Shari lived on Greenwich Street, back in the 80s, across from what had once been a garage for the garbage trucks that clanked and stank throughout the night collecting the city’s refuse. August was an either or of a Hobsons’ choice – heat or stink.
Max would pick her up most Sundays 2 am when work tapered off and take her across Manhattan to the ‘selka or Kiev on the East Side. Usually the Kiev, where that cute Ukrainian girl always served him and would stare daggers at Shari sharper than her Slavic cheeks and bones. Perhaps the waitress dreamed of green card fields or maybe she was just hard – hard as some other eastern European girls Shari knew. But Max never noticed that, of course. The ‘selka girl was nice to him and he always left a nice fat tip and then watched her walk away in her black leggings and short skirt which made him think of pierogi and sour cream.
Sometimes Max would pick up a fare when they crossed on Houston or 14th and Shari got to see parts of New York she never otherwise would – Roosevelt Island like a cement mausoleum slick and clean from rain; new-sprung industrial mushrooms. She went there later on a lift like the sky ride at Six Flags and found it cramped and dry and dirty, pedestrians and sunlight and paper churning in the wind, stripping it of the midnight mystery.
The garbage place departed that summer for Hoboken or some less expensive clime across the Hudson gulf. A beat-down of gentrification, replaced by a new hot spot, the kind that had the lifespan of a mayday fly before the bridge and tunnel people brought their filthy lucre kiss of death. The smell was now an OD of perfume at night, a bare step up from the pungent rot before, while the windows rattled with dance bass instead of truck tires on brick streets.
Sunday 2 am and Max double parked and blew the horn, the new club also killing local parking like a baby seal on ice. Shari double checked the front door, crossed the hood and slide in shotgun, but Max’s vision was attuned to certain movements that locked his eyes like eagle’s across the naked purple fields of avenues – the raising of a arm.
“Let’s just eat, honey” as Shari followed his gaze to a fake leopard skin wrap. One last fare might pay for dinner and couldn’t hurt and Max imagined himself a noble public servant for three lost souls that staggered across the street, desperate for a ride as only party people could. They might tip well, or not. Max was hopeful but a realist; still every fare was now profit. The leopard bitch wobbled between a stick man and stacked brick brunette underneath a pill box hat, all three dressed like refugees from the fashion police. They were drunk, but not puking drunk, if Max was any judge. You learned pretty fast after one or two fares mistook the cab for a vomitorium.
“But its Sandra Bernhard” and he unlocked the doors and all three got in the back. They headed east to a club not yet marked on Jersey maps, hidden treasure where the cool or famous could congregate like koi without the hassle of the hoi-polio. Sandra talked all the way as they turned right on King and then the dog-leg on to Houston. She went on like a high school girl about this and that and then a rant about Heart’s “Barracuda” she recorded w/ a band but the label wouldn’t release it since it was “too controversial.” Shari later asked an ex at Alternative Tentacles and he said it was so bad they had to can it. By the time Sandra finished her story they were there but the brunette didn’t want to go and Sandra pleaded while the boyfriend/slash/manager looked lost upon the curb. The girls talked like fares do when the meters running on time, not mileage, which made Max no money as he was want to say if fares took too long with their goodbyes; he was Woody Allen’s shark, he had to move to live. This time he stayed quiet with Sandra half in, half out, leaning into the cab. Shari poked him in the ribs impatient He watched it all in the mirror, except for Slash, whom he could see out of the corner of his eye. Finally it was finished but Sandra still lingered, hand upon the open door, blurting out loud enough so everyone in line or half a block away could hear, “goodbye Madonna, later Madonna, see you Madonna,” liberally sprinkled amongst the kissy-kisses.
It was Madonna and she asked for 64th and Park where Shari read she sued the condo to get in and Page 6 talked about her brown-dye job for mother-fucking Mamet and “Speed the Plow.” Shari had been Madonna’s roommate when she first moved to the City up on Riverside in a brownstone share. Shari had stories about the boys Madonna brought back home and screams like from some cheap porno would filter around the strategically-cracked bedroom door. She must have always needed an audience. When roommate Heidi suggested Madonna bring home toilet paper, she flipped over her shoulder as she left, “Use your hand.” And when Madonna moved out she took something from all the other girls and even sold Heidi a chest of drawers that Heidi re-finished, only to find out it was the landlord’s. Madonna did forget a pair of jeans that Shari snagged and sometimes still wore since Sotheby’s would never take her word for it. It was a good conversation piece and Max got to brag he had been in Madonna’s jeans.
Madonna sat brown and small and quiet in the rear, stiff and uncomfortable that her cover had been blown. Madonna didn’t recognize Shari, why should she? Instead, she assumed the thousand yard stare the famous do when they’re in public – yes, I am who I am now leave me the fuck alone. Max had pulled up next to Woody Allen once on Hudson and he gave him that look. Max was freaked not by seeing Woody Allen but that he was driving – “Annie Hall” was one of his favorite movies. The looks and blasé staredown is the price of fame but Max and Shari let Madonna be and talked small talk as they turned on 14th Street and headed back west. On 6th Ave Max turned right, hit a pothole and the driver’s window he kept cracked jumped off the inside rail. He pulled next to a hydrant to put it back and Madonna spoke again. “We’ll miss the lights.” Max jerked the window back in place like a finger into joint, saw the lights all turning green and knew they were synchronized up to Central Park. “Don’t worry,” and he floored the old Caprice. He hit sixty easy on the empty avenue, which as always needed some repair. He kept one eye out for any red light running drunks or lurking cops. The other he kept glued to the rearview where Madonna flew up with every pot hole, smacking her head into the fabric of the roof. The lights streamed green, the needle steady as they covered a rough mile per minute.
And they were there. Madonna took it well, adjusting her hat as she stepped out. She gave Max a twenty and waved the change before the doorman in monkey green opened the big glass doors. Seven seventy-six was enough for one at the Kiev, if Max didn’t over tip. Of course he did, it was his “girl friend,” and then dropped Shari off at her place. And Max went back out, a shark among shallows, hoping for a four-am fare or two once the bars closed down. Maybe one to Brooklyn? While he prowled the empty streets he wondered if having Madonna in his cab was his 15 minutes of fame or just a brush back pitch of same. Until he went back to home, where Shari was asleep on the couch but had slipped into Madonna’s jeans.
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