THE ANGEL OF 42nd STREET

A TRUE STORY OF DRUGS AND HUSTLERS ON THE MEAN STREETS OF NYC IN THE 1980’s

BY NICK CATO

 

“Put out your hand, brother.”

Like an idiot, my friend obeyed and the intimidating man poured a white powder onto his palm.

“What’s this?”

“Don’t matter. It’s in your hand now and you gotta buy it.”

“Bullshit! I’m not buying this shit. It’s probably Ajax!” my friend said as I began praying in my head.

“Ain’t no muthafuckin’ Ajax, white boy. But it’s in your hand and now you gotta buy it.”

 

The year was 1985 and my buddy Dave (name changed here to protect the imbeciles of the world) and I decided to visit Times Square one Saturday afternoon. I had checked the papers but there were no films playing that interested me or that I hadn’t seen yet, but I was always down for a trip to the world’s coolest street, that being 42nd between 7th and 8th avenues in NYC.

We had been there a few times to see triple and double features and to horse around in the various peep shows. I had even gone solo a couple of times to see films to review in my old horror film fanzine titled STINK. But this was the first time we went just to hang out, and while we popped into a couple of porn joints for laughs, we had only spent about ten minutes hanging out drinking beers from brown paper bags before this short but built guy comes up to us and starts his schtick.

He asked us how we were doing, and I said, “Pretty good man, just waiting for a movie to start.”

“A ha, a movie! You guys goin’ to a fuck flick?”

Dave and I laughed as we hadn’t heard that term before.

“No, the kung fu one,” Dave said pointing to the gloriously decorated theater behind us.

“Ah, a kick flick!”

We laughed again.

Then the guy’s whole aura changed as he put on a scary face and said, to Dave, “You white boys laugh a lot, huh?”

Then an awkward silence. I’m pretty sure Dave was as scared as I was, but instead of pulling out a knife, the guy pulled out a small black bag and said, “Whatchoo guys lookin’ for? I got weed, blow, mesc, whatever you need.”

Dave figured he’d score some weed. But instead of asking for it specifically, the schmuck says, “Let me see what you have.”

And that’s when the guy told Dave, “Put out your hand, brother,” and dumped a small amount of what could’ve been anything from Ajax to actual cocaine to bad grated cheese to battery acid flakes.

I loved 42nd Street and thought to myself that our few incident-free visits before this had been pure luck. Now we had finally met the wrong guy and were about to either get our asses kicked by this nutjob and possibly his buddies who could’ve been watching us from anywhere on the crowded block, or maybe he was even crazy enough to pull a piece out and shoot the both of us right there on the spot and flee into one of the many theaters or subway stations. While I didn’t panic, I did my best to play it cool and prayed for a cop to come by or anyone who could get this guy away from us.

The Deuce (as this stretch of 42nd Street is also known) answered my call. Just as the short but scary as hell pusher told Dave (for about the fifth time) that he HAD to buy the powder simply because it was now “in his hand,” out of nowhere, a tall black man puts his hand on the pusher’s shoulder and says, “What did I tell you about botherin’ my muthafuckin’ customers?”

As if he had just been scolded by Dolemite himself, the little pusher grabs Dave’s wrist and tilts it so the powder slid back into the bag…although most fell to the cigarette butt-infested sidewalk. Then he turned around and walked off quickly without saying a word as if his ass had caught fire.

“Thanks man,” I said to our savior, hoping he wasn’t a crazier bastard, or maybe even part of the short guy’s routine.

“Not a problem. What were you guys lookin’ for?”

“Just some weed,” Dave said.

The tall guy laughed and said, “That asshole ain’t got no weed! He ain’t got nothin’!”

Then he leaned against the wall of the kung fu theater we had been hanging out in front of and lit a joint. He offered it to Dave, who took a drag. Then my buddy started talking with the guy who to this day we call Dolemite. As they spoke I started checking out the lobby cards in front of the kung fu theater, and thanked God or whoever had sent this guy to bail us out.

We spent the rest of our day popping in and out of other peep shows, then eventually decided to do some record shopping in the west village. On the train ride downtown, Dave told me he had scored a dime bag (which at the time you could actually get about 8-10 joints out of) and said how cool Dolemite was. I must’ve thanked him five times for getting the little scam artist off our backs, and we never had any other problems during our future visits to The Deuce (and whether that’s Dolemite’s doing or just dumb luck is anyone’s guess).

I’ll never forget our one and only encounter with the real life Dolemite, or as I think of him now, The Angel of 42nd Street, who was just one of many reasons I miss that wonderful city block…

 

NICK CATO is the author of one novel, six novellas, and one short story collection. He writes the SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES column for the acclaimed website, Cinema Knife Fight. A collection of this column in book form is forthcoming. Visit nickyakcato.blogspot.com and the usual sites for more info.

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