I’ve been around the Lower East Side of New York for a long time. I remember when SoHo was starting to go from industrial to trendy and the cry of the indigents was “SOHO SUCKS BRING BACK THE TRUCKS”.
I was witness to it all, buildings occupied by squatters in the East Village becoming million dollar condos almost overnight. Bodegas disappearing and fancy boutiques sprouting up in their place. An almost instant transportation of an entire neighborhood of people out of an area to be replaced by midwestern millennials.
It was amazing.
So when a local free throw away newspaper asked me to do a Readers Digest type of “The Most Memorable Person” piece about the old downtown world, I gave it some thought and this is what I came up with:
It was when New York City was known as Murder City. The streets were dirty, dangerous and teeming with throughly disgusting people. Downtown there seemed to be no hope, just sidewalks filled with used heroin needles and overstuffed trash cans. The looming dangerous burned out tenement buildings canopied an army of veteran skells and young Punk Rockers, or “bait” as the new arrivals were known by the skells. That was the conventional wisdom.
Andy was a skell. He lived on the street. Andy wasn’t really a wino, junkie or mental case and was by no means certifiably dumb. He was just stupid.
Nobody knew how Andy had lost his right leg, but he hobbled along on a makeshift pirate like peg leg. Andy would partake in lots of wine, smoke some weed, and only occasionally snort heroin. Why only snort? Andy was afraid of needles. Only addicted to stupidity, that he was. His street name was “Shit on a Stick” or SOS for connivance.
As some say, you can’t fix dumb. But in SOS’s case, his stupidity had been certifiably irreversible for years. SOS’s behavior was qualified as knowingly and willfully self administered and that uniquely classified him as intentionally dumb.
That was the consensus of the doctors at Bellevue Hospital when they saw SOS. When it was only absolutely warranted, the cops would drop him off at the Bellevue psycho ward, one of his homes away from home. Professional courtesy, you know.
In the infamous SRO hotels (they used to be called Flop Houses) SOS occasionally frequented, he would exchange his old lice for new lice. SOS smelled so bad, the other skells actually complained to the management. He wanted to bottle his sui generis “scent” and call it “Smell ’d Skell”. At least he had a sense of humor, tinged with a somewhat shade of pride.
When he was short on funds, (which was most of the time) SOS made himself comfortable on the street. Some nights, he tried to urinate on the exposed electric wires of a street light to get the light to short out so he could fall asleep under it. Not exactly Thomas Edison. SOS was just out there, all the time, perfecting the art of being a skell.
Occasionally, when SOS was actually arrested, he would tell the judge that it was difficult for him to reform; “I can’t get off on the right foot” he would lament with crocodile tears, “I have no right foot”. SOS would then lower his head and longingly look at his right peg leg. The judges usually just rolled their eyes and gave him time served.
SOS was known by exasperated cops, social workers and EMS crews as “A skells skell”.
SOS’s street fame included, but was not limited to, refusing a prosthetic right leg from social services, eating leftover food found in his beard and having his booger collection. SOS would never eat boogers,”that would be gross” he believed. SOS lovingly kept his boogers in an old rusty mason jar, (along with his false teeth). His shopping cart was so gross, no other skell would even think of stealing anything from it.
He claimed he needed his false teeth because he savored the taste of food with his massive consumption of wine. White with pizza, red with hot dogs. He believed his flatulence was a public service, his own review of street cuisine, for those lucky enough to be downwind when he let go with rapid fire farts.
And of course, SOS’s yearly announcement when he finally changed his underwear. His undies, just another in a series of collectable items SOS secretly stashed. All sealed in a type of time capsule hidden in an abandoned building over on Avenue D in Alphabet City.
This building also doubled as a neighborhood shooting gallery for heroin addicts, slowly downgrading to a crack house. SOS played the diplomat, operating in the actuality of aging winos, younger junkies and crack heads. All were repulsed by his mere presence, while being somewhat entertained. He smoothly moved within the downtown milieu and most of the time, avoided the inherit violence of existence therein with a sense of stupidity laden humor.
Once in a while, SOS had the urge to get his Johnson bent. His problem: even the worst crack head ho’s would not go within ten feet of the multi foul odor reeking SOS. Forget about the tranny hookers! No fucking way!
SOS creatively tried to wrap his herpes puss oozing cankered pinga in a plastic shopping bag and insert it into a tightly folded a pillow bound with elastic and lubricated with whatever he could find. This makeshift apparatus was unable to simulate a female reproductive orifice or its anal counterpart; thus no sexual satisfaction. He named the pillow Grace the Bitch.
He would finally get satisfaction during his nocturnal emissions. This became one of the many emotional reasons to yearly save his undies. “Every stain tells a story, don’t it?”
SOS disappeared one day in the early 1990’s and never returned. His extended absence was not noticed as change swept over the neighborhood. The SOS name and presence was inevitably forgotten as most things are. Maybe Jesus saved him, maybe he is an unknown DOA buried at Potter’s Field, maybe he ran off with Grace the Bitch, who knows.
That’s why, thanks to my article, Shit on a Stick is now fleetingly known in downtown old time lore; but will be immediately forgotten with the disposed throw a way newspaper, blowing in the wind.
Frankie Rembly has observed the transition of his city from its past wild days to the present sterile bubble that is now New York City. He enjoys the renaissance of creativity in writing for television. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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