that, then hustle through some back yards and finally stop behind a garage, panting.
A few seconds later, I hear footsteps and I’m thinking, fuck man, I’m dead, it’s the cops. The footsteps get louder and louder, then just when I’m sure I’m going to be nabbed, who comes around the corner? It’s Lulu practically knocking me over. She stands next to me against the garage, panting.
‘Lulu,’ I whisper. ‘Don’t breathe so loud, they’ll hear us.’ She nods, and tries to hold it, but she can’t. In the distance I can hear the sirens, police, ambulance, fire trucks, they were all there. We read in the papers the next day that one of the cops said they thought that it was a refinery in Elizabeth that blew. The moon was still pretty bright so I could see Lulu’s face without much trouble. She was trying to catch her breath, trying to be quiet, like I told her. There was sweat all over her forehead and her chest was heaving up and down. Her chest, I don’t know if I had noticed her chest before that night. I mean she was “Stick” to all of us. But she had started to develop over the last year, and there were these little breasts jutting out from her t-shirt.
‘What a blast, huh Alphonso?’ she whispers, real excited, still breathing heavy. There were more sirens and sounds of cars and fire engines racing in the streets. The moon was so bright, it was like the middle of the afternoon.
‘Just think, if we had made that housing stronger,’ she says. ‘See, it exploded out and blew the sides apart. Instead, next time if we make the housing better, then all the force will be directed down, out the rocket ports. That would propel the craft up, and Lulu, Lulu,’ she seemed like she was going to burst with excitement, ‘Lulu II will be in space!’
‘You’re nuts, Lulu,’ I whisper, sure we’re going to get caught any minute.
‘Maybe, Alphonso, maybe.’ She just keeps looking up at the stars, I was looking up too, trying to see what she saw, but I know now that was impossible. Then all of a sudden she raises her arm, clenches her fist and yells out, ‘Alpha Centauri or bust!’
‘Shh, shh, Lulu, they’ll find us,’ I say. I put my hand over her mouth to quiet her down, not real hard or anything just lightly so she wouldn’t yell again and give us away. She didn’t fight me or take my hand away. She just kept looking up at the stars with this real excitement in her face.
“Then I did it. I didn’t think about it. I just did it. Like an instinct, like diving for a grounder down the third base line, or reactin’ to a curve when you’re expecting a fast ball.
“My hand is covering Lulu’s mouth so she is standing sort of in my control. I move my hand away from her mouth, but I remember that night I couldn’t take my eyes off her face, the thrill, the excitement in it. See Lulu was usually so cool and like nothing could faze her. I mean the kind of language she used and just her way. But the night she fell off the garage I saw this scared, terrified look on her face. And this night, the night of the rocket, she seemed in another world. Her face was like the way they paint the Virgin Mary, you know real peaceful, serene, I guess. I thought later that Lulu didn’t need a rocket ship that night. She was already in the heavens.
“So there we were, her staring up at the stars and me staring at her, with my hand clamped over her mouth. I go to move my hand away. But instead of puttin’ it in my pocket or somethin’, I lower it and let it rest on her breast. I mean not quick or hard or nothing like that, not like I was trying to cop a feel or nothing.’ I just let it rest there. She turns her head and looks up at me and I lean over and I kissed her. Lulu this was! I wanted to take back what I had done. But I knew I couldn’t. It would have been like tryin’ to stop that explosion once the fuse had been lit.
“I don’t know how long I held the kiss. I mean it was so awkward and everything. I had never kissed a girl before. I didn’t know what I was doing. I just did it. To this day I really can’t figure it out, but at that moment I wasn’t really thinking at all. Oh God, Lulu!”
Alphonso buried his face in his hands. He collapsed on his bed, the recorder tape whirling. Then, determined to finish, he went back to the table sat down and continued.
“So there I was standing behind a garage in Bayonne, sirens in the distance, danger all around, and me with my hand on the breast and my lips on the lips of my best friend’s kid sister. Lulu didn’t stop me or nothing, I think she was just as surprised as I was.
“We must have stood like that for half a minute or more. Not because of any special feeling or because I was liking it so much, I just didn’t know how to stop and I was afraid I was going to have to say something or apologize when I did stop. Finally, I detach my lips from her and remove my hand from her chest. She doesn’t look at me, but keeps gazing up at the stars.
Then Lulu says, ‘Alphonso, why did you do that?’
“Well I was really embarrassed. I didn’t know what to say. I sort of looked down and whispered, ‘sorry Lulu.’ I was thinking’ about what a shit I was, I mean Jimmie’s kid sister and all, and shit, I don’t know what else. I never been too good at that kind of stuff, you know, figuring out why I do stuff. That night, I just did it, that’s all.
‘It’s OK,’ she said.
“We stood next to each other without speaking for maybe another ten minutes. Clouds had moved across the sky so the moon was hidden and the night was a lot darker. The sirens were gone and most of the lights around the neighborhood were out, but we were still afraid to leave our hiding place.
“We sit down on the damp ground and Lulu moves closer to me to get warm. I put my arm around her shoulder and the next thing I know Lulu is cuddled into my chest, sound asleep. Me? I couldn’t sleep. I just sat there scared about the trouble we’d get in if we got caught, cold but not wanting to move because of Lulu and just looking up. Later, I see these flashes of light across the sky. I thought for sure they were flying saucers, comin’ for me and Lulu, to tell us about what’s up, you know with the universe and life and stuff like that; maybe comin’ to take us away. Who knows?
I almost woke Lulu up a couple of times but she was sleeping so soundly I didn’t want to disturb her, and anyway the flashes stopped after a few minutes. Next morning when I tell her about what I saw, she says sleepily,
‘They’re meteorites, not flying saucers, Alphonso. ‘it happens every August.
“A few days later me and the guys were back playing baseball like nothin’ had happened. Our folks knew we were involved with the ‘The Launch’ but they kept it quiet as far as the cops and papers were concerned; it all stayed in the neighborhood. Of course after that, the nights were no longer ours. We all had to be in our own houses by dark. The only damage from the blast was a few broken windows in houses next to the park. Our folks made us put our savings together and pay for the repairs. Everyone agreed, no cops and no reporters. Later we found out that some wino who had been asleep on a park bench about half a mile away got so scared when the blast went off that he swore he had a vision of the Blessed Virgin and she promised him redemption if he stopped drinking. So I figured in the end, some good had come out of the whole thing.
“By the time school started, everyone knew what had happened. The science teacher found out and locked up his chemicals every afternoon. Among us kids, Jerome, and especially Lulu, were real heroes. I would pass Lulu in the halls from time to time, and that’s when she gave me this nickname.
‘Hey Hands, what’s going on?’ She yells to me one day. When the guys asked me about it, I made up a story about being a little clumsy and dropping everything. Then I’d say, ‘And fucking Lulu doesn’t miss a trick, she never lets me forget it.’
