TWO-ONE-TWO, I'LL ALWAYS BE TRUE

Manhattan is a lover that never calls the next day. This golden island always gives more than it gets, and if you don't want it, well, look behind you, pal - the line of suitors stretches from river to river.
 
Sorry to get so emotional, but I moved to London three months ago and when you leave Manhattan, it's not just a change of address - it's a break-up.

Forget Tony Bennett singing about San Francisco. New York is the city where you leave your heart.

This torrid love affair started when I moved to Greenwich Village in 1981. Back then you could afford to live in town without being a Wall Street honcho.

I had a basement apartment on Morton Street for $350 a month. My windows were level with the sidewalk, and I became an expert on footwear.

I was so excited to be in the Village, I could barely sleep. I was always out, afraid I might miss something if I went to bed.

Whenever my energy flagged, I drank coffee at Joe Junior's diner and took a walk. Didn't even talk to anybody. Just took a walk, and came home fully charged.

That became my pattern for the decades to follow. Feeling low, or defeated? Can't think of anything to write? Take a walk. Catch a bit of a crazy conversation between two strangers. Absorb the life force from the streets. It always worked.

So I'm excited to return for a quick visit to see my family and walk the city streets. I'm looking for a Moment - something to tell me that Manhattan and I will always be friends, even if we're never together again.

And it's my rotten luck to arrive in the middle of a heat wave.

This is Manhattan at its worst. Soft wads of gum on the sidewalks, garbage simmering in the sun, odors from the corner drains rising straight from the pits of hell.

And everybody seems pissed off.

Was I kidding myself all along about this twelve-by-two mile enchanted island, or am I just getting too old to appreciate it?

I'm walking down Broadway, tired and depressed. It's steamy and sticky, and all I want to do is dive into any store and hug an air conditioner.

Then it happens. The Moment.

A crowd is gathering for Stephen Colbert's Late Show debut. A male-female cop team stands outside the studio, arms folded across their chests. The guy is big and muscular, not a man to be taken lightly.

I look at the name tag of this enforcer of the law and suddenly, my spirits soar.

CROOKS. I swear to God, the cop's name is Crooks. Imagine the abuse he put up with, going through the Police Academy.

I go up to him and point at the name tag. "You get sick of hearing this, I'm sure," I say, "but your name makes my day."

He laughs. We laugh.

And just like that, Manhattan and I are back on track. It's going to be a long-distance relationship, but I think we can make it work.

 

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It’s past two in the morning and Bailey is barking his head off downstairs.

So I’m told by Kim, who shoves my shoulder to wake me. Otherwise I never would have heard the dog, having learned to sleep through anything during all those years at the intersection of Drunken Shouting Way and Car Alarm Alley in Greenwich Village.

I shake my head to clear it. Sure enough, the mutt is making a frantic racket, a solitary suburban sound that’s truly chilling.

“Someone’s in the house!” Kim says.

“Aww, I doubt that.”

“Charlie, you have to go down and check it out!”

I grab my stepson’s cricket bat, which we keep by the bed for emergencies like this.

cricket bat.jpg

A baseball bat would feel much more appropriate, and it occurs to me that if I go downstairs and get killed by an intruder, I’ll be greeted at the Pearly Gates by St. Peter with the words:

“Hey, what’s a New York guy like you doing with a friggin’ cricket bat?”

Kim is getting impatient.

“Charlie, hurry up!”

“I’m putting my pants on. That’s important to you, isn’t it?”

She knows what I mean. A few years ago we were asleep in our New York apartment when suddenly a lunatic began bashing on the door at two a.m. - a drunken, drugged-out neighbor who’d miscounted the floors as he climbed the stairs, and thought we were in his place!

I jumped from bed stark naked and braced my hands against the door to keep him out. Kim called 911, then ran to my side - not to help me, but to dress me.

“Come on, get your knickers on!” she urged, holding my underwear open for me to step into.

If the worst happened she wanted the New York Post headline to read WRITER SLAIN, not NAKED WRITER SLAIN.  That’s class.  

And after the cops arrived and cuffed the guy Kim offered them tea and biscuits - certainly the first time New York’s Finest had ever been served by a blonde Brit wearing little more than rings, an over-sized t-shirt and toenail polish.

But this is a whole other scenario. I don’t even know if London has a “Make My Day” policy. For all I know I could get in trouble for wounding an intruder, on the grounds of First-degree Impoliteness.

I creep down the stairs and flick on the light in the kitchen, where Bailey is not only barking but running in circles. He charges past me to the front door, slamming his substantial weight against it.

