It was just before 7 AM on balmy Tuesday, June 26, 2018 and apart from the occasional thin white wisp there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, but the wind had a soft howl to it and buffeted us as we rode north on the service-road up the Grand Concourse, ‘the Park Avenue of the middle class,’ against the moaning, groaning, honking, growling, grumpy, morning rush, on the lightly-used black HONDA CB300F, I’d gotten a few days before from a peddler of counterfeit Louis Vuitton bags who had nothing more tangible to pay my bill.
We cantered past the TATS CRU graffiti tribute to Clive Campbell AKA DJ Kook Herc, the ‘godfather of Hip Hop’ decorating the exterior wall of the Italian Renaissance styled Andrew Freedman home — once a place where people who’d lost fortunes could live rent free in something close to the style they were accustomed to ‘with servants and silver service and an English Garden’ — now a center for urban arts and the most fabulous B&B in New York City.
At 167th Street, I swerved onto the crosswalk, startling a tag-team of three sanctimonious ladies representing, Dominican, East African, West Indian variations of the melting pot (oldest to youngest left to right, smaller to taller right to left, and lighter to darker left to right) one of whom dropped her consignment of “GOOD NEWS FROM GOD” headlined Watchtower brochures — used in door-to-door ministry by Jehovah’s Witnesses — into a puddle made by an open fire hydrant.
She lost her rag, as the unreasonably pious do when challenged by the reasonably free, and flung “Mama guevo” at us, chased by a virulent “cocksucker,” as we rode away from her across the Concourse, swung into the express lanes, and weaved in and out of the brake-lights of a long line of traffic plodding north, past the elegant Tudor, Beaux Arts, Art Deco, and Art Moderne apartment complexes, office buildings and movie theaters transformed into prosperity churches, that have made the Grand Concourse an Art Deco mecca rivaled only by Miami Beach.
As we filtered off the Grand Concourse onto East Fordham Road a D-Train rumbled below us on its way to Coney Island and Joy moaned.
She bought the bike to transport us to weekend adventures, and as an accessory, the Viberider, which slipped under the passenger seat, out of sight, to amplify the throb of the bikes engine and massage her clitoris. It cost $129 from Viberider direct which seemed a small price to pay to experience “miles of smiles” and get off.
She came outside her campaign headquarters at 2704 Williamsbridge Rd, in the Allerton section of the Bronx; where she shared a store-front with Approach Quality Transportation, a well-loved local livery cab company hobbled by competition from Uber and Lyft.
She came so quietly that I was the only person to know and that’s because her knees clasped my outer thighs with tremendous force and then clamped even tighter, before letting go.
We sat there with her arms wrapped around me long enough for the wind to pick up and change direction to blow from south to the north and for the sun to be obstructed by a willing wisp. I knew she was smiling because the back of my neck was warm, and my ass was damp.
And then she pulled away rasping “Dale papito” like she was saying “Baby, I’m ready to rumble.” This being Primary day, the day when the fate of her underfunded, against-all-odds challenge to 10-term incumbent Representative, Democrat “Boss Joe Crowley” in New York's 14th congressional district would be decided.
“No te vieron venir!” I delivered with a forehead peck ,“Old Joe didn’t see you coming!”
“Ya hemos llegado” Joy swaggered. “And now I’ve arrived,”
We both laughed out long and loud and proud at that.
Best of friends. Best of lovers. Comrades in arms.
I had time to kill before my 11 AM appointment at the Grand Havana Cigar Club in mid-town Manhattan to have a “quiet off-the record, chat” with Angel Maranzano, the 9/11 fabled “America’s Mayor” of New York City from 1994 to 2001, who had descended into the swamp and was now first among equals in the expanding pantheon of President Kunt’s personal attorneys.
So, I took a short ride up the Bronx River Parkway past the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at New York Botanical Garden where all 680 varieties were in full bloom and the fragrance fell over everything including me, to visit Jay-B for the first time since we buried him the Saturday after Christmas with Rosa Parks, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, Miles Davis, Otto Preminger, WC Handy and Joseph Pulitzer at Woodlawn Cemetery. A vast area of rolling hills that covers more than 400 acres in Woodlawn Bronx, which was annexed from Westchester County in 1874, and, is the heaven on earth for more than 300,000 people.
We said goodbye to Jay-B on a glittering, unseasonably warm, Bronx-star-crossed night — Romeo Santos was there, Jennifer Lopez was there holding hands with the former baseball superstar slugger Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez, Kerry Washington was there with her husband, actor Nnamdi Asomugha, Fat Joe was there, Monica, Joy and I were there because Jay-B had given all of us at one time or the other the benefit of his big heart, his strong arms, his will, and his devil may-or-may-not-care fortitude. Billy Joel was there to play “Lullaby ‘Goodnight My Angel’” on the piano, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
But as spring came, the world got colder as Kunt separated thousands of migrant children from their parents and placed them in caged internment camps; cut nutrition assistance, pre-school grants, teen pregnancy prevention programs, afterschool programs, and job training in a budget that redistributed wealth from the poor to the rich through tax-cuts we cannot afford. He swore his devotion to tin-pot dictators Vlad, Benji, and Rod, and provided munitions, intelligence and political cover for the Saudi massacre of Houthi rebels in Yemen; turned a blind eye to white supremacy before and after the Neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, slashing the budget of an interagency task force established to "Counter Violent Extremism” that included officials detailed from the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services from $21 million to $3 million.The result being that white-supremacists propaganda efforts increased 182 percent, with 1,187 distributions across the U.S. in 2018, up from 421 total incidents reported in 2017."