“I don’t know why they ever believed me in the first place. See, I was the next Yankee third baseman. You know the new Clete Boyer. I had the best hands on our team. I never dropped anything.
Alphonso clicked off the recorder, unable to suppress a wide grin. He pictured himself as the sure handed third base man for the Bayonne Bombers and the best hitter in the league. His friends had always said if anyone would make it to the majors, it would be him. He had what it took to be a pro. But none of them knew what it really took. Alphonso never even got a tryout.
He turned on the recorder and resumed his story.
“We all thought that Lulu was going to turn out to be an astronomer or an astronaut, maybe the first woman in space. But we found out soon enough that space flight was only a passing kick with her. She had bigger and better things in mind for her future.
“I didn’t see much of Lulu that fall, only when I went over to Jimmie’s. But I was going there less and less. Their Mom was hitting the sauce pretty hard so Jimmie usually met us down at the park. The times I did go over, Lulu was always in her room, reading or listening to music. She’d come out when I was there, but just to tease me.
“That year some of the guys started to do drugs. Not me and my crew; we still played ball after school and on weekends and stayed away from the heavy drugs. We’d do a little weed and shit like that, but not much more.
“One day, we heard that Lulu was caught in the chemistry storeroom after school. She insisted she wasn’t going to take anything. But her mom had to come to school and she and the principal decided that Lulu would be better off in Catholic school. The next day she was gone. After that I got pretty depressed, knowing that I wouldn’t be seeing her around school anymore. Just before Thanksgiving, I was on the Kennedy Avenue bus heading home when I see these girls from Saint Catherine’s, dressed in their proper maroon uniforms, standing on the corner near the candy store. I had to laugh; they looked so ridiculous in those get-ups with their pointy hats, and knee socks. You know, they had to wear those outfits all the time in those days. I mean, not only in school or church, but on the streets too. The nuns would tell them they were carrying the name of the parish and they had to look presentable, no not presentable, perfect, whether in school or out. Man those nuns were strict. And, for what reason? The kids in Catholic school smoked more weed, had more sex and drank more than any of us in the public school. What a joke.
“This afternoon the bus was stuck in traffic, barely moving, when all of a sudden, in the middle of this group of girls, I see one with her back to the street wind up, and with a left hook that could have stopped Marciano, she decks this other girl. The chick who went down was pretty big so she hits the sidewalk hard, her hat flying off her head.
“I’m smiling almost laughing at this scene, when I catch a glimpse of the slugger. It looks like Lulu.
‘Lulu? Lulu?’ I yell, hanging out the bus window. Sure enough she turns around and there she is with this fierce look on her face, all red and excited. When she recognizes me, her look softens a little and she waves to me.
‘Hey Hands!’ she yells.
Fucking Lulu and her ‘Hands’ shit.
She breaks from the pack of girls and catches the bus at its next stop.
‘Alphonso,’ she says with a big grin as she sits down next to me. ‘It’s been a while, my man.’
‘Yes, it has,’ I say. ‘Man, Lulu, you really clocked that chick. What did she do, make fun of your space shot or something?’
‘No, no, nothing like that, Alphonso.’ She didn’t say anything for a second. ‘She made a comment about my Mom; the bitch.” She looks up at me, ‘what’s happening with you these days? Still molesting young girls?’ She had this teasing tone in her voice.
‘Lulu,’ I say, ‘Are you ever going to forget that?’
‘I hope not, Alphonso.’ She hugs my arm. ‘You know, you were the first boy I ever kissed,’ she whispers in my ear. ‘I’m going to immortalize you in a song some day, Alphonso.’
‘Lulu,’ I say. ‘Don’t tell me now you’re a songwriter. You think you’re Carol King or something?’
‘Who knows, maybe a song writer, maybe a poet, maybe movie scripts, who knows?’
‘Maybe you’re still crazy, too, Lulu.’ I say.
‘Alphonso,’ Lulu shoots back at me. ‘Don’t be like Mom and Jimmie. Don’t discourage me before I even try to be somebody. I can’t stand the idea of just passing through this life. I’ve got to find what I’m good at and do something. Do you understand that?’
“I nodded, but I really didn’t. I don’t think I ever really understood Lulu. I changed the subject and started to ask her about people we knew from the neighborhood who were at Saint Catherine’s.
‘Remember Jerome?’ she says.
‘Sure,’ I said nodding. I smiled thinking about the night of the blast. I had this image of Jerome, Lulu’s partner, in the park that night, stalking around the birdbath,.
‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘What’s he up to these days, bigger and better rockets?’
‘No Alphonso.’ She didn’t look at me. ‘Bigger and better drugs, I’m afraid. He started doing ‘H’ at the end of last summer and was hooked in less than a month.’ She stops and looks out the window. ‘He OD’d a few weeks ago. They found him outside a shooting gallery on the lower Eastside. He almost died, Alphonso. I didn’t see him for days. Then I ran into him on the street about a week ago and I can tell you, he was a different person. He told me that he’d never go near the stuff again, but that if he stayed around here it was bound to happen. The next night he disappeared.
‘No one has heard from him since and I don’t think any of us will. Alphonso, something’s going wrong. Something bad is happening to us. Do you feel it? Do you know what I mean?’
“I didn’t know what she was talking about at first. But then I got a flash of what happened with Candyman and now Jerome. ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘I think I know what you mean.’
“When we got to Lulu’s stop, she leans close to me, holds my head with her left hand and kisses me on the cheek, very tender and loving.
‘No one else has touched me, Alphonso. You’re the only one.’ She whispers softly in my ear. Then before I could say anything back to her she kisses my cheek again and jumps off the bus.
‘Look for my name in print, Alphonso,’ she calls from the sidewalk as the bus pulls away.
‘Yeah Lulu, sure,’ I say, sarcastically, and the bus rolls up Kennedy Boulevard just the way it did every other day.
“For the next few weeks, all I thought about was Lulu. I tried to get in touch with her, by calling Jimmie’s house, hoping she would pick up the phone. But she didn’t. When someone did answer it was their mom, slurring her words and telling me she had no idea where Jimmie was. Jimmie and me were still friends but he was hanging with a different crowd, getting into bodybuilding, Karate, and that kind of stuff. So I really didn’t see him much. I still had hopes of playing pro baseball, so I worked hard on my skills whenever I could. You know it was funny. I’d ride that bus on Kennedy Boulevard every school day and every time I’d see those maroon uniforms I’d quick turn around, and hang out the window, but I never saw Lulu again, not there anyway.
“It was almost three years later that I saw, or should I say heard about Lulu again. Lots had happened in between. We got out of high school, some of us even graduated,” Alphonso laughed into the recorder. “Jimmie had been drafted into the marines and was over in Nam. Frankie had gone off to college and Louis had a job at Jersey City hospital, so I didn’t see much of any of my old friends. I had a separated shoulder from a sports injury so they didn’t want me in the army and no one had to tell me, college was not where I belonged. So I got a job in an auto supply store and was going with this girl, Marie, who I knew from the neighborhood.
