Wednesday, January 12, 2005

$225?

3 comments:

SAS said...

I stopped by Mack McCoy’s tonight. He rents a room on the second floor of a big gray Victorian on Centre St. in Jamaica Plain. There’s a service station on the left and a block of offices and low-rent takeout joints on the right. It’s the last residence on the block, right on the fringe of things. The house is zoned for commercial use and for this reason worth quite a bit of money, but Mack’s buddy who owns the house isn't selling. When the real estate agents come with their offers, Mack’s out there on the stoop to dissuade them.

Although it was one of the coldest nights of the year, there was a crowd gathered in front of the house. The gate, along with the walkway leading up to the porch, lends an old-fashioned air to the place and it is somehow fitting that Mack McCoy lives here. Hoping I would find Mack at home, I pushed past a few stiff figures, which were just then straightening up and stepping forward at the sight of the bus, and reached for the gate.

A little, bundled-up blonde, intercepted me and poked me with her mitten.

“You got a quarter?” Her lips were shiny and red like a candy apple and she was missing two front teeth. Where she had poked me was decidedly below the belt.

“Sorry, baby.”

I found Mack alone in his room, stretched out on the bed with his hands tucked behind his neck, listening to records, clearly high on marijuana. The splash of red light from the gas station, the glossy aquamarine paint on the walls, along with the eerily lit stairwell, made me feel like I had checked into an old hotel in a strange city, but it was a cozy room, set up so that Mack wouldn’t have to leave it much. I stood in the doorway, lit a cigarette, and got bored looking at his muscles.

“Hey, boss.” Mack said, finally taking notice of me.

“Hey, Mack. I listened to your radio program today. It was very entertaining.”

Mack shrugged. “How’s Mercy?”

Mercy’s my kid sister. A real brat. Mack’s been in love with her since she passed fourth grade.

“Well, today she was up on the ladder shelving and got into a fight with a customer. Naturally, she gave him a little kick on her way down, but he didn't like that so he bit her on the ankle. She claims he was looking up her skirt, but I think she just likes to kick people.” I was going for a laugh, but Mack looked aghast. “No, I’m kidding you. She’s at home making my dinner.” I paused, wanting to change the subject.”

“What’s with the snack cakes?”

The floor by the bed was littered with a few empty plastic bags and a half-opened box of powdered donuts. There were also five or six empty cans of ginger ale.

“Oh,” Mack groaned in disgust, “I quit smoking and I’ve already gained fifteen pounds. Look at me. I am so fat!” Mack was exaggerating. Cigarettes or no cigarettes, the work he did didn’t allow time to grow a belly.

“Alright if I didn’t?” I said, patting my breast (pocket) where I kept my cigarettes.

“Yeah. It's cool. The guy that rides the truck with me smokes two packs a day.”

I walked in and closed the door behind me, making sure to step where the carpet was clear, because Mack’s room was packed solid with all his stuff and there was hardly room for anything or anybody else. Whenever Mack brought a girl up here, we envied him because there was really nowhere for her except on the bed. Mack was clever like that. For this reason, the place was strictly off-limits for Mercy.

Tacked to the wall over his bed, I noticed a black and white 8x10 glossy of a long-legged girl with big, shining eyes. For a while I was content to look at that. My eyes went up and down her legs from the black tulle of her short ballerina skirt to her high-heeled shoes a half-dozen times.

“The shoes make the picture,” Mack offered without looking up. I agreed. When it came to women’s clothing, he was one of the cognoscenti.

The shoes were unusually oversize and provocative with thick heels and bold curves at the heel and toe, whereas the girl’s body on top of them looked as light as smoke rising out of a censer.

They were shoes intended exclusively for the dancer or the girl-model, made in New York or Paris between 1926 and 1929 never to be in style again. Their curves suggested a Rolls Royce, a luxury liner, or a statue of one of those cats they worshipped in Egypt. The girl, I later found out, was Louise Brooks.

I made it to the desk and played with a few knick-knacks, knowing that When you’re high, everything is dandy, and that sort of thing never annoyed Mack.

He has a replica of the bird from The Maltese Falcon and a big black automatic the size of a window shade, made out of cardboard. I picked up the falcon and pretended to chip away at it with an imaginary chisel, convinced that I would find the jewel-encrusted bird inside. I looked at Mack, ready to defend my rights to the bird, but Mack wasn’t paying attention.

