by Arnold M. Herr
A hot August afternoon, 1989:
Mickey Tsimmis and I were standing in front of his book shop on Melrose Ave. gazing at the pus-colored air hovering over Hollywood and the Mickster was waxing annoyed.
Mickey: You’ve gotten a lot mileage out of the stories you tell about me. Drinks, meals, women, money, fame.
Me: Uh huh…if only that were true.
Mickey: People have said that I’m a figment of your imagination.
Me: Yeah, I’ve heard that too.
Mickey: That’s wrong. I’m a figment of my own imagination. Give credit where credit is due.
Me: OK, tell me a story I haven’t heard before. I’ll give you full credit for it.
Mickey: All right. This one happened in 1933 when we were living near Crotona Park in the Bronx. Big apartment house. My mother used to go into hysterics for no reason at all. The slightest perceived insult would get her raving. She loved tapping into her inner Blanche du Bois. Weeping, thrashing around, hollering…it was all very theatrical. My father, mother and I were home one day; I don’t remember where my brother Irving was, but I’m sure he wasn’t there. When my mother was really stressed out she would dash out of the apartment, run up to the roof and threaten to throw herself off. I dreamed of the day she would go through with it; I longed for it.
One time she dashed up there with my copy of Bomba the Jungle Boy, a book I loved. I ran after trying to get it back. She got to the edge and ripped it apart and threw the pieces into the air and they fluttered down to the street below. I was so upset I started running toward her intending to push her over the parapet. Before I reached her though, I stopped, realized what I had nearly done and fell into a swoon. As I lay there, she rushed over and started beating me; she must have sensed the murder in my eyes. It probably frightened her so she responded in the only way she knew how: she drubbed me into a coma.
Anyway, on this later occasion, she went tearing up to the roof. I don’t remember what set her off, but she was screaming hysterically. Foaming at the mouth too. My father who was seated at his desk turned to me and said “Go up and see that she doesn’t hurt herself.” I asked him “Why don’t you go up? You’re an adult. I’m just a kid.”
Pop said, “Because I’m busy. I’m writing a poem. Get going.”
I started whining, “I don’t like going up there. It scares me. She scares me.” He said, “I know, sometimes she scares ME. But she’s acting crazy, so go anyway.”
I hated him for that. “I can’t stop her, she’s bigger than I am,” I argued. “She might throw me off the roof.” But he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“Stop being silly and go up there. Now!”
At that point a body dropped past the window and a loud smack could be heard from the sidewalk. My father and I stared at each other for what seemed like a full minute.
Finally I said, “I guess I don’t have to go up on the roof now, huh?
And he said to me, “Go in the kitchen and see if she left us anything for dinner.”
Next: A dead dog on Melrose and the thrill of Animal Control.