Nude Fridays in Whitelandia
The Zoom Wake
Pretty soon after Louis’ passing, I had an idea. Zoom wakes were everywhere, but this one would have been different.
On our six screens, you would see our bare chests. We range from our twenties to our fifties, but like Brooklyn Peter Pans, we are known as the “boys.” An old-fashioned characterization for queer men, which we are and are not.
My face has the lines and creases of a half-century of living, my hair tangled in some COVID-uncut tumult. The unsightly dot on my chin comes from shaving with a blunt razor. Pushups in lockdown have resulted in prominent mammary glands. Both my skin and my tangled chest hair reveal my whiteness. Skin color both literal and figurative (brown, black, white) were staples of the Nude Friday universe.
Luke, the man in the window to my right, also has some white blood as one of his Shanghai grandmothers is English. Louis (also white though half-Syrian and absurdly tanned even in winter) once mocked my white body, but Luke got derided for echoing the same sentiment. Only Brooklyn-born Louis, a master rough-kidder, was allowed to mock my absence of melanin.
To my left is Abir, who came from Bangladesh as a little kid. He is the fleshiest, perhaps the juiciest. His mammary glands are prominent like mine, and he has a wild, untamed beard. When he moved down to rural Georgia to run a family gas station a few years ago, I worried that he might be injured in the virulently anti-Muslim early days of Trump, but the gas station idea didn’t pan out and he made it safely back to New York where he drives an Uber and delivers weed. He (like many of the other boys) was a student in one of Louis’ community-college speech classes. Tears have collected in Abir’s eye. He really didn’t understand how sick Louis was. On top of it, he’d almost lost his grandmother to the virus. Abir has never commented upon my lack of color or anything else about me. He is one of the sweetest of the boys. He brings his huge, fierce looking pit-bull when he delivers product, but Shadow is preternaturally friendly, licking me ecstatically, refusing to be pushed away.
Daniel (in the window below mine) is half Puerto-Rican but resembles his father, a Jew who ran numbers for the mob. Big-boned, muscular without being fat, Daniel speaks with a deep outer-borough accent. Though prone to homophobia, Daniel had fallen for Louis about a decade before. Daniel drove Louis everywhere. He took him out to dinner in Manhattan. He brought him flowers.
If you find pleasure in the bodies of boys, David Strach, across from Daniel, is consummate eye candy: tall, handsome, slightly Arabic-looking as befits his Maltese heritage. Four years ago, I met him at Louis’ house. At Louis’ prompting, David announced that he was gay, and that he and Louis were in love. The other boys were jealous when he arrived on the scene, but his affair with Louis (who was forty years his senior) did not end well.
The final window is occupied by Charles, who (if Louis were captain) would be first mate. Charles and I are older (mid-fifties) than the other boys. We’ve both have had long relationships with women though Charles recently broke up with his second wife whereas I remain married to Angela. We met Louis in the nineties. I was in a seminar with him at NYU, and Charles was involved with his cousin. Charles is truly a lost boy. He came from Belize when he was ten: his father never figuring in his life, his mother dying young. As a small boy, he nearly perished, abandoned on the shore of a lake. All of us other boys have had (at least on some level) fathers, but Charles only has Louis, and in his absence, he has been orphaned again.
While Louis may be the darkest, Charles is the only Black person. A Trump supporter, he considers racism “a cult of victimhood.” In the uneasy racial comedy between Louis and the boys, Charles’ failings are due to his race. He once lived in “Blacklandia” (Bed Stuy), a racist construct that I attempted to mitigate by referring to Dyker Heights, where Louis lived, as “Whitelandia.” Charles got Gulf War Syndrome in Kuwait and was even more poisoned while cleaning toxic waste in Long Island City. Recently, I learned he was also collecting for the mob. Easy work, he told me, going from place to place collecting envelopes full of cash.