“One night I was in a local bar by myself when I met a girl who turns out to be one of Lulu’s friends; one of the girls who had been at the space shot that night and then that fall, went with Lulu to Catholic school. She tells me that Lulu graduated high school early and then shocked everyone by not going to college but got an apartment with another girl in Jersey City. She was writing poems and song lyrics, trying to enter the world of rock ‘n roll. I mean we were all into the music, but from what this girl was telling me, Lulu had really gotten submerged. She tells me that Lulu was going with this guy who had his own band called ‘Sal and the Sinners.’ I never heard of them but that didn’t mean anything, Jersey was crawlin’ with bands in those days.
“A few weeks later I went to this club called Captain Jack’s with Marie and some of her friends. Things were pretty tense between me and Marie. See, she had missed her period and was talking like maybe she was pregnant and, of course, I was the father. I mean it was crazy. She was the first girl I ever had sex with, and only two or three times and here she is knocked up. Fuck, what luck I had.
“So here we are talking. Actually, they were talking, I was just sitting there, listening to the juke box and drinking more than my share of Budweisers. After a while, I have to take a piss so I walk into the back and that’s when I heard this commotion. I go down a dark hallway towards the noise when all of a sudden, there’s a loud crash. Then a door at the end of the hall flies open, filling the hall with light. Next, this blond comes running out screaming her ass off. Not only that, but she’s naked except for a pair of skimpy pink panties. She goes running by me, arms crossed over her chest, practically knocking me over. Then I hear another crash, and this skinny guy with long dark hair comes running out, wearing only boxer shorts. He too high-tails it by me. And right in back of him this chick runs into the hall, pool cue in her right hand and a beer bottle in her left.
“The chick winds up and hurls the bottle at the skinny guy. The unfortunate part was that he is already past me when she releases the bottle. So instead of hitting him, it catches me just above my left eye. In that split second before I got clobbered I realized that the chick throwing the glass? You guessed it. It was Lulu. I figured the guy must have been her boyfriend and she had just caught him with the blond.
‘Sal, you fucking cocksucker, you sneaky guinea bastard, you miserable greasy piece of shit,’ she screams, raising her fist at him.
“I cup my forehead with both hands and steady myself against the wall. Lulu stands in the doorway, short skirt, legs set wide apart, her skinny body silhouetted against the light, pool cue still in her right hand. She didn’t give me a second look, but just keeps screaming at this guy, Sal. At one point during her rage, she notices that I’m standing against the wall in the darkness.
‘Who the fuck are you? What are you doing hanging around here?’ she says. I walk out of the shadows into the light still feeling the tenderness over my eye.
‘Lulu?’ I say slowly walking towards her.
‘Oh shit!’ she says. Then turns without saying anything more and goes back into the room, leaving the door open. I follow her in, rubbing the swelling above my eye, but don’t say anything. She’s sitting there, head cradled in her hands.
‘Sorry, Alphonso, where did you come from? Are you OK?’ she asks, looking up.
‘I’m OK. You know me, Lulu. Thick skull,’ I say trying to get her to smile. No luck. We talk for a few minutes then, after a little coaxing, she agrees to have a drink with me and Marie and the others.
“As we pass the bar, Lulu orders two boilermakers and brings them to the table. The others make room for us and Lulu downs half of her first drink before a word is said. When I ask her about the guy and the fight, she gives me this cold hard look.
‘None of your fucking business, Alphonso,’ she whispers, finishing the first boilermaker. Everything is quiet around the table.
‘Sorry about your eye, Hands,’ she says finally. A few minutes later and well into the second drink she asks me to walk her to the back hall. That’s when she tells me about Jimmie.
Jimmie had been in Nam for about a year. I wrote him once or twice, and I got one letter back, but I hadn’t heard anything in months. In the back hall, Lulu told me her Mom got a phone call two days ago from some Marine sergeant. Jimmie is MIA. They’re both real worried, but Lulu says it’s not so bad, she figures they’ll hear something in a week or two.
‘You know Jimmie,’ she says. ‘He could never find his way from Jersey City to Bayonne, so I’m not so surprised that he’s missing in Viet Nam. He’s probably looking for the Kennedy Boulevard bus to Saigon.’
“I laugh and at the time really believed what Lulu was saying. We go back to the table and Lulu is a little more normal so I introduce her to everyone, as Jimmie’s kid sister. We didn’t say anything about the MIA stuff.
“Most of the people at the table knew Jimmie, so we start telling stories about the old days. I tell everyone about when we cut school to go to the city to play basketball with the black guys from Harlem. Of course the failed space shot came up.
‘That was you,’ says one of the guys to Lulu. ‘You are my hero,’ he says getting up and bowing from the waist. ‘To the Bayonne Babe and her space shot,’ he says and we all toast Lulu.
“At the time, I remember thinking that Jimmie being missing wasn’t any big thing. That he probably was just lost behind the lines somewhere, that he would come waltzing out of the bush one day. At worst, I figured he might be a prisoner; but they couldn’t hold this tough Jersey kid, my buddy. In those days, my thoughts about war were straight from John Wayne, World War II movies. It was hard to imagine things not coming out the way they did in those movies. But that night, when I looked at Lulu, I could see that she was real scared, like the night she fell off the garage roof, or after we heard about Candyman, or on the bus when she told me about Jerome.
“As we talk, Lulu throws down one drink after another. We try to get her to slow down, but it’s no use. Finally it’s last call, and we get ready to go, but when Lulu tries to stand up, she staggers, holding herself up on the table. I grab her arm, but she just goes limp. She is out cold. I pick her up and drape her over my shoulder and head towards the door.
“I ask Marie’s friends to drive her home, so I can take care of Lulu. I put Lulu into the car and then go over to talk to Marie. She of course is pissed. But I remind her how close me and Jimmie were and how I feel responsible for Lulu. She’s still angry, but I calm her down by agreeing to come over the next night to talk things over with her.
“Now, it’s around 3:00 AM, and I’m driving down Kennedy Boulevard towards Bayonne, with Lulu passed out on the front seat, when I hear her voice. ‘Alphonso, I’m not going home so you might just as well drive right through Bayonne and start heading down the shore.’
“I tell her no, she should go home, but she says either I take her down to Asbury, or she gets out right here and thumbs her way. I thought about it for a minute, then decided, why not? It was a nice night and shit, I’d be getting away from my problems, getting away from Marie. You don’t know what a relief that was.
“A few minutes later I look over at Lulu and she’s passed out. An hour after that we pull into Asbury. When I stop at a light, Lulu sits up. She rubs her eyes, then starts telling me turn right here, left there, then, OK stop, there it is. I look up and see that we are in front of a club called The Stone Pony. Lulu is out of the car and heads for the bar the moment we stop, with me, as usual, following behind. By the time I’m inside the place, Lulu is already out dancing. She motions to me to join her but I wasn’t ready, so I go for a drink.
