International House News, New York
Copyright 1977 by Richard S. Ehrlich
NEW YORK CITY -- Wooly Jake says the nuclear tests are making New York's winters colder.
"There's four seasons, and it's guaranteed the winter's coming," he explains between long gulps of Wild Irish Rose wine.
"But a lot of people blew the atom bombs, and split the atom. They fucking with shit you don't know."
So now, he says, winters are freezing. Not like they're supposed to be.
"Because they throwing atom bombs underground and they throwing atom bombs above ground..." he trails off for another mouthful of wine, leans back on a park bench carved with initials, and he grins, deciding to forget the cold future and enjoy the cool morning of autumn. While he can.
"Shit, when winter come, I'll live in a garbage pail here in Union Square," he laughs, gazing around the square, looking for his friend Curly, who may or may not have another pint.
Built like a boxer, the balding, middle-aged black man finishes the Wild Irish and tosses the bottle over his shoulder.
"Know why you can't get out?" Wooly asks rhetorically, talking about the hassle of the city, life's troubles, the universe, everything he can think of.
"Because you can't get past the sun. I've been up there," he chuckles.
"Two floors up, I been to the sun and burnt up!"
He bursts out laughing at his own joke and through rollicking tears, he whoops, "Man can't get past the sun! The Pharaoh couldn't get past the sun! How man gonna get past?"
And Wooly doubles over in a fit of wine-soaked hysteria, squeezing his powerful grease-covered hands into fists.
Drooling slightly, Wooly whistles at a pretty black girl who scurries past the greenish statues and across the square to work.
"I'm what you call a coonya man. You know what is coonya?" he asks, anxious to teach.
"Con ya. Coonya. Understand?"
Then as if struck by the thought of some emergency, he demands, "What day is it? Monday?"
"No Wooly. It's Tuesday."
"OK," he agrees. "There's no beef about that. I'm just keeping up with the facts. Once you know what day it is, you all right." Wooly smiles.
"Because the days blend together..."
He pulls out a thin, hand-rolled joint and asks if anyone wants to smoke.
After a few sucks of the drug's smoke, he smiles, showing a few spaces from knocked-out teeth and announces, "I feel like flying! There's no affliction that I feel! So hey, I'm successful!"
Curly, his gray hair twisting out of his head, warily sits down and passes Wooly a bottle of Gallo port.
Wooly would rather talk philosophy than answer hard questions about his private life.
For him, there are only three real choices: fame, fortune, or love.
"And I take fortune," he says, looking around the bench for a cigarette butt.
"Fame you can eliminate," he snickers, finding a butt, but then at a loss for matches. "And love," he chortles, "forget it!"
Eventually the bottle of Gallo empties.
A park attendant tells him to move so garbage can be swept away.
Wooly remains jubilant even as he talks about being broke and unemployed.
It's not that he's tired of work, he says, it's just that he didn't see any results out of "the hard-assed work I did."
Then, giggling like the world is tickling him, he hoots, "Work? Have sweat running down your nuts and your balls? And that's why you want a job?"
Laughs cascade out of his mouth as he belts out a few punch lines, "That's why you got hobos!" he roars.
"Now watch them bums! And don't tell me what a bum will do!"
"A bum will say fuck it! A bum is something else!"
And Wooly keels over, gasping as the humor suffocates him.
A squirrel sniffs the empty Wild Irish Rose bottle.
An ambulance siren shrieks down 14th Street.
Wooly Jake twists his dark face into a knot and puts all life into one allegory: "I don't feel sorry when I see a hawk swoop down and take that animals," he says, suddenly serious.
"I don't feel sorry, because that's his stuff."
And Wooly doesn't ask anyone to feel sorry for him, because what he drinks and smokes is his stuff.
Protected by cheap wine, weed, a dirt-stained nylon jacket, and a carefree gallows humor, the dark-skinned sage whispers, "When I say I'm a coonya, a con man, I don't mean now-you-see-and-now-you-don't. I mean you got to know that everything come to you if you don't -- and now I'll spell it out: p-a-n-i-c."