The Thanksgiving Day Massacre

Managed to get in the middle of it after lunch last Friday. Sitting in the car finishing up some correspondence on the thumb devil one minute, breaking up a fight outside that badguy social club next to the Chip Shop on Fifth Avenue the next.
Press send on a text and through the rear view mirror I’ve got one middle-aged man pounding, stiff as a statue, on a morbidly obese member planted on a chair outside the club. His assailant is screaming curses in time with the blows he’s landing and Fatty has his arms up protecting his face, but he’s getting the worst of it. I drop out of our Luxury German Automobile like a cross teacher on the playground. As I’m marching round the back bumper towards these graceless gladiators it becomes clear that the assailant isn’t entirely talentless, but he is drunk as a Lord.
Game changer. As I close on the melee Fatty launches off his chair fist first, connecting with Drunky’s nose. A testament to Newton’s Second Law, Fatty has no swing, just locked shoulder, elbow and wrist. And even with its paltry acceleration, when Fatty’s doughy fist makes contact with Drunky’s nose it’s all about the multiplier of Fatty’s enormous mass. The nose splatters, flattening instantly against Drunky’s face. Fatty doesn’t hang around to celebrate, rather continues, his arch uninterrupted, on his course, landing, a modest hillock, in the middle of the sidewalk. Too blasted to realize that his profile has been irrevocably altered, Drunky begins kicking Fatty who tries vainly to roll over on his back.

Fat Johnny flattens Drunky's nose as he falls to the floor... inert

I am joined in my peace-making efforts by a pair of ruffians drawn out from the interior of the club by Drunky’s unceasing invective.
The club, a VFW Hall in name only, is a Known Location, so as you’d expect, the new arrivals aren’t the least bit concerned about the condition of the screaming drunk with the destroyed face. They are looking out for their own. A deeply-muscled thug pulls up in a tow truck, leaps into the street and chases Drunky through traffic off across the street where, face streaming blood, he stands defiant, if weaving unsteadily, and begins taunting Fatty. “Bury me? Bury me? You’ll bury me?”
Outnumbered now, Drunky appears satisfied to stand his ground, shouting from a safe distance. Tow Truck joins the three of us and together we haul Fatty–cold to the touch and completely disoriented, likely in the throws of massive heart attack–back into his chair. Tow Truck and the two ruffians are joined by an amigo (“Johnny? You okay, Johnny?”) and all four implore Johnny… “Fat” Johnny… to stay put in the chair. Fat Johnny just stares out on the scene like he is a million miles away.
Once satisfied that Fat Johnny is okay (which he absolutely is not), the ruffians pat him on the back, bid Fat Johnny take it easy and lope off in different directions away from the club.
Unattended, Fat Johnny immediately heaves himself out of his chair and back into the fray. Before he can take a single step he falls flat on his face, lets out a low moan, and lies stone still. I’m closest, so I’m first to try to grab him up. Joined by Tow Truck and yet another denizen of the VFW we drag the inert Fat Johnny back into his chair. “Maybe he should drink some water?” I suggest, certain he is dead.
“Yeah, water. Here Johnny, some water. Johnny, over here. Drink water. You okay.”
“Don’t move Johnny. Drink water,” says tow truck looking up and down the avenue. Drunky, still unaware he has no nose, is leaning heavily on a mailbox, berating Fat Johnny.”
“Okay,” says Tow Truck. “We’re good. Stay here Johnny. Drink water.” Johnny has touched a drop. That’s the best part, every new bad guy who swoops in to help is trying desperately to move on as soon as he arrives. Nobody wants to be around if the cops show up. I keep my eye on Tow Truck. He’s the smart one, a man of action, too. Tow Truck keeps his eye on me. We’re both wondering what I’m still doing on the scene.

Combat King's tow truck

When we aren’t sizing each other up, scrupulously avoiding eye contact, Tow Truck is scanning for the avenue for official response. My gaze follows his. Drunky could have friends too. That would be bad.
Fat Johnny either falls asleep or dies.
It’s time to go.
Tow Truck hops into his ride and guns the huge engine, I’m back in the Luxury German Automobile, and the remaining ruffians vanish around corners and disappear into storefronts. It’s over. The only guys left on the block are Fat Johnny and Drunky.

If you’re still abusing Oxy, stop right now.

The studio was so contaminated that the NYPD could only bag the solid remains before the had to evacuate the scene. The front door key was not located and the door locked behind them as they exited. As a result the scene and its contents became the jurisdiction of the NYS Surrogate Court.