The Grand Havana Cigar Club was the entire 39th floor penthouse of the building, which had been purchased in January 2007 by Jerry Kushner, Tatia Kunt’s husband and therefore James Alexander Kunt’s son-in-law, for $1.8 billion. It was at the time, the highest price ever paid for an individual building in Manhattan and far more than such a short (483 ft) building was worth, and, according to Monica, who got it from Qatari Finance Minister Sharif Al Emadi, who was through the Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund a prospective purchaser of the building, the $1.2 billion mortgage on the building was something Jerry was keen to wriggle out from.
I got to the 39th floor of the tatty club, which was draped in oversized black and blue velvet drapes to shield the big puffers from paparazzi’s telephoto lenses and priceless tobacco from the sun and filled with overstuffed armchairs, oversized ash trays, and the persistent haze of smoke, in time to hear Angel Maranzano --- five feet nine inches of bluster in a mid-priced single-breasted blue suit that had a red silk square poking out of its chest-pocket --- wax lyrical about the greatness of Cohiba Corona Especial cigars, over the din of wheezing ventilation machines, from behind a bruised, chipped wooden lectern, with Ike Mercer oohing and ahhing alongside him like a fawning back-up singer, obscured by the smoke.
He had a wide thin-lipped smile that sloped up right to left and showed yellow teeth sloping left to right. His legendary comb-over had surrendered to full-on baldness, and, as his torso had thickened, his neck had disappeared. His silk tie had a lot of diagonal stripes on it, and it was wrapped around a white shirt with a spread collar.
He wore Apple ear-buds like the winglets of a plane, either because he didn’t know how they worked or because his bark overwhelmed them when they were pointing at his bite.
He thanked the small audience for listening to him and left them with a whitism: “I always tell Jerry I’m rooting against him selling this building and closing us down. There’s nowhere else in the city that wants hundreds of cigar smokers.”
On the way to greet me, he grabbed a Padrón fiftieth-anniversary cigar from a carrying case and arrived offering me one. If he was disappointed when I shook my head and lit a cigarette, he got over it quickly and passed the case to Ike Mercer, who didn’t seem all that thrilled to meet me again as kept his right hand to himself when I offered mine. Or perhaps he was just hoping for a different outcome second time around.
He lit the cigar with a high-tech flame thrower which like everything else he owned, came with an – aren’t I powerful and connected and fucking smarter than thou story: “It even works in the wind — good for the golf course,” he said, drawing his first puffs contentedly. And then placed an even larger cigar, which he explained was a gift from his thirty-two-year-old son, who worked in the White House Office of Public Liaison, on the cocktail table beside us.
“Andrew got it when he was playing golf with the President this weekend,” Angel explained as a succession of Wall Street guys stopped by to pay respects or in the case of the big swinging sperm whale standing over us wrapped in a gold $2.2 million Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Reference 6300 watch which chimed 1 pm like it was Big Ben in New York Yankee cap, to show us a tweet.
“Yeah”, he said without removing the cigar from his lips, choosing his words with great care: “Mueller’s probe is a bullshit witch-hunt. Don’t worry Micky, we’re doing everything we possibly can to obstruct him.”
Next came hugs from Micky all-round, followed by a couple of minutes on tip-toes, because both of us were reluctant to show our hand.
He called first, because he was certain he had a flush: “Degas, I enjoy being a lawyer more than I do be a politician,” he said as if every word was dangling at the end of a stick. “As a politician, a lot of people are better than me, as a lawyer I’m fucking impossible to beat.”
Then he had a thought that really amused him: “Apparently, we share professions?”
“I heard the same thing,” I said to myself most of all, “except we practice on different planets.”
“Ha, ha, ha,” he snarled leaning in, “Though I’d be the first to admit that I don’t have an exceptional knowledge of torts, or the ability to draft landmark briefs. Nor am I a particularly adept courtroom tactician, in fact I choose to stay away from them if I can. I specialize in impartial advice and wide-ranging political connections. What do you offer your clients, Degas?”
“A bit of this a bit of that and a steep discount to your fancy prices”
“Yes, I know who you are. And I know you haven’t done shit recently. And that your little lady has come as far as that pretty face and the socialist garbage she peddles is going to take her. So, here is the deal!” He proffered blowing smoke up my ass and handing me a napkin with $50,000,000 scrawled on it. And then he stood up and pointed at Ike Mercer, raised his voice and played to the crowd.
“FIFTY MILLION FUCKING DOLLARS FOR YOUR BITCH TO GET OUT OF THE RACE AND FOR YOU TO GET OUT OF KUNT’S FACE,” he rasped, hoarse from smoking and shouting at the same time.“I didn’t know you liked Joe like that,” I Machiavellied back, which pissed him off as I’d encroached on his domain.
“Degas, Joe, Ike over here, Wilber, Sheldon, Michael, Kunt, Republican and Democrats, and me are all in on the same game. And we look after each other. So, even if Joe loses, I’ll get him a gig with me lobbying or working for cocksuckers like Americans for Carbon Dividends, a group sponsored by the fossil fuel industry; or with the Koch brothers Policy and Taxation Group, which aims to repeal the estate tax; or with Management & Training Corporation, the third largest private prison company in the country, or even with Advanced Emissions Solutions, which builds coal refineries and develops “clean coal” technologies. So, Joe isn’t going anywhere — worst case he’s just getting reprocessed.”
“And if Joy wins?” He growled, which dug his laugh-lines even deeper into his face. “We’ll bury her in misinformation, disinformation and hate. So, back her off!”
“I see that Kunt found his Roy Cohn after all. And it’s not his son!” I snapped back at him bitterly, walking away.[vi] [vii] [viii] “Did it ever occur to you that Joy might not be corruptible, that her bounty might be the common good? You were once America’s Mayor. What will you leave behind now?”
“I don’t care about my legacy --- I’ll be dead.” Angel threw after me propelled by Ike Mercer’s giggles.