It was nine vodka tonics and an Ambien that got me into a screaming match with the burly security professional at Masa. It was a nasty tempered judge who smacked her gavel and sentenced me to one day of community service. And it was Fate that brought Boy George and I together to pick up trash along that desolate Manhattan highway on Monday.
Not that I was star struck or anything. I was quite ambivalent when I learned Boy George would be helping to beautify the West Side Highway. If only Officer Stacie had the same laissez-faire attitude. No. This perky police officer was absolutely beside herself.
“Oh mah Gawd! I can’t believe Boy George is here picking up trash. Boy George! I watched you on the MTV when I was a six years old! Everyone its Boy George!!”
George O’Dowd (a.k.a. Boy George) hid his eyes behind seven layers of black face paint and avoided everyone’s gaze. He furiously stabbed discarded newspapers.
Tito (a rough neck gangsta who murdered his family of twelve over a disputed game of Parcheesi) looked over from his plastic bag of crumpled beer and soda cans, “She’s pretty. Was she in Banarama?”
I rolled my eyes at Tito’s obvious lack of 80’s music knowledge, “No. That’s Boy George.”
I whispered, “He sang Karma Kameleon and … what else?” I rolled my eyes at my own obvious lack of 80’s music knowledge.
“If Officer Stacie hadn’t confiscated my cell I could ask my boyfriend the other stuff he sang. He knows everything about pop music”
Tito winked back, “You can borrow mine sugar tits.”
“No thank you mister. I watch OZ. I know what happens when a newbie prag borrows an illegal cell phone from another inmate, especially one as cut and virile as you Tito.”
I paused, “OK. Give me your cell.”
I dialed Bryce’s number, but got no answer.
The day tediously wore on as we shuffled our way up the West Side Highway collecting the city’s refuse. I thought we’d receive a reprieve from the oppressive heat and humiliation when Tito shiv-ed Tony “the Giraffe” Maretti. (There was an extra pimento cheese sandwich left over after lunch and Tony called dibs on it but Tito stabbed him in the kidneys instead.)
Alas, no. They carted Tito back to NYPD headquarters, Tony to St. Vincent’s and the rest of us were back to trash duty.
And the day came to an end.
Jersey City and Hoboken were a golden shade of pumpkin orange. The setting sun shined on us illuminating our bags of waste, our sweaty brows, our sore arms and beleaguered souls the same color as the prison jumpsuits we all wore. For a brief moment Boy George and I, the convicted, the prisoners, the criminal element were the same color as everyone else.
As early evening descended on the work detail, Officer Stacie removed our shock collars, returned our personal articles and we were free to go again to our lives outside the brutal prison system. Overwhelmed with love for life on the outside, my eyes began to water. As salty tears rolled down my cheeks, so did the earlier ambivalence towards the flabby 80’s icon. Boy George and I were hardened ex-cons now, but we had survived. I glanced at him with unashamed, crying eyes. I smiled and held out my arms for a hug.
He glared back at me, “What are you looking at you poofster?”