Dan is dead. Phone to my ear, walking to work, a brisk morning in October. A shock, if not a surprise; that’s how I received the news from Rachel. Mother fucker, my tight response. When?

That’s the thing. That’s the terrible thing.

Oh. Shit.

The detective said he was in there, in his studio, maybe two and a half weeks before…

Right—the horror registering immediately.

The detective, he told Sally, Dan’s sister, did you ever meet Sally? Anyway. She said that they had to use dental records to get a positive ID.


Right? Terrible.

Why didn’t the neighbors?

They did. Eventually. I mean, just a crazy coincidence, but I know the people right downstairs from Dan. Even after Dan stopped talking to me. I didn’t know where they lived, just. They complained to the building manager about a smell, but the building didn’t do anything. Then there was a stain on their ceiling.


Right? And maggots.


They said. Anyway, they had to be evacuated.

That’s right.

But before that, John noticed Dan’s light on at crazy hours over a few days. Noticed from the street. From Houston Street. Dan wouldn’t answer his phone when John called. John left messages. The light stayed on. So John went up to knock on his door. That’s when he knew. Dan had been so crazy, John worried that if he was with the cops when they knocked down his door and he wasn’t dead. Worried that Dan would cut him off again. They’d only started talking again recently. So John went to the roof, climbed down the fire escape to the open window. He couldn’t even get near it. The smell. Just called 911 from the fire escape.


The smell.


So terrible.

I bet. Fuck.

Sally is coming in from Alaska on Monday to collect Dan’s things.

So the studio has been cleaned up?

I guess. I don’t know. The police took out the body.

Yeah, but there’ll be plenty to clean up after two weeks.

You think?

God yes.


Horrible, hon.


Sally can’t be the first one through that door. No way.

Right. Of course not.

I’ll do it.


I guess.


What’s the cop’s name, d’you know?

I’ll ask Sally. She knows. She says he’s been great.

His name and number. Precinct maybe?



Phone rings just once. Madden.

Detective Madden?


This is Manny Howard. I’m trying to help out Sally, Dan’s  sister. I’m a friend of Dan’s. Dan died. You…

Right. You’re Sally’s brother?

Dan’s friend. Trying to help Sally. Want to clear the way for her. Get into the apartment where Dan died. Make sure it’s clean.

It’s not clean. It’s sealed. You don’t want to go in there.

Rachel said you caught a bad job.

One of the worst.

She said…


Another friend. A friend of Dan’s. Trying to help Sally. I want to go in there first, secure what I can of Dan’s. If I get enough maybe she won’t need to go in there.

She shouldn’t go in there.


There won’t be much worth keeping.

It was bad?

We couldn’t locate a key. We couldn’t stay in there long enough to find a key. Collected the remains and let the door lock behind us. Had to seal the scene. Usually gaining access is police business. If we have a key, we hold on to it for next of kin. That’s the job. Usually, say, if Sally provided notarized permission I could give you the key. There’s no key, so it becomes a, I forget the precise term, it becomes a matter for the court. I want to be helpful. It’s a terrible thing.

Yes. Sally sent me all the documentation including notarized permission from Dan’s dad to enter the apartment. I also have the death certificate. I have what the court needs. I’m thinking I can just go in to the apartment, see what happens.

I see. The lock. The lock. It’s nothing that couldn’t be carded open.


You know, a credit card is all you’d need.

I see.

If you have the documentation. Like I said. It’s not a police matter.



Sitting in the chair at the barber shop, I unload on longtime barber and and friend, Ray. My friend, Dan, remember I told you we had a fight. He was calling all the time, getting crazier and crazier. I did what you told me, told him, ‘don’t call me all fucked up’?



Unh huh.



Two weeks. Alone.


Decomp so bad they had to use dental records. And, you know, that’s the thing. The Dan I know, love, that Dan, wouldn’t have lay rotting in his apartment for two weeks with no one. Dan had friends, tight friends. Dan was important to people. But he’s dead and lying in a lake of his own juice, food for, you know.

Sometimes I hate The Disease.

Unh huh.

Really. People talk about evil, you know, wonder if there’s such a thing, if it walks the earth, you know?


The Disease, it’s Him—you know. That’s what I think anyway. It grabs you by the face, separates you from everything you love, that loves you.

It was like a wild animal on Dan. Two years is all it took. He was working, doing what he loved, getting paid, you know, paid to take photographs. Two years, reduced to, fuck. You know. They had to ID him using dental records.