“This band called “Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom” is playing and let me tell you, they are really hot. And Lulu, Lulu is flying. This chick who five minutes ago was out cold on my front seat, is now dancing up a storm, moving as good as any of those black chicks on Soul Train.
“After a while Lulu gets me out there with her. I had thrown down a couple of beers, and was feeling a little loose but I can’t keep up. But Lulu is in space. And remember now, Lulu’s only what, about eighteen, and there she is hair flying, this little T shirt top and a skirt that’s always whirling up to show her panties. She points to the guy on lead guitar and you know who it is? Springsteen. I mean it was really amazing. I had never heard of him before that night. And it wasn’t till years later that anyone out of Jersey even knew his name. But Lulu was so tuned in with this scene, that when she realizes it’s him, she goes even crazier. She dances over close to me and yells over the band, ‘This guy is the soul of Jersey, Alphonso. Jersey Rocks!’ She yells this a couple of times and soon everyone on the dance floor joins in with her, their fist pumping in the air, yelling ‘Jersey Rocks’. Springsteen and his band picks it up and they’re flying along with Lulu and the rest of us. I remember wondering if this happen in other states? Does someone in a club in Connecticut jump up to yell ‘Connecticut rocks?’
“Everything slows down a little after 4:00 and I finally convince Lulu that we better go. We get outside, but instead of going back to the car, Lulu heads toward the beach. She’s leaning on me, having a lot of trouble standing up, but manages to make her way to the water’s edge. She bends down, cups some water in her hands and splashes it around her face; small waves washed over her feet but she doesn’t seem to notice.
‘You feel that music, Alphonso, you feel it talking to you? Springsteen has more insight into the life of us Jersey kids than any so called poet writing today. You know, I’ve been trying to get Sal,’ she stops abruptly. She hadn’t mentioned Sal’s name since we were at the bar. Now she starts walking down the beach; I follow a few steps behind.
‘Sal,’ she says, disgusted, shaking her head, as I catch up with her. ‘He was writing the music and I was working on the lyrics. Man it could have been great, but he has to take up with fucking Annie. You know, Alphonso, Sal had a full scholarship to Julliard. They called him a musical genius. He has studied all kinds of music but is crazy about rock and roll.’
“We walked just out of reach of the waves. It was still pretty dark, but out over the ocean I could see the first signs of morning light.
‘He was everything to me Alphonso,’ Lulu says in a low voice. I could tell, she was trying hard not to cry. ‘He’s the only guy I ever made love to. I felt I could tell him anything, I felt I had found someone who… who knew me, a partner. We had these plans.’ Tears rolled down her cheeks. ‘We were going to be songwriters. He’d do the music and perform and I’d write the lyrics, not those bubblegum kind of lyrics, but serious literate lyrics, like Springsteen or Dylan. I thought I would write the most significant poetry of our time, but I would write it for rock ‘n roll, for Jersey kids like us.’ We sit in the sand, just out of the reach of the rippling water, me trying to comfort her.
‘It might not be over. Maybe you’ll get back together,’ I say.
‘No…, no,’ she says so sadly I almost start crying myself. I don’t say anything. It was hard to know what to say.
‘Alphonso, I’m so sorry to put you through all this,’ she says, and puts her hand on my arm. ‘It’s just that I had it all figured out, I mean my whole life with Sal was going to be this world of work and creating and love, and now, now…, ’ her head was down. ‘Now there’s nothing.’ I put my arm around her and Lulu sobs against my shoulder. I reach for her with my other hand and she falls across my chest, her arms around my neck. We sink into the sand, her lying across my chest. And I felt the way I had years before, behind that garage and I wanted to kiss her again. But, I didn’t. And I thought about Jimmie and the way we had caught Lulu as she went over the side of the garage. I could feel their hands both gripping mine as if it were happening all over again. But where was he now? Was he even alive? What was happening to us? Lulu was right. Things weren’t working out the way we thought they would.
“I stared at the heavens and watched the last of the evening stars disappear into the slowly brightening sky. When I glanced back a few minutes later, Lulu was looking up at me.
‘Still looking for flying saucers, Alphonso?’ says Lulu.
‘No, not really,’ I say. ‘I’ve gotten pretty tired of waiting.’ She smiles.
“We didn’t talk any more about Sal. As a matter of fact, in all the years I knew Lulu, she never mentioned his name again. After a while we got up, brushed off the sand and started walking down the beach. The sky over the water was brighter now, and we made a bet on how long it would be till we could see the first piece of the sun over the horizon. Lulu won the bet which meant that I had to buy breakfast. It was not really a bet because Lulu didn’t have any money in the first place.
“We went to a diner out on Route 1, and let me tell you, for a skinny broad, that Lulu could eat. I watched her put down a second order of pancakes, then I start laughing.
‘You know, Lulu, I have never known anyone like you. You are completely unique!’ She stops eating and looks up at me. Her eyes are red from the night before and she has sand in her hair. Her T shirt has spots of salt water on it and all in all she’s a real mess. Her eyes get watery and I think she’s going to cry again.
‘I’m sorry,’ I say. ‘Did I say something wrong.’
‘No, Alphonso,’” she says. ‘No. That’s the nicest thing you could say to me.’
“I look back at her and smile sheepishly, then she reaches across the table and takes my hand. I want to say something more but I don’t. I just sit there as usual, grinning like a fucking jerk.
“We made it back to Bayonne and I pull up in front of Lulu’s house. Then I go to my place and collapse on my bed. I sleep most of that day and into the night. I knew I should see Marie, but I just couldn’t face it. So around eleven I get into my car and after getting something to eat at Burger King, head south on the parkway. Not by chance I end up in Asbury and after hitting a couple of the local bars, including the Stone Pony again, I wander out onto the beach. I lay down in the sand and look up at the black skies, hoping for some answers in the stars I had watched and dreamed on for so many years. I started thinking again about visitors from other planets, about them coming down here, landing on the earth. Why not this beach, I thought. There’s plenty of room; they’d be attracted by the lights from Asbury, why not?
“I keep trying to think about Marie too, and what I should do about that whole mess. But I can’t keep Marie in my mind for more than a few second, before my thoughts switch to Lulu. Around three I decide to head home.
“That’s when I saw it. I had gotten off the parkway and was going up Kennedy Boulevard and there it was. The moment I saw it, I knew this was Lulu’s work. About 35 feet up on the concrete support of the train bridge that goes from Bayonne to Staten Island someone had written a message in red paint. See, Lulu was smart. She knew they couldn’t paint over it cause you don’t paint concrete. Also, concrete is porous so the paint seeps in and can’t be washed off. I don’t know how she got up there, but Lulu’s message was up for all to see and it was up for good. She had gotten red ‘day glo’ spray paint and in letters about a foot tall, had written a message for one person and one person only. It said,
“Sal, I Love You Still”
Alphonso stared silently at the recorder, then broke into a wide grin.