Luke, who is referred to as “China Man,” gets mocked for an accent that sounds more Queens than Shanghai. Abir is not called South-Asian or Bengali or Bangladeshi but “the Muslim.” My mumbled objections to these labels are habitually ignored. One evening Luke posed a timeless question: who is cheaper, the Chinese (him) or the Jew (me)? Losing my temper, I jumped on Luke’s doubly racist question. China Man, Black, Muslim, Jew, but what of Louis? He cooks, cleans, takes the boys to Spain, then dies. While he derives from a very particular ethnicity (Syrian, Corsican, Melkite Christian), he never gets defined by those labels. Our leader, our father, is often known by his other moniker, his last name, simply Lucca.
A second computer set up in Charles’ apartment near Brooklyn college is also logged into Zoom, the seventh screen. In a photograph taken in Spain two years before, Lucca smiles coyly at the camera.
Partial List of Lucca Lovers
Angel: Took dictation from a sexy young Fidel Castro after the company Angel worked for got nationalized post revolution. Left Havana for New York in the early sixties following a lover with a romantic-sounding name, Luis Durand. Told stories of a naïve young Lucca whom he educated and deflowered. Louis’ absolute closest friend until Angel died of leukemia in 2009.
Adolfo: Lived with Louis on Plaza Street near the Brooklyn Museum, then bought a house with a hefty mortgage with him in Sunset Park. The screwed-up electricals helped bankrupt Louis in the late eighties. During the nadir of their relationship, Adolfo hid spells written on pieces of paper, rotten food, and dead small animals throughout Louis’ apartment, santeria curses. Despite his life-long aversion to religion, Louis hired a priest to exorcise the place.
Abel: Once got so angry with Louis that he chased Louis and Angel around with a knife, missing bodies and body parts but carving a deep gash into a cutting board.
Santo: Even more handsome than a young Al Pacino, his tough exterior masked a penchant for tears. In Louis’ telling, eighteen-year-old Santo picked up Louis at a Bay Ridge tanning salon, and, soon afterwards, gave him a blow job while he was driving through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.
One Month Before
After a bumpy struggle, including several hospitalizations for adverse chemo affects, Louis’ myeloma is in remission, and he is scheduled for a stem cell transplant. We text intermittently over Signal. Louis and boys are conversing constantly as well, talking about meals that Louis served them, bitching about money, race, and girls. (The boys have fluid sexualities but talk about women like horny teenagers.) Meanwhile, COVID is spreading. China, Korea, Italy, New Rochelle, New York City. All non-essential surgeries are canceled.
In the absence of a transplant, Louis is prescribed an oral chemo to keep the disease in check. That same drug had sent him to the hospital twice with drastic diarrhea. Severely immunocompromised and seventy-two years old, he never opens his front door. Frozen fish from Costco keeps him from starving.
On March 25, I call to wish him a happy birthday, the first in his life that he has spent alone. I think of his early birthdays in a Lebanese/Syrian niche in the Brooklyn Heights of the early fifties. His Arab mother. His Corsican father, a longshoreman with a drinking problem. I imagine Louis, slightly pudgy, dressed in a sailor’s suit blowing out birthday candles.
His temperature goes up to 98.8, then down to 98.2. Is that a sign of COVID, he texts me. “I don’t think so, Louis.” After several more desperate messages, he apologizes for driving me crazy. Then I don’t hear from him. For a day or two, I don’t check in. When I write again (and again and again) he doesn’t respond. I’m relieved to learn from Charles that he’s been hospitalized. There is a bed for him despite the crisis. Surely, they will stabilize him. But when I call him, he doesn’t pick up.
No response from him for nearly a week, and I am getting anxious. An unfamiliar New York number comes up on my phone. Daniel. He has never called me. This can’t be good. Awkwardly, breathlessly, he asks me how I’m doing, then gets on with the news he must deliver. “Every day is a new day,” he tells me. The information almost gets lost amidst the platitudes. “Not looking good.”
