paper. I had once copied down all the tattoo shops and sure enough, there’s a Hell’s Kitchen. For me to case.
I glance at the address texted to my phone and then I stand up on my pedals and kick it. A left and then long straightaways. The thought of another tattoo parlor puts wings on my legs and I power through six, quick greens. No traffic. My stop looms and I pull up short. My chain-lock knows good and well what I want and it don’t complain as I wrap it through my tire and then frame and around a crooked no-parking sign.
Into the residential building I run. One prim proper lady stands with her twin husband at the elevator. I try not to breathe hard, but I breathe even harder in trying not to. I get onto the elevator with them, up to the fourth floor. I do not like residences. The inhabitants could have a gun or something else. Like a Liberace record playing too loud. That was if folks still spun records in New York. Or Liberace.
My knocking echoes down the hall. Away from where I want it to go. But a man cracks the door, and then slips his chain off and invites me in. On a draft table are those blue drawings. Blueprints. He slips ‘em into a tube and I put it into my bag and I am off with hardly a grunt.
Thanks, sir. I always thank the customers, but not too much. And sir, ma’am ‘em. I want them to remember, but not to request me. Remembrance brings tips. A request brings other pick-ups and I could be clear down Gramercy and some guy high up Westside wants me, and only me, to run his blueprints. No way. The boss is all about service. Not for his pack mules, us, but for the miners needing their gold biked ‘cross town.
I get the elevator, down through the lobby and out to the street. Some big guy in velvety sweats stands looking at my bike. I had played the New York game long enough to know that he would’a thrown my wheels into a sudden truck if he could’a. But I had me one of those tough chains. With a tiny u-lock on it.
You like ‘dat thing? He asks.
I don’t know which ‘dat he is talking ‘bout, my bike or the lock. But since I like them both, I reply to him, yeah, it’s great. And I pull the chain through and I stand on my pedals and pedal away from him. With my chain wrapping my waist.
I don’t trust big guys eyeing my ride. I don’t trust track suits either. Not velvet ones. Not any ones. They say Russian and not good Russian. Not cuddly bear Russian, but mob.
Two blocks over is the tattoo parlor. I breeze through one light, still on my pedals. And then another. I roll my bicycle up the sidewalk and get off. Walking, I peer into the shop. A sweaty bald man hunches over another guy, tattooing in that spot, the small of his back. Which is not too small. On a female, it’s called a tramp stamp; but on a male, I ain’t sure. Maybe champ stamp? What’s he thinkin’?
I stare at the tattooist. He looks familiar. He turns and nods at me. I nod back and catch sight of his hand. Hate is emblazoned across his fingers, between the knuckles. I look away, anywhere, somewhere, and push my bike, with someone else’s arms, into the road.
Then, I am breathing one breath faster than hyperventilation. I am riding down some side street. I take a left too fast, like I was some bad-azz bike messenger. Which I may be. My slicks screech. The roll of blueprints pushes at my back, jabbing me. To remind me to ease up. At Broadway, I kick out left before cutting hard right. And then I am up on my pedals pedaling through. Fast.
Ahead, I see John. He is riding. Three blocks downwind. Leisurely, with his arms behind his back. Like some middle-age broseph on a frozen lake in Minnesota. In winter time with a rum toddy sitting happy wherever it is rum toddies rest. His tummy, maybe. If men have tummies. And don’t surrender them at age twenty-one for guts. Some men maybe never drop their tummies. Not me.
I don’t say anything, but close one block close, and then two, hurtling my bike down Broadway. I pull up next to him.
I saw it, John.
He is not surprised, which surprises me. Me too.
I stare at him as we slow to a red light.
All over, he says. There. He points to a bus stop’s advertisement. Of a magazine cover, covering one wall. I creep up to it slowly.
Tattoo convention. Convention Center, John says.
It is my turn to nod. The mag cover: tattooed men all with their hands extended. Hate and Love. Across all of their knuckles. In ballpoint ink. A promotion.
I breathe. Again. Easier. Harder. Taped to the bus stop is a flier. For something not related, a church service. I pull a tab off. Sunday at 10. Amsterdam Avenue. I gotta go. To put this hate and love thing behind me... To get my peaceful tummy back. To sleep. For once.
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