StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith


Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on September 9, 2017

By Kyle Thomas Smith

Autumn approaches and stoop sales abound in my Brooklyn neighborhood today. On every third or fourth stoop there sits a fat, crumbling paperback of Atlas Shrugged, never on sale for more than a quarter and almost always counterbalanced by something more socially conscious like Ta-Nehisi Coates, or something more urbane like Gore Vidal, all so the brownstone dweller can make the case that Ayn Rand was merely a morbid curiosity that, once indulged, could be quickly sold away at an insulting price. After witnessing this trend every September for the past 15 years, I no longer balk. I simply avert my eyes and keep walking.

Today, though, I couldn’t help but notice that one stoop was serving up quite a different book, one which took me back to childhood in much the same way that the Madeleine took Proust back to Combray. The book was Leon Uris’s Trinity. For most Irish, Trinity evokes visions of strife between Catholics and Protestants, natives and Brits in the motherland. For me, it evokes memories of my sister Kathy letting me wear her hot-pink lipstick and electric-blue eye shadow as she’d tell me all about her boyfriends at her makeup table in the early eighties.

“No, you’re doing it all wrong,” she’d say, dousing a cotton swab with Walgreen’s rubbing alcohol and wiping away the blue smear from underneath my eye, “Should put ya out in the Forest Preserve and let ya clan up with the raccoons is what I should do. Would ya stop fidgeting already! Jesus! So, anyway, his name is Nigel. Nigel Smith, can ya believe it?”

The Flashdance soundtrack was playing in the background. Kathy was 21 and had moved back home for a while. By day, she worked at the Apparel Center downtown and would come back from work, raring to scandalize Mom with scuttlebutt from all the gay designers she worked with, “They’re all dating priests, Mom! Every swooshin’ one of ’em!”

“Oh, dear,” Mom would anguish, a spatula rattling in her hand.

“I said to ’em, ‘Priests?’ Nah, c’mon. Ya mean the guys who say Mass?’ And then they said…” at this Kathy would pause to let her wrist go limp as she struck the pose of a hooker asking a sailor for a light, “‘Come now, Kaaaathy, don’t be so naïïïïïïve.’”

Whenever Kathy said things like this to our mother, Mom would close her eyes, clutch the counter and shake her head as if to cast Kathy’s insinuation forever out of her mind. Kathy was well-aware that what was said could not be unsaid, though, and she’d stand with her arms folded, loving every minute of it. As for me, I would stand back and take it all in. Evidently, there was a friskier world out there than one I’d known at the Y or at St. Mary of the Woods or in Mom’s kitchen.

Kathy hadn’t taken to fixing my makeup so much because she’d noticed I was becoming like those priest-daters at the Apparel Center, although given the relish with which I’d applied it to my face, I’m sure the thought was never far from her mind; rather, she wanted to make sure I’d make a real entrance the next time I’d go on a beer run for her to the basement refrigerator, on the other side of Dad’s La-Z-Boy chair, on the off-chance that he’d wake up snorting like a molested walrus and find me darting past him like a beer-toting wood sprite in drag. Dad hadn’t woken up this time, though. No matter, the Miller Lite was cold in her coaster and she had christened the edge of the can with lipstick splotches. “Nigel Smith,” she said, “Same last name as us. But he’s English.”

I jolted, “You mean, like those people on Channel 11?”

“Yep,” she said, “I met him at Haggerty’s. I was there with Doreen. You get a free pitcher if you win the dance-off, so one of us tries to win it every time it’s our turn to buy a round. They were playing this song right here, actually, when I won.” The Flashdance soundtrack was on “He’s A Dream” now. I’d watched Flashdance with Kathy on her Betamax once. After only that one viewing, I was able to remember that, at this point in the movie, after she does a rollicking striptease on stage, Jennifer Beals stations herself on the edge of a chair, reels back, and fans out her legs. The sequence all but freezes as her body double tugs the rope on a bucket that’s teetering on a scaffold and blast after blast of water comes crashing down on her scantily clad frame, all to the delight of the Pittsburgh spot-welders at the cabaret tables. Well, Kathy had stopped short of saying she’d done anything like that at Haggerty’s dance-off. Mom wouldn’t have let Kathy live with us if there was even the rumor that she was running around town in a wet t-shirt. But for me, there was no forgetting that scene from the movie and I was pea-green with envy that Kathy might have the chance to reenact Jennifer Beal’s bedraggled burlesque show.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall of those singles bars she’d describe and to be able to wear the kinds of things Kathy got to wear to them—like that chunky necklace full of Lego trinkets. I’d once overheard Kathy telling my cousin Jeannie that she’d been wearing the Lego necklace on the elevator at the Apparel Center when Madonna had walked on and asked her, “Honey, where’d ya buy that?” Later I said to Kathy, “Tell it again. Tell me how you met Madonna.” She responded, “Met Madonna? What the hell are you talking about?” So the gift of Blarney was most likely the driving force behind most of her stories, but I didn’t care, just as long as they were good stories, with the right blend of sophistication and underbelly.