I recognize Santo’s number on my phone the next day. He is calling from Louis’ hospital room. The hospital is in lockdown, but they have let him in to deliver some last minute “Hail Mary” medicine, which is almost sure not to work. I can hear the tears in his voice. He puts Louis on the phone. “This is David, Lou, David Winner, do you know who he is.” A distant part of me worries that in his uncensored state he’ll say something about my Jewishness.
“I know David Winner,” he answers. Not cynical, nor rough, nor playful, nor seductive, he sounds like a young child trying hard to please. It’s heartbreaking. Santo puts his phone up to Louis’ ear, and I tell him that I love him.
Further Back: The Reluctant Nudist
Due to no scheme of my own, I swear, the portals suddenly opened in Harkness Coop at Oberlin College, and I found myself showering naked next to dozens of nude men and women. Who were not so comfortable, I would later learn, with the nudism imposed democratically each fall, validating a policy of open showers that only the uptight could object to, which spun its way to less than hygienic nude brunches and light-hearted nude prances through the snow in winter.
A decade later while a student at NYU, I met a mysterious creature of about fifty, wearing a suit but no tie and an overpowering cologne. His ironic, deeply Brooklyn affect struck a note of authenticity. Most friends, even now, decades later, are fellow Brooklyn expats. But real Brooklyn blood pulsed through Lucca’s veins.
I also got the sense that he was gay. At Oberlin, I got admitted to the fringes of a world of glamorous-seeming gay men, but in New York a decade later with the queer beatings near the river and the AIDS epidemic going strong, I didn’t feel so welcome. Gay men were suffering, and they didn’t want interlopers. But Louis and his world of Brooklyn oddballs (gay, straight, old, young, male, female …) embraced both Angela and me.
The summer after we met, Louis started picking me up and driving me to a nude beach and nature preserve in New Jersey. Dozens of times from the late nineties well into the aughts, we would fry in beach chairs looking out at the ocean, munching on melons and grapes. I learned the hard way that genitalia require not the SPV intended to bronze but full-on sunblock to avoid (is there a proper word?) cock burn.
Gifts and Offenses
Louis and I ran into some trouble towards the end of the aughts. Rough kidding aside (and I wince to include this), he mocked Angela’s small breasts in a beach in Spain. I stayed silent for fear of embarrassing Angela when she really wanted me to stand up for her. Which was often my mistake with Louis. I can imagine a formula. For X unkind Louis comments, there had been Y David objections. X being notably larger than Y.
Louis was full of anomalies. His community college communications program embraced a rhetoric of tolerance while he himself maintained fierce prejudices.
He had precious little blood family. But created the largest, most family-like world of friends that I’ve ever encountered, who spent Christmases and Thanksgivings and birthdays together.
His love was bounteous until he turned against you. One close friend was rejected because he gave bad birthday gifts.
Angela eventually forgave him (and me), and I could never not love him. Around 2010, Louis left his large, moldy apartment in a faded pre-war building called The Commodore and moved on up (or down) to a small house in Dyker Heights. He invited or should I say initiated me into the society of Friday night gathers for which both Harkness and Sandy Hook had prepared me. But two major changes had occurred. The women and most of the adults had left the room. While Monifa, Charles’ wife (now ex), was at the first NF I attended, soon thereafter the only characters present were the boys of this essay.
About once a month, I journeyed deep into the jungles of Whitelandia for chilled red wine and powerful weed. After hours amidst incense, seafood and naked male bodies, I would stagger home around, the house spinning awkwardly around me. But what happened after I left? The boys spend the night. They breakfast together, stay Saturday as well. There are outings like school field trips to the Delaware Water Gap, the Berkshires.
A Wake, a Walk in the Park
A few weeks after Louis’ death, Angela and I went to a wake for Louis at a funeral home in Park Slope. Everyone wore masks, but friends of Louis who had not seen each other for years hugged and shook hands at the apex of the pandemic. The other boys arrived a little later seeming awkward and shy. We wore ill-fitting suits and ties like we were at our grandfather’s funeral. Luke, Abir, Daniel, Charles, myself.