“What a stunt. What style that Lulu had. There has never been anyone in Bayonne like her. That message is still up on the bridge all these years later. It’s faded, but you can still read it.
“She never went back to Sal, of course. Lulu was much too proud for that. I figured that she wrote that note to him so that he would always be reminded that she had been his, but he fucked it up. I can laugh about it now, but back then I was feeling real desperate. I didn’t know what to do about Marie and maybe she was pregnant. All I knew was I wanted to talk to Lulu. So I started calling her home. If her mom answered, I’d ask about Jimmie, then sneak in, ‘Oh and how’s Lulu?’ Her Mom was real upset over Jimmie being MIA, and never said anything about Lulu. A few weeks later I heard that Lulu had left Jersey City to live somewhere down the shore, but nobody knew what town.
“Me and Marie had our talk, then another. She kept telling me about my responsibility. Shit, that really got me mad. She didn’t have to tell me about my responsibility, I knew what I had to do and when the time came, I would do it. It was always like that with Marie. She wasn’t a bad person. It’s just that she never stopped telling me what to do.
A week later she calls to tell me that everything is OK. She got her period. After that things calm down between us. No more talk of marriage and after that, we agree when we have sex I use a condom.
“I didn’t see or talk to Lulu until almost a year later. When she wanted to, she could just disappear. I heard that she had moved into the city with a girlfriend and the two of them were waitressing and trying to become writers. Every time I’d hear something about Lulu, I’d find that for days I couldn’t get her out of my thoughts. I’d fall asleep thinking about her, sometimes with Marie right there next to me.
“The next summer I’m driving home from the shore along the Garden State Parkway late one Sunday afternoon when I get caught in this traffic jam. This van pulls up next to me and out of the passenger window comes this long black lens and then I start hearing these clicks. Someone is taking my picture. I’m getting a little nervous and every time I look over, I hear another click. Finally I yell.
‘Hey cut it out. What are you doing?’ Then the camera disappears from the window and a second later, this tit appear. That’s right, a breast, not a very big one, but still, a breast. This anonymous chick in the van is flashing me. I look forward again, and when I look back, the breast is gone and is replaced by a face, Lulu’s face.
‘Lulu,’ I yell.
‘What’s happening, my man?’ she says. But then the van starts pulling away. I’m waving to her trying to motion that she should stop, pull over to the side, but the guy driving is putting more and more distance between us.
‘Alphonso,’ Lulu calls hanging out the van window. ‘I’m starting to make it, you hear. I’ll send you some of my stuff. Rave On!’ she calls out, arm raised, fist clenched.
“I try to catch up but it’s no use. I change lanes but then get trapped behind a station wagon with all these kids hanging out the back window. The van and Lulu speed up and disappear into the distance, and me? I’m left sitting in this Sunday night Parkway traffic jam with all the rest of the Jersey gavones.
“About two weeks later, I come home to find this large manila envelope in the mailbox, no return address, and with a New York postmark. I open it up and there’s a copy of a magazine I never heard of, with a note on the outside, saying ‘see page 42’. When I turn to the page I see a poem that takes up most of the page, and on the bottom off to one side it says, ‘Lulu.’ I read it, but it was real weird, completely nutty. I had no idea what it was about. But hey, Lulu had her name on it and it was in this magazine. Someone must have thought it was good.
“For weeks after I got the magazine I tried getting in touch with her but always came to a dead end.
“The following spring Marie starts pressuring me to get married. We had been seeing each other exclusively for about six months and when she cut me off from sex, I thought, shit, I’ll do it. I had nothing else going on in my life. And don’t get me wrong, I got along pretty good with Marie and I liked being with her so it wasn’t so crazy. On April 20th, we got married at City Hall in Bayonne, with Louis and one of Marie’s friends as witnesses. Her mom was pissed about how we did it, but in the end she was OK; at least her daughter was married. Her dad was a different story. He was happy as a pig in shit. He got me aside one night and told me that was the way to go. See, it didn’t cost him a nickel and now his daughter was my problem, not his. When I thought about it at the time, I did want to marry Marie. But I knew too that there was something wrong. I just couldn’t get Lulu out of my mind.
“I didn’t see Lulu again for almost five years. Word was that she had moved to LA for a while and then came back to the area, but exactly where she was living was not clear. In all that time there was no news about Jimmie. According to the army, he was still officially MIA.
“One night, I decide to go to a ‘Talking Heads’ concert at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic. Me and Marie had split up about a month earlier; the usual stuff, she wanted to get pregnant but couldn’t. And I wouldn’t go to a doctor to get my sperm checked. Jerk off into a cup? They had to be kidding. She’s always pissed off at me and it gets so I don’t want to go home. So I start going out for beers after work with the guys from work and the minute I get in the door, she starts in on me. Finally, I can’t take it any more, so I move out and get this apartment on Kennedy Boulevard. But man, I was really lonely. The guys from the old neighborhood were either busy with their wives and kids or else they were in the Service. I felt like I had no one to hang with, no one I felt comfortable with, who I wanted to do things with. I had been real low for a couple of weeks and that’s why I was at the Capitol by myself. I just wanted to get out, even if I had to go alone.
“I’m walking out of the theater, trying to savor the performance and the night, I guess, when my attention is drawn to this bizarre looking chick with some sort of fur piece around her neck.
“I look two, maybe three times before I realize the furry thing is moving. I get up closer to get a better look, and that’s when I discover that the furry thing is alive. It’s a cat, and the chick? The chick is Lulu.
‘Alphonso,’ she says with a big smile and pulls the cat, well really just a kitten, from her shoulder. She hugs me and kisses my cheek, draping her arms up around my neck. Then she steps back.
‘Meet Hobie,’ she says, ‘a great cat and a lover of rock n’ roll.’ I reach over and scratch the cat under its chin. Then I notice its front right leg is missing.
‘A mutant,’ Lulu says, holding up Hobie. ‘Just like me, Alphonso.’
“We stand in the crowd leaving the Capitol for a while just shootin’ the shit. You know, how’s this guy, what’s this one up to, who got married, who didn’t. I tell her about me and Marie getting married.
‘Good for you, Alphonso,’ she says.
‘Well, not so good,’ I say and tell her about me moving out. I ask her about Jimmie and she tells me he’s still MIA. Lulu and her Mom have not given up hope though, she tells me. But the way she says it, I feel like she has.
“There’s a gang calling to Lulu that they want to get going. But I get the feeling Lulu wants to stay with me. So I get up the nerve and I say, ‘Hey Lulu, you want to go get a beer or coffee or something? I’ll take you home later.’