Of course.


Remember that hot spell two months ago?

The Disease, it doesn’t discriminate, Rich, poor, smart, stupid, gay, straight, handsome, skinny, fat. It’ll take you if it can. It’s happy to have you.

It was probably Oxy.

Doesn’t matter.

Right. You know, I thought he was drinking. So stupid. He left a message on my phone that night: The Night. I didn’t check it. You know? He leaves so many. They’re all the same. I just. It was on there for two weeks. The whole time he’s in the apartment. If I’d checked…

You’re not feeling guilty, right?

No, no. It’s just. It would have been so easy.

There was nothing you could do.

Still, two weeks.


Dan wouldn’t want me to feel this way. That wasn’t Dan. Anyway I’m going in to clean out his things. Clean out his things for his sister. Sally.

That’s what’s gonna make you feel better?

I guess.

You don’t need to do that.

Sally can’t.

So? You?

Yeah, I guess. Maybe. Thought I’d call around figure out what I can expect, figure out what’s in there.

There is nothing in there.


No. No. Nothing.



After half a dozen phone calls to companies that specialize in bio hazard clean-ups (crime scenes, shut-ins, suicides, that sort of thing) I contact someone willing to give me advice, even after I tell him I don’t have the $5,000 it will cost to properly decontaminate the scene.

The thing is, Manny, it’s not really just a smell, it’s microbial. It’s alive. It gets into everything, anything with fibers. I say don’t do it. But if you do go in, don’t stay long, 2-3 minutes, most. Wear a respirator and get those coveralls, the Tyvek, or it’ll get into your clothes. And get a pair of those Tyvek booties. Even if you don’t step in something you can see, you’ll track that smell on the soles of your shoes. If you get in your car it’ll get in the carpet. You won’t get it out. Once you smell that smell you’re gonna be smelling it the rest of your life anyway, you don’t want it really in your car. When you leave, back out of the apartment and throw everything you’re wearing back in behind you and close the door.

What’s it going to be like?

Impossible to say.

Yeah, right. Two weeks in there.

Every scene is different. Was he on the floor or the bed?

Don’t know.

Suicides are usually on the bed.

Don’t know.

If he’s on the floor all, that floor’s gotta come up, subfloor usually, too.

The downstairs neighbors had to be evacuated. He came through the ceiling.

So he was probably on the floor. Mattress usually soaks up a lot of it.

Oh yeah?

Not always, though.


What’s in the apartment? What’s in there still? The detective who caught the case said flies and maggots, millions in the lake?

If it stays warm, they could still be there. Nothing dries up if it’s hot. When it cools down it dries, no more food. Maggots die.


No way to say for sure.



The Jumper

Once upon a time spring was “jumping season” in NYC. My office window offers a panoramic view of the Brooklyn Bridge. For better or worse, before September 11, 2001, you could count on at least two people making a high-profile dive off one of the two stone towers of the historic bridge. That was then…

NYPD pursues jumper up the cable to the tower

NYPD pursues "jumper" up the cable to the tower

The Jumper

The Brooklyn Bridge

by Manny Howard

I recently spent an afternoon watching a guy

entertaining three of New York’s finest on the

eastern parapet of the Brooklyn Bridge. He was

wearing what looked like a green track suit.

“Jumper!” the call

went up in the office.

The view here is

extraordinary: the

Brooklyn Bridge, the

World Trade Towers,

the financial district,

the Statue of Liberty,

and the harbor

beyond. We had

seats in the sky box

for this one and

watched as the P.D. cleared the roadway of traffic (both to and from Manhattan), set up command posts, moved two pods of Emergency Service Unit officers (the name they give a S.W.A.T. team these days) into position, one on the cables below him and one on the parapet with him. We shared a pair of binoculars, looking through them at the Jumper, who didn’t look like the kind of guy who anybody had paid much attention to before. I don’t know why we all agreed about this, because even with the binoculars it was impossible to tell much of anything. Maybe black, maybe Hispanic. Somebody said he was an Arab. Maybe

Thirty, maybe twenty, he was wearing a baseball cap backward on his head.

Regardless, he had his audience now. There were the three cops in the first ESU unit, two helicopters, two harbor patrol boats, half the tourists in downtown Manhattan, and us. Why hadn’t he jumped already? we asked, handing the binoculars around.

Why don’t the cops just grab him? They were three big guys after all. The one closest was sitting Indian-style right next to Jumper whose feet dangled over the tower. That cop was tethered to the other two guys and the bridge’s super structure. He could just reach out and boom.