Gripping the cricket bat, I look through the door’s little window and see something that makes my stomach drop - a pair of glowing yellow eyes, peering right at me.

Jesus. This is a creature straight from the pages of Stephen King. He bares his needle-like teeth, and then my eyes adjust to the moonlight and I can make out what he is.

A fox. They’re all over this neighborhood, and they’re nocturnal. This one was probably eating out of our garbage can.

I tap the cricket bat against the door, and the fox takes off. Then I turn to Bailey, who’s switched from barking to gasping.

“Good boy,” I tell him, stroking his head. “Don’t have a heart attack, the after-midnight veterinarian rates are a killer.”  

I calm him down and put him to bed. Then I go back upstairs.

“What was it?” Kim asks.

“A burglar.” I slap the bat.  “Got him right in the head, two good shots.”

“Charlie!”

“It was a fox. He ran away. Are you going to make me a cup of tea? Isn’t that standard procedure in these situations?”

“Come to bed, Charlie.”

As soon as I settle in, Bailey starts barking again. Kim wants me to go and calm him down. Instead, I start humming a song and point at the digital clock, which reads 2:45 a.m.

“What song is that?” Kim wants to know.

I was hoping she’d ask. Just the excuse I need to start singing.

“It’s quarter to three....there’s no one in the place, except you and me...”

Next time: TO BE HONEST WITH YOU...

  www.charliecarillo.co

 

BAMBI MEETS GOODFELLAS (OR, THE BUCK STOPS HERE)

The Britishness is starting to seep in. I’m saying “loo” instead of “bathroom,” “chips” instead of “fries,” “flat” instead of “apartment."

I’m worried about losing my New York edge.
Can that happen? I don’t know. But I don’t want it to happen, mate.

(Jesus, did I just say “mate”?!)

So I grab the leash and take Bailey for a walk in Bushy Park to think things through.

This park is unbelievable - acres and acres of fields where you can let the dog run free and swim in clean streams.

Everybody in the neighborhood walks their dogs here, and you cannot believe the names Brits hang on their pooches.

Spencer.  Arthur.  Heathcliff.

Anyway, Bushy Park is the best place you could imagine for a dog to romp, but you’ve got to keep an eye out for the deer.

They appear out of nowhere. You never know how they’re going to react to the sight of your dog, so you always want to give them a wide berth.

Suddenly I see that Bailey, fresh from his swim, is happily trotting toward a young male deer.  

This buck is all by himself. That’s usually a bad sign, and sure enough, it happens:

The freakin’ deer rears up on his hind legs, rushes Bailey and tries to stomp him with his front hooves.

Bailey leaps out of harm’s way, but the deer keeps coming at him. There’s nothing in the world friendlier than a tail-wagging chocolate lab, but try telling that to an enraged deer.

He tries to trample Bailey again - and again, the dog dances out of the way. But the deer is getting closer.

This is a hell of a mess, because Queen Elizabeth - that’s right, the one whose face is on the money - owns all the animals in the British parks.  If the deer hurts Bailey, nobody’s to blame. But if Bailey hurts the deer, I’m in trouble with Her Royal Highness. Last thing I need now is the wrath of a queen.

So I rush up to Bailey, grab him by the collar and yank him behind me before going nose-to-nose with the buck - bellowing a stream of curses and threats you’d expect to hear from a New York City cab driver in a Times Square fender-bender.

No kidding - my rant brings new meaning to the words Joe Pesci.  It's "Bambi "meets "Goodfellas," and if that buck could understand what I’m shouting about his mother, he’d stomp me to death.

Guess my New York edge is intact, after all.

The deer stares at me wide-eyed, totally transfixed.  At last I run out of foul language, and the buck backs up a few steps before turning and prancing away.

I’m out of breath. I check Bailey to make sure he’s not wounded. Then I look up and see a pointy-nosed British guy in a plaid cap, standing there with a basset hound on a leash. 

If you’ve ever seen the comic strip “Fred Basset”, this guy and his dog look like that strip come to life. He’s witnessed the whole thing and appears to be in a state of shock.

“Sorry I got a little rude, there,” I say.

He waves it off. “Oh, never mind. That was...quite effective, actually.”

He touches the brim of his cap, says, “Come along, Winston,” and walks off with his hound.

Winston. I mean, please.

I take Bailey in the opposite direction, cutting our usual walk short.

Hate to cheat my faithful hound out of his usual exercise quota, but after what we’ve just lived through my stomach is fluttering, and there’s no delicate way to put it:

I’m desperate for the loo.

(Next Time: LIVE ON THE SCENE WITH FOX NEWS!)

 www.charliecarillo.co