Angela and I fled as it seemed unsafe. But Charles and I made a plan together. We would walk in Prospect Park. We would picnic, drink wine, and talk about our departed friend.
Only months before, Louis was still preparing massive seafood meals, complaining about the great sums of money he’d spent on shrimp, swordfish and crab. Very sweetly, Charles had prepared a picnic of shrimp cocktail, hummus, and chilled red wine. Our conversation drifted gently about, and I found myself mentioning something that I had witnessed from the corner of my eye on more than one occasion, Louis gently stroking Abir’s genitals. And Abir (who told us at one of the last NFs that he’d had sex with multiple female prostitutes in Thailand on his way back and forth from Bangladesh) had not pushed him away.
After I would leave, Charles explained matter-of-factly, sexual activities would sometime go on between Louis and the other boys. Which seemed icky, disturbing but why? Louis was no priest or athletic director. No longer their professor, not for years, he had no power over them. These were consenting adults. And really the boys are not boys but men approaching (or having entered) middle-age. Everything was consensual. I never fondled or was fondled by Louis or any of the boys. Apparently, I had joined an unusual sex cult, one that didn’t require you to have sex. But anyway, Nude Fridays are defunct as our father/leader/fondler has fled this world.
The White Curtain
When I spoke to Santo about the decision not to prolong Louis’ life, he declared, his voice quivering, that Louis had been the “asshole who was the fabric of our lives.”
He shared that fabric with Ecuadorians, Columbians, Chinese people, Cubans, Haitians, African Americans and Jews despite his fierce prejudices. He provided me an escape from my middle-class largely white world, but he said terrible things about almost everybody. And like the old comedian Jackie Mason, a so-called “equal opportunity offender,” who was notably easier on his own group, the Jews, there was nothing equal among Louis’ pronouncements. It was better to be Cuban than Dominican and Columbian than Puerto-Rican and forget the Chinese who owned his building and the Mexicans next door. Like the Friday night fondling, his attitudes were an inconvenient truth that was very much part of the story.
Amidst the racial reckoning sweeping our COVID-ensnarled country after the murder of George Floyd, a cousin who had once decried the protests of African American football players turned her Facebook screen black. White people who’d kept their eyes carefully closed to racial injustice started to blink in the light and look around them. Where this leaves Louis and the boys, I don’t know, but a white curtain descended in the days following his passing.
The black (Charles), the Muslim (Abir) and the China Man (Luke), immigrants of color, were the closest people to Louis in the last years of his life.
While Louis never wrote an actual will, he enjoyed telling people which objects in his house would be theirs upon his demise. As anyone who has ever had to dispose of a dead person’s possessions knows very well, such possessions are almost never worth anything.
Luke, Charles and Abir wanted to go to Louis’ house and commune there together in the days after Louis’ death, and they wanted to take what Louis had promised them.
But three older white friends of Louis took over the role of disposing of Louis’ things and making final arrangements as if the three boys were sketchy and dishonest, as if they (and this accusation was hurled at Abir by one of Louis’ white friends) would sell Louis’ things for whatever little money they might fetch. Charles, who rejected the very notion of racism, was confounded to feel himself a victim of it after Louis’ death.
There has been no nude Zoom wake, but I have been invited to a real time equivalent. The first NF post-Lucca is also my first (not virtual) social event since the virus started getting bad. Of course, it will not take place at Louis’, which will soon be rented to someone else, and I don’t expect it to be nude. It will, however, occur on a Friday at Abir’s apartment in Queens.
I pick up Charles in a Lyft for the journey from Flatbush. Out of deference to Trump, I fear, Charles generally does not wear masks. But he searches in his pockets as he gets into the car until he finds a wrinkled surgical one and puts it on.
Abir holds the lease on the huge apartment he shares with only one other person. The tile floors remind me of grittier Latin American houses. The many rooms are occupied by random-seeming pieces of furniture.
