X’s and O’s
Here’s how it started: I was sitting on a bench in Tompkins Square Park reading a copy of Spin I’d swiped from Hudson News, observing East Village females crossing the park on their way home from work and wondering (as I often did) how my ex- wife had managed to populate New York with thousands of women who looked nothing like her but still brought her to mind, when I made a discovery: my old friend Bennie Salazar was a record producer! It was right in Spin magazine, a whole article about Bennie and how he’d made his name on a group called the Conduits that went multiplatinum three or four years ago. There was a picture of Bennie receiving some kind of award, looking out of breath and a little cross-eyed— one of those frozen, hectic instants you just know has a whole happy life attached. I looked at the picture for less than a second; then I closed the magazine. I decided not to think about Bennie. There’s a fine line between thinking about somebody and thinking about not thinking about somebody, but I have the patience and the self- control to walk that line for hours—days, if I have to.
After one week of not thinking about Bennie— thinking so much about not thinking about Bennie that there was barely room left in my brain for thoughts of any other kind—I decided to write him a letter. I addressed it to his record label, which turned out to be inside a green glass building on Park Avenue and Fifty-second Street. I took the subway up there and stood outside the building with my head back, looking up, up, wondering how high Bennie’s office might possibly be. I kept my eyes on the building as I dropped the letter into the mailbox directly in front of it. Hey Benjo, I’d written (that was what I used to call him). Long time no see. I hear you’re the man, now. Congrats. Couldn’t have happened to a luckier guy. Best wishes, Scotty Hausmann.
He wrote back! His letter arrived in my dented East Sixth Street mailbox about five days later, typed, which I guess meant a secretary had done it, but I could tell was Bennie all right:
Scotty baby— Hey thanks for the note. Where have you been hiding yourself? I still think of the Dildo days sometimes. Hope you’re playing that slide guitar. Yours, Bennie, with his little wiggly signature above the typed name.
Bennie’s letter had quite an effect on me. Things had gotten— what’s the word? Dry. Things had gotten sort of dry for me. I was working for the city as a janitor in a neighborhood elementary school and, in summers, collecting litter in the park alongside the East River near the Williamsburg Bridge. I felt no shame whatsoever in these activities, because I understood what almost no one else seemed to grasp: that there was only an infinitesimal difference, a difference so small that it barely existed except as a figment of the human imagination, between working in a tall green glass building on Park Avenue and collecting litter in a park. In fact, there may have been no difference at all…