By Ben Belth
When I arrived at SUNY Purchase for college orientation in 1992, I was greeted in my dorm suite by a tall Puerto Rican dude wearing a Magic Johnson Lakers jersey. He looked like what I wanted to feel like: big, capable, calm. He was busy wrapping black tape around the frame of his messenger bike.
Whatsup, he said and tightened his hand around the bike’s front fork. I didn’t answer right away so he stopped what he was doing and looked up. I said whatsup? You look like…he smiled and bugged out his eyes and said BLEUUAAH!
Country mouse meet city mouse. Ben meet Jay. He was older than me, about 21 already. Had a daughter and a criminal record. Was trying to find his footing, too. But he was confident. Had two girlfriends inside a week, one who was late night Robin Byrd, the other who was daytime TV. He had charisma to burn and he lit it off from both ends. He was a sometime dealer, sometime philosophy major. Trouble. But he never got in so deep that he couldn’t charm his way out. He took good care of his daughter. We had a soft spot for each other, being so different but lost touch after I moved away from school.
Then 10 years later, there he was. There I was. Living in the same north Manhattan neighborhood.
I’d see him around all the time. Me with my little kids, him still shucking and jiving. His daughter was all grown and in college herself. Jay had moved from dealing trees to dealing Tees. He had a line of shirts that he sold at the local café and all the hipsters loved them. They were authentic, smart, cool without being corny. Just like Jay.
My wife and I got sick of the city. We moved to north Westchester, far, but not too far. After 19 years, I was a country mouse again and Í didn’t miss the subway yet, I didn’t miss the food yet. I didn’t miss anything except Jay.
So I went back and found him at the café. Gave him a dude hug. He gave my son a pound. I turned to see who else was hanging around and when I turned back, Jay was gone. Just like that.
My son asked me where Jay went? I shrugged and ordered a cup of coffee. A New York Minute was all I really needed anyway.