Sitting on a couch by himself is a bald white man in his sixties. Paul worked with Louis at S&P in the late seventies and early eighties, a moment in Louis’ life when he did a lot of cocaine.
Eventually, Paul, Abir, Charles and I gather in the kitchen and drink rosé. Paul (who says he was Louis’ dealer back in the day) tries to impress us by boasting of great stock trades. His old friend, Louis, had the opposite view of money. “Oh,” I can just hear his voice and see the irony in his face, “he/she must have money.” Something to be scorned rather than boasted about. But no one is naked. We are not in Whitelandia, and this is NF in name only.
Awkwardly we toast Louis, but soon Abir is rolling a blunt. I’m wondering how we will manage to share this safely when it is heading from Abir to Paul to Charles to me. Emphatically, I wave it away. It would be like tongue-kissing someone who might have COVID.
Later, Abir suggests that we retire to the enormous living room. It is full of broken-down furniture and chewed-up dog toys. But one corner is taken up with fake leather couches that came from Louis’ home. And set up in exactly the same configuration. An NF stage set, an NF recreation.
As the evening wears on, four or five cousins of Abir come over. Several times someone shakes my hand, and I run to the bathroom as if I desperately need to pee. I feverishly wash my hands.
Though I stay away from the blunt passing from mouth to mouth. I comfort my anxiety about the whole situation by drinking. One of the Bengali cousins has brought over a bottle of coke and a bottle of Hennessey like in a rap video. Desiring neither sugar nor caffeine, I drink straight brandy.
The Signal chat group has been renamed.
Charles: I miss Lucca. I almost texted him today.
Luke: You should. I did text him and told him I miss him.
Charles: I should have.
Luke: I will celebrate NF in every any way no matter where I am or who am with, just because I know Louis is always with me … I want, I want to go back time when I met him in LaGuardia restroom after a semester of being my Speech professor and I asked him if he know any place in Brooklyn room for rent. I am so glad that I asked it. I want to go back in time, in the early fall semester of 1995.
Charles: I was just saying that I feel like a man out of time. It’s like The Walking Dead when Rick Grimes woke up from his coma and the world has changed.
Luke: I know we have to slowly get used to live the rest of our life without Louis. It’s a little tough for me.
Charles: Me too. My life is about to change a lot.
The Scattering of Ashes
Not long ago when death seemed a far-off phantom, Louis often told me that he wished for his ashes to be buried at the beach.
We are set to scatter the ashes at Jacob Riis Park in the Rockaways, another beach I had gone to with Louis. I remember gay men heading off into the underbrush until police started arresting them in the Giuliani era. And I remember Louis ordering a Puerto-Rican doctor to keep his hands off me because I couldn’t fend for myself. There were drag queens, and a straight cis woman named Francine with fake breasts the size of watermelons that her bikini top could not hope to contain.
I bike through unfamiliar far-Brooklyn neighborhoods then on a tiny, queasy bike path over a huge drawbridge that takes you to the Rockaways.
After an hour or so of missteps, we find each other: me, Charles, Santo, Luke, Abir, Daniel.
We walk a kilometer or so along the Atlantic to Fort Tilden, the fishing beach, where Louis once fielded calls from a young and besotted Daniel, to meet David Strach, Louis’ last lover.
After finding the exact spot where Louis would sunbathe, we form a seated circle in the sand. We go around, speaking about Louis.
Charles’ voice quivers. There is nothing left for him in this country now that Louis has gone, Louis “who taught me everything, who gave me everything.” And always told him the truth however hard it might be to bear. Charles is alone now. He is rudderless. He’s told me that he plans to return to Belize, but he hasn’t lived there for nearly half a century.
Daniel talks about his love for Louis. But it sounds cleansed, defanged, hardly the great passion of a decade before.