‘Sure, Hands,’ she says grinning, then waves off her friends. Lulu has this great kind of excited look on her face. Her eyes are sparkling, reflecting the lights from the lobby, and her skin looks even whiter than usual, maybe because of the bright red she had colored her lips. For a second I remember feeling like we were back in the park that night, waiting for the fuse to burn down.
‘Lulu, are you ever going to forget that Hands shit? I mean we were kids then. That was a long time ago, you know?’ She just laughs and takes my arm as we head out towards the street, Hobie nuzzles into her hair so that all you can see is this black tail hanging down from Lulu’s ear. Lulu giggles.
’What’s so funny?’ I say, a little annoyed. I guess I thought she was laughin’ at me.
‘Don’t be paranoid, Alphonso,’ she says. ‘ It’s just Hobie. She thinks I’m her mother and that my ear lobe is a nipple. Right now she’s up under my hair sucking on it, trying to get some milk. She’s done that since I got her. You’d think she’d learn by now but it doesn’t seem to faze her, she goes right back every time.’
“We get into my car and start driving towards the city. Lulu says that she knows a place on Avenue A where all the freaks hang out, maybe we’ll see something bizarre. I look over at Lulu, that three legged cat still nuzzled under her hair with her tail curled around Lulu’s throat like a necklace, her pale white skin with two bright red rouge spots on her cheeks, and this bright red lipstick. Yeah, I think, maybe we’ll see something weird.
“I remember that night as clear as if it was yesterday. We’re sitting at this bar on Canal Street, Lulu drinking Margaritas, with Hobie curled up in her lap, me with a bottle of Bud. We start out OK, talking about the concert, the music, The Talking Heads. Then she starts telling me about her life.
‘My friends are consumed with accomplishment,’ she says. ‘It makes them chronic complainers. They all have these dreams of making it big. Being part of the Warhol crowd.’
‘What about you, Lulu,’ I say. ‘You always seemed to be trying to accomplish something. You know get famous for something or other. Like a space shot.’ I say grinning. ‘You dream of fame as a writer, you told me so.’
‘I include myself with my friends, Alphonso,’ she says, smirking.
‘I thought our folks always told us to not give up on our dreams.’
‘That’s what they told us Alphonso, but it’s not true. They lied to us just like they did about a lot of other things. They should have told you it’s OK to dream, but don’t take your dreams too seriously. If you do they just might kill you.’
“She is so serious that I know things must be tough for her. I don’t say anything. I figure she’ll tell me if she wants to. Then we start talking about our old friends again and I tell her the whole story about me and Marie getting married, then breaking up.
‘And Lulu, you know what happened last week? First, on Monday we find out that our boss, a great guy, has cancer of the pancreas and will probably not make it for more than a few months. Then this past Friday, this guy who works next to me, drops dead right on the job. He was only 37. They tried CPR. I mean the ambulance was there in 10 minutes, and he was in the hospital 10 minutes later. But it did no good. I mean there was nothing me or anyone else could do. He was gone, heart attack, they said. So now every time I feel a pain in my chest or something, I figure this is it. I get real nervous, then my heart starts pounding like it’s going to jump out of me. I’m sure I’m going to keel over right then and there. I can feel my heart racing now just talking about it. And then I think about Candyman We were all his friends and none of us knew what he was going through. And he’s gone. And Jerome. You ever hear anything about him?’ She shook her head. ‘And Jimmie…’ I try to stop myself but it’s too late. After a moment Lulu reaches across the table and takes my hand.
‘You know, H,’ she had been calling me this all night as short for, well you know. ‘If I knew I was going to die, I hope I’d do something dramatic, something with style and a little humor. Something that would say “fuck you” to this whole life gig, something existential, make a statement and give the finger to the whole damn thing.
‘But you, Alphonso. Don’t get obsessed with your own mortality. It does no good.’ She takes a long swig of her drink. ‘Remember that night Jimmie caught me as I was sliding off the roof? I think we were all hoping to be taken off by some flying saucers to be saved or something, saved from growing up, maybe. I never felt closer to him than when I was hanging there his hand around my wrist. Then the two of you pulled me up and he put his arms around me. I remember feeling that there was no one, nothing, no force more powerful than my brother; not at that moment, not on that night. I felt that nothing would ever happen to me, to us, as long as Jimmie was around. Then look what happens. He’s gone. We’re sitting here getting drunk and he’s fucking gone. I’ve given up trying to figure this all out. Now I just live, day by day and try to do the things that will make me feel, I don’t know, fulfilled, I guess.’
“We’re both quiet after that. I’m thinking about Jimmie and I think Lulu is too. We leave the bar around two not talking all the way back to the car. I start driving and Lulu tells me she wants to go out by Coney Island. I say that’s fine with me, and Lulu lights up a joint. We pass it back and forth as we’re going over the Brooklyn Bridge. I hadn’t been smoking much in those days so it didn’t take long to get me high. Soon we’re giggling away and I get out some Springsteen tapes. Now there’s no more gloominess. We are flying, man. I mean we are in space, singing and carrying on.
“Lulu puts Hobie in the back seat and she’s hanging out the window yelling to cars going by. She yells something to this car full of Spanish guys and for a minute I think it’s all over for us. But they get caught at a light and we speed off.
“Somehow I miss the turn off for Coney Island and the next thing I know there are signs for Kennedy Airport and Rockaway Boulevard. Lulu gets all excited and says this is better. That now we can go watch the planes land. I have no idea what she’s talking about. But I follow her directions.
‘Maybe there’ll be a saucer or two mixed in,’ she says, teasing me. Then she throws her arms around my neck and kisses me on the cheek, laughing her head off. Man she was high.
“She directs me on to Rockaway Boulevard, and a short time later, tells me to pull over to the side. As soon as the car stops, Lulu jumps out and runs over to this metal frame stanchion a short distance off the road. By the time I get there I can hear the roar of jet engines in the distance.
‘Look Alphonso,’ Lulu says, pointing across the road and up along the horizon. ‘Here it comes. I think it’s a 747.’
“I look up and there’s a whole bunch of white lights coming at us, swerving from side to side. I barely heard the plane when it was off in the distance. But now, the lights are getting larger and the roar is deafening. It’s a 747 all right. Lulu had brought us to the end of the runway approach route for Kennedy, and there we are standing with our backs against the base of the stanchion that is no more than 20 feet high and this jet is aiming to just clear the stanchion and land on the strip in back of us.
“The roar builds to such a pitch that we have to put our hands up to our ears. It’s so close, I can see the landing gear. It seems as if it is about to take our heads off. Lulu shrieks, and jumps straight up in the air, kicking her legs out to the side, her short skirt flying up to her waist. I fall to the ground in panic. The 747 swooshes over our heads, the wheels touching down only a few hundred feet behind.
