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Category: Excerpts

Excerpts from the journal and memoir “The Hill”

White Boy

White Boy

(Gabriele’s journal – June 3, 1992) “… white boy pulled a knife on him “I’ll do time for you”…. . (Nick’s narrative – December 3, 2021) The story blew up on my feet one day. A flash of color caught my eye. When I first saw the Polaroid, I never realized its true nature. Now at this same intersection at Canal and Chrystie, three years after I bent down and picked up this strange object, I would, or would not,…

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Stage Blood

Stage Blood

(Gabriele’s journal – June 10, 1992) (Nick’s narrative – December 11, 2021) Blue was visibly shaken when they arrived. He knew innocent bystanders were sometimes the object of their Fury. Frack was the linebacker-sized black cop. Frick was a hippie-biker looking white cop who most often did the talking. “Say hey, Kelly. What have the skells got going here?” I had not met Kelly before today, but I could tell he didn’t like Frick, or Frack. He knew, like everyone…

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Mister Lee

Mister Lee

(Gabriele’s journal – November 28, 1990) (Nick’s narrative – December 16, 2021) “He spit on you!” Blue shook his head disapprovingly. “Never saw you not stand up before. No, I don’t want your knife. And I don’t want no part in no voodoo game or whatever happened here. Take it some place other than the barrel. This is our place.”  “I don’t know about voodoo. But it’s definitely not a game.” I walked over to inspect the ground with the…

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The Trinity

The Trinity

Photo: Margaret Morton (Gabriele’s journal – February 9, 1991) (Nick’s narrative – December 23, 2021) Mister Lee claimed that the inside consisted of many rooms, including one for the Queen of China, the Queen of Germany and the Queen of Russia. His scrawled placard over the door read “House of the United Nations.” Everyone of course chuckled at his incredible claims. I, alone perhaps, believed them as true, or at least as true as my own visions … hallucinations. Reality…

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Geomancer

Geomancer

(Gabriele’s journal – December 6, 1990) (Nick’s narrative – December 30, 2021) In preparing the dirt floor, tilling the ground under the tipi, we had discovered the roots of a tree. I supposed these roots belonged to the lone tree of the Hill’s historical landscape that the Polaroid had captured. Prompted by the enigma, I visited the Manhattan history section at the Central Library seeking to learn more about the site’s past. I read every document I could find and…

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A Visit from the American Indian Movement

A Visit from the American Indian Movement

Photo: Wendy Workman (Gabriele’s journal – December 4, 1990) (Nick’s narrative – January 6, 2022) We never expected the powers-that-be to allow the tipi to stand for more than a day, but before erecting it, we had reached out to representatives of the local American Indian community. We ended up speaking to John Cutnose of the American Indian Community House about our intentions. That December 29th would be the centenary of the Wounded Knee Massacre, and now that the tipi…

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Ghost Shirt

Ghost Shirt

(Gabriele’s journal – January 14, 1990) (Nick’s narrative – January 13, 2022) “You should know, if this tipi were being disrespected, as John King said, AIM would bring a hundred Indians to tear it down.”  Chayton put this statement to me as a challenge, a thinly veiled threat. I decided that what I said next should be my final word.  I walked over to the edge of the tipi, reached into my canvas mailbag and pulled out a meticulously detailed…

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Family

Family

Eddie, Mike, Billy, Donald (Gabriele’s journal – June 4, 1991) (Nick’s narrative – January 20, 2022) At the knife fight that didn’t happen, White Boy had revealed himself to me. But why? Why was the gang giving me his identity, and why, after almost three years of pursuing the story, did the story now appear to be pursuing me. I understood the answer even as I posed the question. It was called ”life mark” because it was a permanent scar…

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Arrest and Seizure

Arrest and Seizure

(Gabriele’s journal – December 3, 1990) (Nick’s narrative – January 27, 2022) At the time, I thought my arrest was merely the result of an impulsive act on my part. Or to quote Frick, “You dumbass.” But more than two years later, after my encounter with White Boy at the corner, I finally understood how Frick and Frack homed in on me early on, preparing to use me as their patsy later. During the first week or so that we were living on…

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Entering the Tombs

Entering the Tombs

(Gabriele’s journal – December 3, 1990) (Nick’s narrative – February 3, 2022) The Fifth Precinct station house was only three blocks away on Mott Street. On the walk there, I realized I was still the same juvenile delinquent I was at seventeen when I first graduated from the local town jail to the county jail. Now here I was making it to the big time again. The Tombs. After frisking me at the station house before transporting me to central…

