Bunkies

Bloody Hunks Of Brisket
Jimmy Baldwin was a genius of a drummer, but a jealous man prone to violence. So when his girlfriend lured his band’s lead singer into bed, Jimmy’s band was disbanded.

“But Jimmy, how was I to know you cared that much?” said Frankie Constantine.

And that’s when Jimmy stabbed Frankie, and as the saying goes, the rest is history.

Jimmy hit the road for California, and Frankie hit the bottle on Two Street. Jimmy’s girlfriend, Leonora Patroni, second cousin to Nicki Splits, the butcher of South Philly fame, hit a wrong note and died young of untreated venereal disease.

This is a true story, as told to Chick Genova over the course of a three-day jail sentence he earned because he swallowed too much Xanax prescribed to him by his psychiatrist, meant to lessen his sense of panic as he drove his Honda Civic from San Francisco to San Diego.

“Take one 20 mg pill before you take off,” Dr. Rosenbluck said. “If you start to feel anxious after you’ve been tooling for about a couple of hours, take two more pills. As long as you give it time between doses, you’ll be fine. Xanax dissipates quickly.”

Many years later, Chick discovered that his chick psychiatrist had served time in a mental institution for the habitually rehabilitated, but not in time to save Chick from serving time.

It was foggy as usual on the 101 close to San Diego, and a map of traffic had come to a halt; so Chick leaned his head back against the Honda’s headrest and fell asleep. He awoke to hear a rude cop pounding his fist on the car’s roof and yelling, “What the fuck is the matter with you?”

Of course, Chick couldn’t stand on one foot and touch his nose with one finger at the same time, because he was all doped up and free of anxiety. The cop slammed Chick’s relaxed face into the Honda’s roof and handcuffed him. He didn’t like the way the handcuffs felt, tight and pinching into the flesh of his wrists; so Chick began to cry and the cop grew even more angry and the next thing Chick Genova knew, he was sitting on a concrete bench inside a jailhouse.

“You got any reason I shouldn’t put you in with the other slugs?” said the rude cop.

Chick, doped or not, knew that if he surrendered to his fear and said yes to this damned cop, then the cop would think he was a queer and take his pants away before he shoved him into the holding cell with a bunch of criminals he’d never met before.

“No, sir,” said Chick.

By maybe three o’clock that morning another cop marched Chick into the cell where Jimmy Baldwin slept on the top concrete bunk. “Bunkies,” they called each other. Shit, thought Chick, they make all the furniture in here out of concrete, and the steel toilet is all one unit with the sink where I guess I’m supposed to wash my face.

“Sorry to wake you up,” Chick whispered real polite.

Jimmy surprised Chick by extending his arm for a handshake and saying “Hi, I’m Jimmy.”

I hope I got the hand code right, thought Chick.

Jimmy went back to sleep. Chick, who didn’t sleep well, listened to Jimmy snore and considered it a friendly snore.

Next morning — Chick could tell it was morning because gray sunlight leaked through the narrow cell window near the ceiling — both men remained quiet until a voice boomed through a loudspeaker and announced chow time. Chick watched as Jimmy slipped his hand through a slot in the heavy metal door and pulled in a metal plate filled with something that looked like gray vomit, cool and stiff and otherwise coagulated.

“No, I’m not hungry,” said Chick.

“You sure? There’s nothing else coming in until noon,” said Jimmy.

Jimmy spooned every last bit, from both metal plates, into his mouth and swallowed.

“So, how long you gonna be here?” said Jimmy.

“They tell me three days.”

“That’s nothing. You’ll make it through easy.”

Chick curled himself back into the bottom bunk and hoped that his bunkie wouldn’t hurt him.

Jimmy surprised Chick by broaching the subject commonly described in black-and-white crime movies from the 1940s by the question, “What are you in for?”

“DUI, but it wasn’t booze, I tell you,” said Chick.

“Doesn’t matter. Jail’s jail.”

Still, Chick didn’t dare ask Jimmy the same question, so he waited.

“I stabbed my band’s lead singer, a guy named Frankie, wouldn’t ya know. But that’s not why I’m in here. And don’t look so damned scared. Inside here, if you look scared, someone’s gonna scare you for real. And I won’t hurt you, not if you’ll just brush your teeth on a regular basis while you’re serving time with me. Last bunkie who shared a cell with me had bad breath, and I almost killed the fuck.”

Chick quick got up and stood before the stainless steel sink that was connected by the same plumbing to the stainless steel toilet. The toothbrush was short, stumpy and dull.

“Yeah,” said Jimmy. “They make sure you can’t cut anyone with any sharp objects.”

The two men talked without stopping for the rest of the day, because there was nothing else to do. Jimmy told Chick that he was in for helping a friend steal an old lady’s diamond ring.

“Six months. I’ve got thirty-four days to go. My friend got just restitution. You know, like he has to pay back the old bitch. But the ring’s in hock, so we made out. I earned a lot more money out here on the west coast selling jewelry than I ever could have made banging drums back in Philly.”

By the time the cop called his name over the loudspeaker to announce his release, Chick felt as if he’d made a new and dangerous friend. Chick and Jimmy were standing out in the yard, which was actually on the roof of the jailhouse and surrounded by chain-link fences and barbed wire, when the cop’s voice yelled, “Genova, you’re outa here.”

All the other guys, huddled into groups defined by race and gang affiliation, cheered, which surprised Chick.

“See ya bunkie,” said Jimmy. “You left me your name and address inside the cell, right?”

“Yeah, see ya someday soon.”

But Chick had lied, because really he was afraid of Jimmy and considered himself better than this drumming stabber of a jewel thief. Chick did indeed write down his name, but he scribbled a phony address.

Chick’s clever ruse didn’t work entirely. A few months later, a puffy envelope arrived inside Chick’s mailbox. The return address read “Julie Baldwin.”

Chick tore open the manila envelope and out dropped a little box. Inside the box was a diamond ring, along with a brief letter.

Dear Chick,

I’m Jimmy Baldwin’s sister. He meant everything to me, and I don’t wear jewelry and well, Jimmy wanted you to have this. Jimmy told me so. “Give the ring to my bunkie.” Those were Jimmy’s last words. See, Jimmy, he made it out of jail, but he didn’t really make it much farther. Frankie Constantine, his wounds all healed up, still blamed Jimmy for Leonora’s death. Ain’t that a backward bitch of a way to think? I mean, it wasn’t Jimmy’s idea for Frankie to shack up with a Patroni.

Anyway, Frankie stole a cleaver from Nicki Splits’ shop, where Frankie worked part-time when he wasn’t drinking, and he followed Jimmy all the way to California and chopped him up like a bloody hunk of brisket.

Maybe, if you ever come to Philly, we could meet up for a drink on Two Street.

Love,

Julie

One thought on “Bunkies

  1. Anthony… just want to let you know that even though I don't always comment, I read (and thoroughly enjoy) all your blog entries. This last one, although I somehow feel that I am missing a subtle but vital point, kept me reading in anticipation of some revelation — from beginning to the end. And I must admit that I was a bit disappointed that nothing jumped out and slapped me in the face and forced out an, "Ah HAH!"But, that's probably just me being me.As long as you keep on writin' 'em, I'll keep on a'readin' 'em.

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