David Strach looks warily around at us. The boys have been skeptical of him, Charles has told me, they’ve mistrusted his motives. Apparently, he now lives with a girlfriend, but she has not accompanied him. He talks of Louis as a father rather than as a lover, the fact that he had been a species of both too difficult to parse.
Abir concludes his few short words by calling Louis his “adulthood father.” Abir’s eulogy, Charles jokes, would have failed in one of Louis’ speech classes.
Santo takes off his mask to reveal his beautiful Italian face and tells us that Louis had been his first love. Louis wasn’t always “nice,” he says, the only one of us to refer to Louis failings. On a Facebook tribute to Louis at LaGuardia College, someone had called him “prickly.” That had bothered Santo at first, but, on further reflection, he’d had to agree with it, prickly. Of course, his voice shakes when he talks about his old lover.
Luke, a graphic artist, tells us that he’d barely spoken English when he’d first had Louis for a teacher. And Louis had been the first American to really understand his accent. He’d lived with Louis for a semester when his mother was looking for housing for the two of them, but Luke had somehow lost touch with Lucca for nearly a decade. Then he’d met someone at LaGuardia Community College and given that person a note for Louis along with an exquisite drawing of him. That person gave the note to a dean who immediately recognized Louis.
We dig a small hole in the sand. Santo brings out the urn, and we reach into it with our hands, feeling bits of bone along with ashes, as we scatter them into the sand. The wind blows some of the ashes onto my black shorts. When I bike home, I will carry some of Louis with me.
Then we drink, a secular communion.
A coconut rum, a favorite of Louis’, is poured into each of our plastic glasses.
Then we each taste sickly-sweet orange brandy that Louis had made himself. Abir had taken it from his house after his death.
We pour. We toast.
Ashes to ashes, says someone, dust to dust.
With Louis gone, his ashes buried in sand and blown by the wind, we boys begin to lose touch. I don’t see David nor Luke nor Daniel. And I only see Abir (I’m sorry to say) because I purchase some of his wares.
We drink tea in his ramshackle kitchen. He brings me into a room with garbage bags packed with weed.
After expertly rolling an enormous blunt for the road, he drives me back towards Brooklyn where he is due to make a delivery and I can more easily find a subway home. On the way, he talks about a dinner he is trying to arrange at Louis’ favorite restaurant, a Palestinian place called Tanoreen, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Louis’ passing, an idea that will fall through the cracks. “It’s hard you know,” says Abir, his eyes filling with tears as I get out of the car and say my goodbyes, “nothing feels the same.”
I do see Charles. Our friendship predates Nude Fridays and survives Louis’ departure. We meet outside at restaurants throughout the fall and winter. He details his preparations for his move to Belize. He’s giving up his apartment, quitting his job, gathering his possessions together in a “barrel” to be taken on a boat across the Gulf of Mexico. He considers buying cheap electronics in the United States and selling them for a profit in Belize but thinks better of it. Inevitably, we joust over Trump. How has the president made COVID worse? If that isn’t obvious, there is not a lot to be said.
In February, he posts a message to NF4EVER, the chat group that is barely limping along. He has tested positive for COVID.
I check in with him every day or so. At first, it doesn’t seem so worrying. He is just exhausted, sleeping the days away, but when I next hear from him a couple of days later, he has been hospitalized, “full-blown COVID,” as he puts it. The day of his departure to Belize has come and gone. I don’t ask him how he got COVID, but he tells me his version. It’s the fault of a woman. “Pussy kills,” Charles tells me, an expression that came from Louis, a man who’d stayed clear of it for over half a century by the time he died.
Charles’ daughter gives me progress reports except no progress seems to be occurring. He’s stable. His lungs may be a little less inflamed, but mostly things remain the same.
When I don’t hear from her for two weeks, I call the hospital, as I’m worried and don’t want to make her report bad news to a relative stranger. The doctor tells me that he can provide no medical details, but that Charles is “doing okay.” Which is a relief as it seems to disprove my fear. No one ventilated could possibly be “doing okay.”