“It’s over for the moment, but there’s another jet right behind. The lights are coming closer, the thundering roar of the engines is deafening. The dope has made me paranoid, and I am sure that this one will crash into us. I begin shouting to Lulu that I want to leave, but she can’t hear me. She just stands facing the oncoming jet, legs spread, feet planted, arms open wide, welcoming it home. I am crumbling. The jet is getting closer and now I have no control. I run for the car, unable to breathe, my heart pounding.
“Lulu finally realizes that I’m gone and comes running back to the car just as I crawl into the back seat. Hobie meows, but I barely notice, I am curled up like a baby, crying and shaking all over. Lulu gets into the back seat with me and puts her arms around me stroking my head the way she had stroked Hobie earlier in the night.
‘Lulu, we’re going to die. It’s going to crash on us. Please Lulu get us out of here, quick Lulu.’ I plead. But Lulu just holds me tight and rocks me in her arms. We sit like that for minutes, jets coming in one after another, me shaking, Lulu holding me and rocking me back and forth, whispering in my ear, words which I really couldn’t hear, but which seemed to be settling me down anyway.
I can’t stop sobbing, tears running down my cheeks into her lap. And she just sits there rocking me, stroking my hair. After a while, Lulu gets up, and passes me Hobie, who immediately goes up to my neck and buries herself under my hair. I feel her wet tongue on my earlobe, and hear her purr. Lulu climbs into the front seat and soon we are speeding down Rockaway Boulevard, looking for signs to the Verrazano. And when I say speeding, that’s exactly what I mean. Lulu was not one to do anything slow.
“We find the bridge, race across Staten Island and get onto the turnpike. Then Lulu pops in a Stones tape. We must have been doing 80 and she has ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ on as loud as she could. And while she drives, she is bouncing and singing along keeping time with the music.
‘Please allow me to introduce myself…,’ she sings. ‘I’m a man of wealth and fame…’ After a while, I sit up in the backseat and start singing along. All of the fears of the earlier part of the night are gone. Me and Lulu and Hobie are together, tooling along the turnpike, higher than any saucer I ever imagined. I mean we are rocking.
That’s when we see him. His red and blue lights get larger and larger in the rear-view mirror as he quickly closes in on us. Lulu slows down and moves towards the shoulder.
‘Shit!’ she says, ‘He’s got us, Alphonso.’ She pulls the car onto the side of the road and gradually comes to a stop. ‘Mother Fucker,’ she says, gripping the steering wheel firmly in both hands, looking straight ahead.
‘See that, Alphonso,’ she says. ‘There’s no use worrying about your heart and if your time is up or if a 747 is going to get you or if this or that is going to kill you. Death stalks us like this Jersey State Trooper, you never see him coming and by the time you do, it’s too late to do anything about it.’
Alphonso turned off the recorder and dropped into the chair by the window. He wanted to finish it tonight, but fatigue and hunger were overtaking him and it was important not to rush the ending. He had to get the last of this right, not leave out any of the details. He left his apartment and headed to the Burger King on the corner where he filled up on the usual, two Whoppers, fries and a vanilla shake. Then he headed home to complete their story.
He sat in front of the recorder, opened a beer, took a long swig and nervously fidgeted with the microphone. Another swig and the bottle was empty. He sat back, ready to begin.
“The day after me and Lulu got stopped by the Trooper, I run into Marie on the Avenue. She starts talking all nice to me, saying why don’t I come home, that she misses me. Well fuck man, I miss her too. But I don’t call Marie that night. Instead I call Lulu. I thought maybe I could spend some time with her. Just talk. Her roommate answers and says she wasn’t there but she would tell her I called. When I finally get her on the phone two nights later, Lulu tells me she’s leaving town for a while, off to Guatemala, she says. When I hear this, I tense up. ‘Lulu,’ I say, “When are you coming back?’ I think I sounded a little frantic.
‘Don’t worry. You know how it is with us, Alphonso. We are connected across time and space. It began on that garage roof when we were kids and is sealed again every time we meet. We have a destiny, Alphonso.’ I think her voice is sort of sad, or maybe I just wanted to hear it that way. ‘I’ll see you again and one of these times we’re going to find that saucer we’ve been looking for, for so long,’ she says.
‘Yeah,’ I say, real sullen. ‘But, I…’ I was going to ask her why she had to go but then I realize that’s not the kind of question you ask Lulu. ‘Alphonso,’ she says, ‘I’ve sent you something in the mail. It’s a tape. It’s not rock and roll, but it has moved me as much if not more than anything I’ve ever heard. And Alphonso?’ She pauses. ‘Yeah?’ I say. I was hardly listening. I was trying to think of something else to say to convince her not to go.
‘It has to do with death. How one man, one musical genius looked at his own death. The composer is Richard Strauss. Do you know who he is?’
‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘Isn’t he the one with all the waltzes?’
‘No,’ she says. ‘That’s the other Strauss. This is some of the last music this man ever wrote; Four Last Songs. He wrote them as the last works of his life. And when you listen, read the words of the poems. They’re on the cover. It has helped me understand how this man, this man who it seems had led the fullest most creative life imaginable, how he viewed his own passing. Listen and when you do, think of me.’ Then she hangs up and I’m left staring at the lifeless receiver in my hand. It was funny her sending me something to make me think of her. Didn’t she know? Everything made me think of Lulu.
“See, that’s how I knew it was Lulu who passed me on the bridge the other night. That’s the music that was playing, Four Last Songs. I couldn’t imagine anyone else with that music blasting out of a car tape deck early on a Sunday morning.” Alphonso half smiled. “The strangest part of the whole thing is I’m not really sure. I mean, I know what happened, I’m just not sure what happened to Lulu.” Alphonso began pacing again. Ignoring the microphone he spoke into the empty room.
“So that night, Lulu passes me on the bridge doing at least 80. She’s listening to those songs with this look on her face that reminds me of that night behind the garage, the night I kissed her. I gun it trying to catch up, but she starts weaving in and out of the traffic like some Indy 500 driver. And let me tell you there was traffic. It has always amazed me how many people are on the road that early in the morning.
“I must have seen it before Lulu did. I don’t think she had any idea this guy’s there until she is right on top of him. See, we’re about half way across the bridge when she moves into the right lane to pass this pick-up truck, and there, not fifty feet in front of her is this fuck, this fuck, sitting in the right lane in the middle of the bridge at a dead stop. I heard later that there were four guys in the car and the dude behind the wheel was so drunk, they decided to switch drivers. So these dumb bastards are at a dead stop in the right hand lane, and Lulu is coming up on them doing at least 80.”Alphonso paced the small hot room. “I’m pretty sure she put her brakes on but it must have only been a second before she hit them.” He brought his hands to his face, forced his eyes shut and rubbed at his temples, then slowly resumed.