Like that.

But Jumper just kept on talking, gesticulating—angry sometimes, sometimes morose.

“He looks a little dingey,” observed someone in the office, handing off the binoculars to pick up a call ringing through on her desk. “We’ll have the meeting in five minutes,’ suggested someone else, wandering towards the water cooler. Soon thecurious crowd at the window thinned to just two of us.

The P.D. had inflated a giant yellow and white mattress thingy on the ground below the parapet. Jumper just talked and talked. “He’s not going anywhere,” said the other guy at the window, walking back to his desk.

“Five bucks says he goes,” I said.

“Dude,” scolded my officemate.

“You can’t bet on that,” said someone else looking up from her computer. I watched for a while longer trying to keep the binoculars in focus. Then I picked up the phone and called a friend in midtown. I explained the situation.

“How long’s he been with the police?” asked the friend.

“Going on twenty minutes.”

“He’s not jumping. No way. These guys jump in the first couple a minutes if they’re gonna go. No way he jumps.”


“Five says he doesn’t jump.”

“I’ll call you.” I said and hung up the phone. The afternoon sun was making it hard to see what was going on but the two cops supporting the negotiator were leaning on the railing on top of the parapet like they were on break now. Bored stiff I figured. Each had one leg up on the railing, the one with the hard hat on had his right arm slung like a wing over the top bar. The cop on point, squatting, stood up now and shook out his legs and Jumper just talked and talked. I took a call and made two. “Is he still up there?” a voice called from the conference room.

“Yep. The cops look pretty bored. I bet this was going to be the highlight of the shift for most of those guys. Now, I don’t know.”

“Yell if something happens.”

“I imagine I will.”

Jumper must have looked down and seen the yellow mattress inflated bellow him. The Eastern parapet, the one in Brooklyn, isn’t in the East River. There’s a cobblestone park below it that’s quite nice to visit just after sunset when the skyline lights start to shine. Anyway, Jumper got pretty agitated and triedto scoot around the other side of the tower, away from the mattress-thingy. He did this on his belly and hung his legs out over the tower to show he meant business.

“He’s moving!” I yelled.

The meeting in the conference room broke up and our windows were full as the three cops dropped to their knees and crawled towards him. He waved his arms wildly.

We all made the same sound when he started to drop. A loud strangled gasp with a curse mixed in there. Jumper spun spread eagle, maybe three revolutions, before he hit an outcropping in the tower half-way down. He only made it half way, though. As he fell he hung pretty close to the granite (quarried in Vineyard Haven, Maine) that the tower’s made of. The ambulance guys are trying to figure a way to get him back onto the roadway right now. They don’t seem to be in much of a hurry, though. The three ESU cops are still on the top of the tower. One guy, I’m guessing the lead negotiator, seems pretty broken up.

Traffic out of Manhattan is starting to pick up again, now. It’s just about rush hour. I must say, it tightened me up a bit watching him spin like he did.I sure wish I hadn’t made that bet.

First Published:

My Kingdom For A “Shock Tube”

Mike’s part, the “shock tube,” is proving very difficult to locate. This reply, my third strike, from Cindy at Cool Cruisers of Texas:

On Apr 17, 2009, at 12:04 PM, Cool Cruisers of Texas wrote:

I’m sorry, but we don’t have such a piece. Try asking our Bulletin Board for help. There are many Land Cruisers there being parted out by individuals. Thanks for checking

– Cindy


Cindy, from customer service at Cool Cruisers of Texas, suggests I look for a "shock tube" on their bulletin board

Cindy, from customer service at Cool Cruisers of Texas, suggests I look for a "shock tube" on their bulletin board



Cindy, is that you?

The Morning at Big S Springs

The bright orange, four-point racing restraints had been sitting in a box in the dining room for a month before Norman and I got a chance to install them in the back seat of my 1988 Toyota Landcruiser, The Boyota. Late model Landcruisers are coveted by two distinct group of car freak, a geographically disparate, socio-economically diverse tribe of native-born, white men for whom collecting and restoring the trucks is a single-minded pursuit; and any male, 35 years or older, born in any one of 25 nations in the Caribbean (for those counting, I have excluded Cuba). This second group covets the late-model Landcruiser because it can be effectively kept on the road using coat hangers and the application of a willy nilly variety of ingenious homespun, curb-side mechanical remedies and hand hewn parts.

By birth I belong to the first group, but share the motivations of the second.