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The Thief

The Thief

(Gabriele’s journal – December 3, 1990) (Nick’s narrative – February 10, 2022) “You got a cigarette?”  “No.” “Then you’re more worthless than shaky jake here. At least he’s got cigarettes.” Alright, fuck it. I’m on my own. Let’s see what happens. It was now the middle of the night. My adrenaline high from this adventure was wearing off, but not my baseline apprehensiveness. I couldn’t sleep and wished I had a couple cigarettes to make it through the night. I…

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The Wolf

The Wolf

(Gabriele’s journal – December 3, 1990) (Nick’s narrative – February 17, 2022) The guards pass out one bologna sandwich to everyone about every six hours. Sometimes they’re worth a cigarette in trade. A Hispanic kid walked up to me asking for a phone call offering his sandwich. The kid didn’t look old enough to be locked up with adults. He clearly had no money or cigarettes to trade and his sandwich was worthless to me, but I felt obliged to…

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The Avowal

The Avowal

(Gabriele’s journal – February 15, 1991) (Nick’s narrative – February 24, 2022) He must have read my apprehensiveness and confusion. “Relax. You haven’t seen a scar like this before, have you.” “No. What kind of operation was it?” “Yeah, I guess you could call it an operation. Let’s share that smoke you offered me.” I was expecting to hear about some medical procedure, but I would soon be enlightened. “After I tell you my story, I’ll want to hear yours,”…

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The Parable

The Parable

(Gabriele’s journal – December 17, 1990) (Nick’s narrative – March 03, 2022) I kept my head turned as I listened. The story went on for what seemed like forever. Who was this crazy man sitting next to me? I was at turns in shock and in fear but always completely enraptured by a story that had so many parallels to my own. I had walked once in a place like where this man was now walking. I wept as openly…

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The Mouthpiece

The Mouthpiece

(Gabriele’s journal – December 19 , 1990) (Nick’s narrative – March 10, 2022) Within minutes of this conversation, a guard called out my name and that of another guy from a docket sheet. I hadn’t seen this guy in the prior cells – incongruously dressed in business casual attire, unwrinkled, looking like he just walked out of a Gentleman’s Quarterly ad. Maybe they had special cells or expedited arraignment for white collar criminals. The guard opened the cell and we…

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The Eagle

The Eagle

(Gabriele’s journal – December 3, 1990) (Nick’s narrative – March 17, 2022) We meet Gabriele and Mattie at the back of the courtroom and hug one another. Overjoyed, Richie grabs me by my shoulders, laughing, “Nick, I was pretty good as your mouthpiece, right?!” Yes, yes you were, Richie. The “petite” thief was free. But so was the Thief. And the Wolf. And the Lamb. All conditionally free now. All, with accompanying ghosts, seeking to complete their story. Richie, Mattie,…

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The Fence

The Fence

(Gabriele’s journal – January 2, 1991) (Nick’s narrative – March 24, 2022) I take note that the pack of Winstons has a small gold eagle icon on it, the American Eagle being part of their current branding campaign. I take one cigarette out of the pack to share again with Gabriele and put the remainder with the Polaroid back into the mailbag. Eagle tobacco.  My intensified study of Indian cultures in preparing to erect a tipi had shored up certain…

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Ritual

Ritual

(Gabriele’s journal – March 13, 1991) (Nick’s narrative – March 31, 2022) I divined this about Frick and Frack from what Blade had told me. My mission would be to prove it true. I’d search for facts, proof. At the beginning, my motivation for this investigation stemmed more from casual curiosity than a recognition of the righteousness in Blade’s quest for justice. But as I slowly uncovered pieces of the truth, the pursuer became the pursued, and I moved toward my own frenzied reckoning,…

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Requiem

Requiem

(Gabriele’s journal – March 16, 1991) (Nick’s narrative – April 7, 2022) After Gabriele leaves, I sometimes make another cup of cowboy coffee for Tito and me. Partially his age, but mostly because of his demeanor, I admire him more than the others. He is soft-spoken and unassuming. The year prior to moving to the Hill, he had been the top waiter at Sammy’s, the famous Roumanian steakhouse just a few blocks up Chrystie Street, north of Delancey. He had…

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Ma Bell

Ma Bell

(Gabriele’s journal – January 23, 1991) (Nick’s narrative – April 14, 2022) Everyone recognizes that Tito will die soon if he goes untreated. They also know that they, too, will face the same Wolf sooner rather than later. Life on the Hill with its manifest and latent violence, its diseases, is a community of the immune compromised. The best, if not only, defense is denial. When the wolf is at the door, it’s best not to open it and face…