“And so,” I said with bated breath and painted lips, “Nigel Smith came up to you?”

“Sure did.” From here, she affected a Richard Burton accent, “He said, ‘I’m Nigel Smith. I’m from London.’” Kathy put down her blush brush. “So I said, ‘Well, I’m Kathy Smith. I’m Irish. And our two sides don’t have the best history, buddy.’”

Kathy was never much for reading so I doubt she knew what the history between England and Ireland was but just from overhearing how our relatives would go on about those bloody limies, she could tell it wasn’t any too damn good. She said she tried to take Nigel Smith to task for how the British drove Grampa Barney out of County Cavan in the 1920s—even though, in truth, it was the IRA who drove him out when they said to him, “You’re either with us or against us, Bernard Smith.” No such technicalities mattered when you’re three deep into your cups at Haggerty’s, though. What mattered was that Nigel Smith liked Kathy Smith’s moxie and asked her out.

Just picturing the scene where Kathy wrote her number on a cocktail number and handed it to him was enough to send my eyes aloft to the ceiling, as though a choir of angels had just announced a shipment of my favorite mint-flavored Girl Scout cookies, “You mean…I could have a British brother-in-law!” The way my eyes gaped, you’d think Nigel Smith were already on one knee before me rather than my sister.

“We’re not there yet,” she shook her head at every word, “We’ll have to see how it goes.” She blotted her lips on some Puffs tissues and took a slug out of her Miller can. “He’s coming over in an hour to pick me up. Don’t embarrass me. And, for Chrissake, take off that makeup!”

As I rubbed the makeup off my face, Kathy kept pulling clothes out of her closet, asking me what I thought she should wear. She deep-sixed my every suggestion but said, “Kyle, I love that we can talk this way. People say to me, ‘You tell your little brother about your dates?’ And I say, ‘Yeah.’ And they say, ‘Isn’t he, like, 10?’ And I say, ‘Yeah. But sometimes he says things that are so wise, you’d think he’s our age. Like, after I told him I was dumping Dave, Kyle said, ‘Kathy, there are other fish in the sea.’ That one, Kyle, that one I took to heart. I said to my friends, ‘That Kyle, he’s one wise kid.’”

I flushed, doing all I could to fight back the tears of validation. I couldn’t remember Kathy ever having paid anyone a compliment, least of all me, and now she’d said this? Yet no sooner had she commended me than she reprised her earlier rant, “Don’t you dare embarrass me tonight. And I gotta tell Mom not to embarrass me either. It’s like you said, Channel 11’s coming over. You have to be on your best behavior.”

Mom had cleared the kitchen table, thrown out all our leftover newspapers and Aqua-Netted her hair into a Margaret Thatcher bouffant. She’d also set out potpourri in every room on the first floor and, as an added bonus, pressed play on a Makem & Clancy tape, which she’d somehow reasoned would create the right mood for an Englishman.

Upstairs, Kathy had talked about Nigel Smith as someone she could take or leave. As time ticked down to their date, though, she was tripping all over herself trying to find the exact right outfit. Ultimately, she decided to forego the off-the-shoulder white leotard shirt that said in bold, black letters, “DRAWKCAB,” which was “BACKWARD,” spelled backward, so it’d look like BACKWARD-spelled-forward when you’d see it in a mirror. In the end, Kathy feared Nigel wouldn’t get the joke, just like nobody else did, so instead she went with a mauve Joan Collins dress suit that she’d picked up with her employee discount at work. “Call me from the bottom of the stairs when he gets here,” she said, “I wanna do that Gloria Swanson thing, y’know, where you slink down the rail. Does this look okay? I think we’re having lobster.”
Through the lace curtain that Mom had stitched together on her sewing machine and placed in the front-door window, I spied a red Jaguar pulling up to the curb. Soon a svelte man in a plum-colored, form-fitting Steve McQueen leather jacket swaggered up our walkway to the soothing sounds of Makem & Clancy. I creased down the blue Shetland wool sweater I’d gotten for Christmas and noticed that my mother was adjusting her gray Aran wool cardigan and pulling her emerald Celtic Cross out from under her turtleneck. The doorbell rang and I made a dive for the doorknob.

There he was. Nigel Smith. Sea-green eyes, black hair pomaded back. My eyes drank up the sight of his leather jacket, my nose thrilled at his eau de cologne. He smiled, descended to his haunches and held out his hand to me, “Allo, I’m Nigel. Who might you be?”

From there, I’d forever missed my cue to go call Kathy from the bottom of the stairs. I said nothing. How could I, with my destiny seeming so close at hand?

“Oh, this is my youngest Kyle,” said Mom, stepping up and showing Nigel in, “I’m Maureen Smith.”