I am outside of another hospital, this one in The Bronx, waiting for my second vaccine when I exchange texts again with Charles’ daughter and learn that I’ve been wrong. He’s been ventilated for weeks now.
Every week or so, I continue to text her. In early April, she tells me that Charles, though still ventilated, is slowly being weaned from sedation.
Two weeks later, during my first meal with friends at an inside restaurant, my phone rings, a distant voice with familiar rhythms, a voice that shed the Caribbean decades ago.
I tell him that I love him. Then, stupidly, ask him how he feels. Instead of answering, he takes a deep breath and knocks himself for not taking COVID seriously, for doing this to himself. Maybe he’s right, but I hate that he’s blaming himself. No, I try to assure him. He sighs deeply, and I almost wish he were still blaming pussy.
When I finally find Charles’ hospital room, I pause for a moment, gathering my thoughts.
But the bed has better sightlines than the hall, and I hear Charles’ voice, “David!” before I walk into the room and approach the figure in the hospital bed attached to tubes and oxygen.
Nude Fridays had always commenced with that same exhortation. Between his days removing toxic waste in Queens and parent-coordinating in Brooklyn, Charles had gone to Swedish massage school. He arrived early every Friday to give Louis a massage. Louis would be upstairs showering, and a naked Charles would boom my name, “David!” both loving and scolding, scolding me for having stayed away for the month or so that usually elapsed between my visits, welcoming me back like some prodigal son.
Then, of course, there would be the hug. Charles’ flesh, muscles against mine, the smelly massage oils that Angela would complain about when I returned much later in the evening.
In the hospital, only about two thirds of Charles remain. He’s lost nearly sixty pounds. A white Old Testament beard adorns his cheeks, and absent fat, his face looks younger, more innocent.
He talks to me about the months that feel lost to him, months about which he has only fleeting memories. He talks about the condo waiting for him in Belize, which feels impossibly distant.
I clutch his hand as I take my leave.
It’s two in the afternoon of the day we scattered Louis’ ashes. I’m biking back to Brooklyn, and I have not eaten yet.
My hope of running into an outdoor restaurant seems unlikely as I bike back over the drawbridge past Floyd Bennett Field through sad, empty neighborhoods with only broken-down bodegas and fast-food restaurants.
Until my phone GPS brings me to a neighborhood that I had not gone through on my way out to Riis. Sheepshead Bay, another piece of classic Brooklyn Whitelandia, which has recently grown rather Turkic. And I see, inviting me like a mirage, a European restaurant with white tablecloths and formally dressed waiters. As I lock my bike and approach, I cannot believe they will really serve me, that this is in any way real. The hostess, a voluptuous woman in her thirties with bronzed skin, will tell me that, despite appearance to the contrary, they are all booked up.
But soon I am at a table for two at what turns out to be a Turkish restaurant. While Louis had some typical complaints about the Turkish (the Black, the Jew, the Turk …), he’d visited Turkey twice in recent years and was anxious to return. As I sip a glass of wine in the blaring heat and peruse the menu, I imagine for a moment that the little bit of Lucca on my clothes has morphed into the man himself.
Before he was sick.
He looks ironically at me when I order the shrimp cocktail for fifteen dollars.
“Oh,” he says with that marvelous twinkle of the eyes, “you must have money.”
Enemy Combatant, David Winner’s third novel (March 2021) received a Kirkus-starred review and was a Publisher’s Weekly/Booklife Editor’s Pick. He is the co-editor of Writing the Virus, a New York Times briefly-noted Anthology. His Kirkus-recommended second novel, Tyler’s Last, came out in 2005 while his first, The Cannibal of Guadalajara, won the 2009 Gival Press Novel Award and was nominated for the National Book Award. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, Fiction, The Iowa Review, The Millions, and The Kenyon Review. He is a senior editor at STAT®REC magazine, the fiction editor of The American, a magazine based in Rome, and a regular contributor to The Brooklyn Rail.