“They’re in an old Chevy Impala; stopped like that on the bridge it was like running into a cement wall. Lulu’s MG just gets demolished. I don’t think anything more than the trunk was damaged on the Chevy, but the MG, man, is no more. And Lulu, Lulu got launched. I saw it, and I know I was the only one who did. The cops could find no one who saw it the way I did. But I know what I saw.
“Lulu gets thrown out of the car. Then there she is in mid air. And I know it’s hard to believe, but I saw her do it. I saw it and I knew Lulu. She did it. I know she did! And I’ll tell you how I’m so sure. That night when Lulu and I were talking at that bar, the night of the Jersey State Trooper, she said that if she knew it was the end, if she knew it was over, she would do something really outrageous.” He began to pace again. “She must have been 20 feet off the bridge soaring out over the super structure, high above the Hudson. She had to know she was a goner. So what does she do? She stretches out, arches her back, arms out to the side, legs together, toes pointed, a perfect swan dive. Then when she reaches the top of her dive, she quick tucks up and does a forward roll. A second later she disappears over the railing, and she’s gone. But at the last second I see her face and I know it’s hard to believe, but Lulu is laughing. It was an excited kind of laugh, like she was about to have a new adventure.
Alphonso paused, his body tensed. He thought he felt someone with him in the room. He thought he could feel her breathing deeply next to him. He almost spoke to her. He almost said, ‘Not so loud, Lulu, they’ll find us.’ He turned quickly, but he was alone. “And the other thing I saw,” he resumed, “was this blinding flash of white light, right after Lulu disappeared. Then there was nothing.” He spoke softly. “They never found her body. They dragged the river for a couple of days but nothing. They had divers in the Hudson, but still they couldn’t find her, no Lulu.” He sat back down at the table. “And none of them know why. But I do. I know what happened.
“See it was the lights that tipped me off. The lights,” said Alphonso. “The lights and the look on Lulu’s face, the body that has not, and will never, be found. Lulu is gone. And do you know why? They took her. You know, the flying saucer. It finally happened. They saved her.” The recorder reached the end of the tape and clicked off, but Alphonso didn’t notice. “She knew it, in the end she knew it. And you know what else? Me, they’re coming for me too. See, Lulu knew that too. Remember how she said we’d see each other again? Well she must have known all along. She knew what was going to happen to her. It was just a matter of when.” He spoke frantically and then was silent.
He left the whirling tape deck and stood motionless looking out the window, too exhausted to cry, too numb to feel, silently watching the strollers on the street below. O’Rourke’s neon periodically lit his face, a face with an expression which Lulu would have called gentle. Alphonso paced back and forth among the clutter of his room. He finished another beer, but couldn’t sit in one spot for more than a few minutes. Around 10:00 he left his apartment and began driving. He had no particular destination in mind, but not surprisingly ended up cruising down along the Jersey Shore, listening to Bruce, the Stones, the Talking Heads, all music he associated with Lulu. Then Tom Waits was singing ‘Jersey Girl. Lulu, thought Alphonso. After a while he put on the tape of ‘Four Last Songs’ that Lulu had given him; the clear soprano voice, the full orchestra, the lilting uplifting finale, the death. He was trying to understand, trying to convince himself, trying to do what he had never been able to do; to see what she saw.
He arrived at Asbury around midnight, headed for the beach, and began walking just out of reach of the ocean. What must he do now? He thought. He looked at the full black sky for a sign. There was no moon that night, no stars, only slowly moving dark clouds. The skies that he had once looked to for salvation, weighed heavy on him. He felt his body shudder, then brought his hands, up to his face, ‘Hands?’ a voice called to him. He began to cry uncontrollably. He dropped into the sand and felt its cool, wet texture. He clutched at it, forcing it into his flesh, trying to block out memories of his friends with pain. But Lulu, Candyman, Jimmie, wouldn’t leave him.
He rolled onto his back. Where are they, he thought. Why don’t they come for me? The clouds over Asbury were gray and high in the sky. But when Alphonso looked to the north, he saw something that made him jump to his feet. He could barely make it out, but the more he looked, the more certain he became that it was real. It was a light reflecting off the clouds, like a halo over the ocean. The lights shimmered, almost pulsed and he saw it as a sign. Yes, he thought yes, they’re here, they’ve come back for me, to take me to Lulu. He got back into his car and sped north. If Lulu had been with him, she would have told him to calm down. That the halo was coming from New York, and that what he saw was only the lights of the city reflecting off the clouds. But Lulu wasn’t with him, and Alphonso’s spirits rose as he raced up the Garden Sate Parkway.
He headed for the George Washington Bridge and got off on the approach road marked ‘Last Exit in Jersey’. Parking on a side street, he opened the trunk, grabbed a backpack he had stashed in there weeks before, and walked towards the bridge. He found the pedestrian path and with head down and the hood of his sweatshirt up, walked unnoticed past the tollbooths out onto the bridge. The night was fading, daylight emerged slowly behind the New York skyline as he walked carefully forward. When he judged that he was in the middle of the bridge, he stopped, looked in both directions to be sure that no one was watching, then hoisted himself over the railing. He moved carefully onto the ledge outside of the superstructure, bracing against the wind, the steel of the bridge on his back. Alphonso steadied himself against the girders, then moved further out along the face of the bridge, sweat dripping from his temples as he balanced precariously on the giant steel structure.
He looked up, then to the dark in the west hoping for a sign, but saw none. Now he moved more tentatively. The wind made it difficult for him to hold on. Then he stopped and turned to face the river and the skyline of the city.
“Where are you?” he called. The cars rushed by behind him. His eyes scanned the horizon, then turned down to the river far below. After another moment he called out again.
“Lulu,” he cried, looking for the lights that had rescued her. He felt his heart race. He stretched his arms in front of him, balancing precariously against the cold steel.
“Lulu,” he called still louder, his voice echoing off the walls of the Palisades; no response, no sign. He called out once more, nothing. He reached his arms in front of him, and balanced on the bridge structure. When he looked down he felt his legs begin to buckle. He was losing his balance, being drawn over the side. He stood up, frozen against the steel, still searching. The sun peaked over the horizon. There was a moment when its light reflected off the silver spire of the Chrysler building, and Alphonso thought it was his light. But the shimmering glow lasted only a moment and then like all the other times, was gone.
He heard the cars whirring by behind him and knew he had little time left. Soon the commuting traffic would pick up and someone was bound to notice him. He felt in his bag and began what he had set out to accomplish. Once it was done. He climbed carefully back up the superstructure, swung himself over the steel railing and landed on the pedestrian walk. He quickly retraced his steps towards the Jersey side and found his car. He drove south along the banks of the Hudson and didn’t stop until he was several miles away. He parked on the side of the road, got out, then looked back towards the bridge. He smiled sadly and reached into his backpack to pull out a Budweiser. He popped it and held it up in sad salute to the bright red letters standing out brashly against the gray steel of the bridge:
‘Lulu, I Love You Still’
About 17,000 words