Dear Aunt Helen,
If a tree falls in the road, over the Palisades Parkway, how many men are dispatched to get that tree off the road?
My dear Mr. Whittaker,
Oh, the Palisades Parkway. What secrets do those veritable matrices of spiderweb-like causeways, overpasses, underpasses, roundabouts, and autogyroramps hold? I know a few myself. Yes, yes, there are some secrets still contained in cavern of my heart, and one special one about the Garden State in particular.
I once met a hobeaux named Willy under an overpass during the Great Depression. I was visiting the Hoovervilles of the area, trying to understand what it meant to be poor. Seeing the great unwashed multitudes, making do with what they had was simply thrilling. I spent weeks there, returning to my family’s high-rise Manhattan penthouse only to bathe, dress, eat, sleep, be massaged and for my harp lessons.For I knew that it was among these drifters,wanderers, these earthy, toughened fighters that I truly belonged.
I met Willy while attempting to eat beans from a can with a wooden spoon. He charmed me with his deep love of horse racetrack-related Bing Crosby songs (he lost all his money at Del Mar racetracks, you know!), and his toothless whistling rendition of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” Oh, how me and Flapjack Sally used to dance and dance to that song! I was a very lively dancer in those days, and for the filthy-faced children whose home was a cobbled-together pile of orange crates, watching my elegant feet dance was the only joy they would know! Willy had a band called the Boxcar Bindles, complete with a washboard, pots & pans percussion section.
Yes things were alright in our quaint Palisades outdoor slum. Until the police, enemy of all things humane, tried to take everyone to a shelter. Next thing you know, we were on the lam, living from boxcar to boxcar, reaping the benefits of this great American soil. I thought I could carry on with Willy to the end of my days! Unfortunately, my freewheeling devil-may-care lifestyle was brought to a screeching halt once Ling Ling found me. Somehow, Anne, my hopelessly straight laced and snobbish sister had gotten ahold of one of Willy’s colorfully rambling love letters, and being the treacherous gypsy she is, sang like a canary! When the last boxcar train rolled into the station at Springfield, Illinois, Ling Ling was there to meet us. She threw Willy in jail and dragged me all the way back to New York on torturous first class train ride with my own sleeping chamber, private chef and three kinds of scented bath soaps. The indignity was almost too much to bear.
My heart will never forget Willy, as long as it shall beat. And my body, forever altered by his nontraditional gift of Chlamydia, will never forget him either.