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Oracle

Oracle

(Gabriele’s journal – May 10, 1991) (Nick’s narrative – April 21, 1991) The apartment at first was a refuge, providing brief escapes back into our previous lifestyle, but we became as addicted to the Hill as the others. Except for the day jobs, one or both of us spent day and night on the Hill, and the behaviors, routines, and ethos of our old life soon evaporated. We belonged to the Hill and the Hill belonged to us. So my…

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Ragman Hermit

Ragman Hermit

1798 watercolor by artist Archibald Robertson. Bayard’s Mount and Collect Pond. (Gabriele’s journal – September 23, 1991) (Nick’s narrative – April 28, 1991) I was startled by its appearance but I knew instantly that it was an ill omen. A couple months prior, Tito had claimed he was going to the hospital, but no one knew which hospital, or whether in fact he had even gone. In any case, he was missing, maybe dead. His hut had been taken over…

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Five Points

Five Points

Five Points streets intersection painted by George Catlin in 1827 (Gabriele’s journal – January 21, 1991) (Nick’s narrative – May 5, 2022) When I found the story of the ragman hermit, I xeroxed the page from the reference book, another talisman to be added to my medicine bag. The city had been recently clearing homeless encampments, but I knew now the Hill was beyond its jurisdiction, belonging to a greater domain. The spirit of the ragman and hermit was its…

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Tong Wars

Tong Wars

New York Tongs under arrest ca. 1904 (Gabriele’s journal – June 18, 1991) (Nick’s narrative – May 12, 2022) By 1900, 7,000 Chinese had immigrated to the neighborhood, and Five Points was referred to as Chinatown. The Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 had halted legal immigration from outside of America. It was a reaction to anti-Chinese sentiment, stemming from resentment about the willingness of the Chinese to work for far less money under far worse conditions than white laborers. The…

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Skywalkers

Skywalkers

Roger Horne, a Mohawk Ironworker in the Raising Gang, ca. 1970 via the Smithsonian (Gabriele’s journal – October 17, 1991) (Nick’s narrative – May 19, 2022) Any hierarchy beyond these street-level drug sales was purposefully inscrutable, not just to the police, but to the players themselves. No one knew who was who in the war zone. With all the unknowns, my only viable path toward determining what actions to take, or not take, was to lay bare the underlying metaphysics…

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Nomad Monad

Nomad Monad

Altered from original poster art by Lim Heng Swee (Gabriele’s journal – May 8, 1992) (Nick’s narrative – May 26, 2022) Then it hit me and everything became crystal clear in my mind. A couple yards away Tortuga was in the pond. His spirit graced me with an epiphany, a vision that melded past and future into a timeless present. For my morning walk and stalk, Tortuga had been directing me most days toward the library and research where I…

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Tomahawk

Tomahawk

Tipi bedding. Photo credit: Michael Daly circa 1991 (Gabriele’s journal – May 8, 1992) (Nick’s narrative – June 2, 2022) Tito had gifted me a small hatchet from one of his thefts. Not that useful as a tool, but I found it evocative, and immediately began transforming it. I carved a turtle ideogram and other markings into its wooden handle. I sharpened the blade and practiced throwing it at the tree stump we used as a stool next to the…

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What’s the story?

What’s the story?

Warhammer 40K Fan Group artwork (Gabriele’s journal – November 22, 1990) (Nick’s narrative – June 9, 2022) I stood a body’s length away from the tree stump stool. I raised the hatchet deliberately over my right shoulder, holding it there for a moment before uttering the four syllables under my breath and throwing it. “Ta-ma-hee-kan.” The sharpened blade of my war axe stuck into the side of the stump. “That is badass, man. Can I try?” I pulled the hatchet…

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Skeletons

Skeletons

Dia De Los Muertos — Mexico City Parade 2016 (Gabriele’s journal – August 6, 1991) (Nick’s narrative – June 16, 2022) Miguel nodded his head yes. “Okay, give me a minute.” He took a couple slow drags on his cigarette. He seemed apprehensive to speak. Only after he told me the story did I understand why. “Yeah. Three of them jumped me in the street. They had Halloween skeleton masks on. They put a hood over my head, tied my…

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Scavenger

Scavenger

(Gabriele’s journal – April 26, 1992) (Nick’s narrative – June 23, 2022) We walked out into the yard. “Tell Red that Mickey D said hi.” Miguel walked away, but his horror tale remained. His and Blades’ stories were etched into my mind like the “life mark” brand on their necks. I wanted to talk to Coco about Miguel, not so much to confirm what he told me, but to maybe find a backdoor way into getting information about who was…

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