“Oh, how do you do, Mrs. Smith? I’m Nigel Smith.”

Somewhere in the game, Dad turned up, “You mean, we don’t have enough Smiths in this house already?”

I gnashed my teeth at Dad blundering up this magnificent encounter with his Midwest prosaicness. I turned around to sneer but noticed that three or four other Smiths from our clan had already joined us. I wanted to say, “Don’t look at them, Nigel. Just…don’t. They’re, they’re not attractive. Keep your eyes on me, Nigel. On me.”

“Yes, yes. Smith,” Nigel chortled, “There are a few of us in the world.”

Dad trumpeted, “Yeah, but we’re the Irish Smiths.”

I bit down hard on my back molars. Mom shot Dad a harridan’s glare and he turned and left the room. “I’ll go fetch Kathleen,” Mom cooed and went to do what I’d originally been tasked to do. How could I move from the moonlight pouring in through the front door, though, now that Nigel Smith was hanging the moon for me?

Just as soon as she heard Makem & Clancy striking up “Danny Boy,” Kathy ditched her Gloria Swanson number, booked it down the stairs and hustled Nigel out of the house. I don’t think it was due to the political implications of the song so much as it never failed to make her mascara run.

As Nigel started up his Jaguar, I went upstairs and dreamed of the date the two of them were about to go on. I’d had my heart set on a whole lifetime of visits from Nigel Smith. I hoped to speak to him over a set of Mom’s Waterford crystal glasses—to smile and cajole like I’d seen so many movie characters do on dates—and to hear his English accent ringing ever-so-daintily off each Waterford crystal rim.

The next morning, I banged on Kathy’s door. “How was it?” I said, panting.

“Jesus,” she said, “A little privacy.”

“No,” I said with a force rarely mustered by a 10-year-old. Even Kathy, who could have driven all the Black-and-Tans out of Ireland with the way she’d flair her eyes, stood back and acceded to my demands.

“He’s married,” she said, “Alright? He’s married. That’s the end of him.”

“Married?” I shrieked, “And he’s going on dates?”

Kathy nodded a long, world-weary nod.
“But…but…that’s a sin!”

Kathy walked over to her makeup table and started putting away the maquillage, “It’s a different religion over there.” She picked up a Miller can, shook it around, determined it was empty and said, “Hey, you wanna grab me another?”

I closed the door behind me. I did go and bring Kathy her Miller Lite but I didn’t hang around her room to hear more. I simply went back to my own bedroom and grieved.
Another week went by and, though my heart felt heavier than the largest boulders on the Connemara coastline, I somehow got through it. That is until one day, I can’t recall which day of the week it was, I was watching TV with my brother Keith on our porch. What we were watching, I don’t remember. I don’t think I was in the mood to watch much of anything, not even the most melancholy sunset. I was still too broken up about Kathy’s breakup to care about what was happening on the boob tube or, even more lackluster, in life itself.

Without warning, Kathy tore into the room, “Guys! He’s coming over.”



“Nigel!” I vaulted off our couch.

“Yeah, he says he wants to talk. But I don’t want to talk to him. So, when he gets here, just tell him I’m not home.”

Kathy ran back upstairs. I bolted to the bathroom and ran a wet comb through my hair. Minutes later, a car idled in front of our house. It took time but, in time, I could hear its engine turn off. Nigel’s surefooted footfalls soon followed.

Keith and I dashed over to answer the door. “Allo, Kyle,” Nigel said, “Oh, and I see here we have another brother?”

“Keith,” said Keith.

Nigel said, “Pleased to meet you, Keith. Is Kathy home?”

“No,” said Keith.

“No,” I repeated, wanting to add, “Oh, but I am, Nigel. I am.”

“I see her light’s on.”

I said, “Yeah, um. She told us to tell you she’s not home.”

Keith swatted me. Nigel nodded and produced a thick book, one which had been on our own shelves for years but that, to my knowledge, nobody had ever cracked—Trinity by Leon Uris.

Nigel put his hand on my shoulder, “Just give her this, Kyle. Would you? Tell her it’s from me. And tell her I’d like to see her before I head off to London.”

“Oh, Nigel,” I said, clutching the novel to my heart, “I will.”

Nigel smiled, walked back to his Jaguar, started it up and headed east toward the expressway. I watched the Jaguar whisk away until it was clear out of sight.

Kathy came bounding down the stairs, grinning as fiendishly as the Cheshire Cat, “So, what’d he say?”

Keith sized up our sister and huffed, “He looked hurt. And sad. But he says he wants to see you again before he goes, so call him.”

I walked up to Kathy and shoved Trinity into her hands, “See if I ever talk to you again!” I covered my face and ran blubbering back to my room.

From a distance, I could hear Kathy crack open a beer.

Never again would Kathy call Nigel Smith.

Never will I forget his Protestant adulterer’s figure looming in our doorway.

And never again, after that night, would I let Kathy do my makeup.


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