The corners of his mouth seemed to be smiling, but not at the thought of something pleasant. He lay quietly and perfectly still in the same position as when I entered. His body had the limp look of someone who has been sleeping, but his chest did not rise and fall with his breathing. The muscles below his upturned elbows were tightly coiled and seemed to have a pulse of their own. There was life in the eyes, but they were fixed somewhere on the wall. He didn’t blink. He didn’t move. He had the content look of a man napping in a cinema, but I didn’t want to look at him anymore. I had the unsettling feeling that his expression was going to change, and I didn’t want to see that happen. I really wished that he would smoke a cigarette.

But Mack sat up, limber as a lumberjack, and stretched. His cat jumped up on the bed and Mack rubbed her back and chucked her chin. He got up and switched records and sat back down with the sleeve in his hand. It was old French music with a lot of yelping.

“C’mon, Mack, let’s get drunk.”

Nothing.

“Hey, Mack, let’s-”

“Have you ever read the backs of these French records? They translate the songs into this really weird English.” He was ready to talk.

“Mack, you know I don’t go for the French stuff. That’s you and Mercy.”

“Listen. It’s the way they translate the French songs into English. It’s really funny what happens to the songs. They're kind of sad and they come out funny. I’ll read them to you.”

Mack loved to read aloud and explain things. He knew things none of us did. He really was a lot of fun.

“Alright, Mack. Then we get a beer.”

“But this is really funny. We’ve got the American songbook and they’ve got the chanson populaire. They give you these strange English prose translations in lumpy, little paragraphs.”

Mack, in addition to the job and the radio show and a few other hobbies, likes to write. I don’t know what to make of his stuff, but Mercy, who has the knack of judging such things, says that he is very good.

He went on:“The first song is ‘Luna Park,’ the second ‘Mon Manege a moi.' “You might say I’ve got the worst job in the factory, screwing on the same blasted bolt for 365 days a year.”

Mack is a skilled pantomime. He rose to his knees and began to act the part, waving his fist and puffing out his chest. He acted out the song's surprisingly wide range of sentiments.

“But that doesn’t stop me from singing. As soon as I have time off, I go straight to Luna Park where, in the light of the arc lamps, I can see the girls in their silk, cotton, or flannel underwear on the shoot-the-shoots. And the phonograph sings as I do. The work is bewildering and gets you dirty. When I draw my wages at the end of the month, I know there are guys richer than I am. But that doesn’t stop me from singing. Luna Park is my refuge. At all the stands, I’m greeted by the owners and regular customers, boys and girls. It’s my family. Anywhere else, I’m nobody. In Luna Park, I’m someone. Long live Luna Park and long live joy.

And the next one:

What’s the matter with me, loving her so much that it makes me want to shout from all the rooftops that she’s mine. You tell me it’s not normal. You have to be crazy to be like that. I know it, but I can’t do anything about it. It happens in spite of me. And there’s nothing to be done when it takes hold of me. I love her so much, it’s marvelous. I’m no longer earthbound when I dream of her blue eyes and pure blond hair. Love is really extraordinary. My feet aren’t on the ground at all. All my pals make fun of me know. She has this. She has that. Yes, yes, they tell me! Sure we see. Those idiots don’t see anything.”

To sum it all up; Mack’s a good guy, he likes to get a peek of a girl’s underwear when he can, and he is on the air every other Monday from noon to two.

Bill said...

Hello Mack,

A friend of mine from Texas A&M said that on 10/20 you played a song the band I was in recoded in 69. I was excited and downloaded the archive of the show.

I really enjoyed your show and listening to all the music you played. I was 17 when we recorded the song and I haven't heard it for over 30 years. After hearing it, I have to agree with you that it was a cheesy recording, even though it was suppose to be the B side.

Thanks for the air time and memories. Keep doing what you are doing, it is great.

Bill

MackMcCoy said...

Bill, hey, thanks for your comment
and praise! For the record, I didn't mean to say that your version was "cheesy" but the song itself was always a little cheesy to me ... I thought your version was just great! And the version of "Respect" on the other side was really cool, too - I plan on playing it on a future show.

Thanks Again,

Mark