The racing restraints are for the kids and replace the factory-installed lap belts now rejected as more dangerous than using no restraints at all. I can generally shrug off the trembling forecasts of doom-oriented parenting, but, truth is, standing by the curb with the parking break engaged The Boyota constitutes a moral hazard of sorts, and so the terrible tales of bifurcated babies reached in, gripped my heart and haunt me still. But with the racing restraints installed the children are effectively pinned to the back of their seats–safe as houses–with the not entirely unintended ancillary benefit that they can’t lash out and swat each other.

locked and loaded in the back of The Boyota

locked and loaded in the back of The Boyota

A moment of good cheer followed the successful and surprisingly seamless installation of the new belts but nothing lasts forever.

Norman called from underneath the truck. There was a situation that required my immediate attention. A weld at the top of the rear right shock where it meets the chasis at what is called the “shock tube” had sheered and, while rattling around loose under the truck the shock had severed the emergency break cable. “You need to get this fixed,” said Norman.

I have made the left onto Coney Island Avenue from Church Avenue nearly every day since I moved to he neighborhood five years ago without ever noticing the sign on the second shop on the left.

Last Friday afternoon I stopped by Big S Springs a few minutes before five and was waved off. “Closed,” barked a white whiskered man in oily, blue coveralls.

“You open Saturday?”

“No. We’re open all week. Come back Monday.”

“I got a shock with a busted weld.”

“Monday. We open at 8:30.”

I stopped by the next Wednesday (time’s like that), introduced Myself to Mike and asked him to have a look at the rear end of The Boyota. He declined. “Those guys there just brought in that truck,” he said gesturing to at least three men lying under a home heating oil delivery truck with a bright red cab. “I’m gonna be here al night.”

I don’t know if he recognized me or the truck from the week before, but during a dramatic pause we shared while staring at the bright red cab of the lame truck, Mike seemed to relent. “Come back at 5:30, I’ll do what i can.”

“You’re slammed. I’ll come back tomorrow morning.”

“We open at 8:30.”


This morning Mike directs me to park in front of the lift in the last bay of his shop. “I’ll see what I can do,” he offers, projecting no hope of a speedy resolution.

Standing together under The Boyota, Mike expresses first shock and then grudging respect at the work done some months ago just off Utica Avenue. “Who did this work?”

“It’s a long story,” I reply.

“I bet it is,” he says, looking over his shoulder at me. Whoever he is, he’s a good welder, but he used the wrong piece of steel. This is galvanized, it’s a friggin’ fence post. But, I’ll tell you what, he did a good job. Really. He even put the bar on brackets,” he says, and instructs one of his mechanics, a man named Whoops, to get him a wrench. “Let’s see how the hell he put this together.”

A blizzard of parts and hypothesis follow, we strip the shock and consider various complimentary strategies to work with what we have, before Mike concludes, “Nah, that galvanized is your problem. It’s too hard to weld right. Jes’ take it back to the guy. Get him to fix what he did.”

“I’m here now, Mike. let me give you the work.”

“No way to do it right. You gotta order the part. They got all sorts of parts books, you’ll find it. Look it up. Call the guy. Ask him. It’ll cost you nothing, like $150.”

Mike, inspired by the ingenuity of the creator of this mess, seems to have a sudden change of heart and marches out from under the truck in search of a rubber sleeve he thinks might make a fix possible. When he disappears I ask his man, Whoops if he wouldn’t mind unscrewing the remaining bolt that holds the dead shock to the chassis. Whoops nods and fetches the wrench he has just put back in its box. “Better than having it banging around under the truck,” I say.

“That’s what I’d do,” Agrees Whoops.

Mike returns from his office shaking his head, “No sleeve that fits. Jes’ order the part from the book, it won’t cost you more than $150.”

“I just want to keep it on the road a few more miles, Mike. how about you try to weld it here, now. I don’t want to drive around on three springs anymore.”

“You kidding? This truck could drive around on three springs all the way to California. These things rot out like crazy,” he says, pulling a strip of rust from the the bottom of a panel and throws it on the floor of the shop, “but they never die. Never.”

“That’s why I want you to fix it today.”

“I can’t. My welder’s out with the Chicken Pox,” he says, shrugging with his eyebrows. “I got my cousin coming in all the way from Bayonne–Bayonne!–just to help me cover, but I gotta pay for him to get here.”

“And you gotta pass that cost on,” I say, trying to remain reasonable, sympathetic even.

“And I gotta take my piece… No! Order the piece. Come back. I’ll see what I can do.”