Sidewalk Funeral: A New York Cab Driver's Tale

by Steven Edward Duescher

[for Ernie]

It was approaching three AM on a sweltering mid July Saturday night in the late Eighties. For some reason I'd caved in and chivalrously taken some cheap-perfumed party floozie to Queens: now, assuredly a fleeced fool, I was heading back to Manhattan with an empty cab. I figured I'd lost at least twenty dollars on the deal; if I'd remained in Manhattan I would be busy picking up fares, getting paid more appropriately for my labors; plus I wouldn't be in these dismal outer bourough neighborhoods, navigating streets lined with generic row-houses: how rapidly depression would always grip me in such places! Was it the dirty rust-tinged light, utter absence of pedestrians, or oppressive silence that always flung me into feelings of gloom and foreboding? -- as if, by the very act of being in such places, I was immediately vulnerable, targeted for an unpleasant experience?

I was still deep in Queens but at least had made my way to the main artery, Queens Boulevard: now I had a straight shot to the 59th Street Bridge and Manhattan beyond. Because Queens Boulevard is a two way street the lights all turn green at once, unlike with a one-way avenue where the lights are stacked: I was gunning the engine during each interval of green lights as if pursued by furies, reducing the distance between myself and Manhattan by about twenty blocks each time. I was so preoccupied with getting out of Queens as quickly as possible that I nearly missed a fare: it wasn't until I was almost abreast him that I saw a grinning man enthusiastically flailing his arm, hit the brakes, and came to a squealing halt a few yards past him. "Yeah!" I heard him shout as I caught an emphatic fist pump from the corner of my eye. He ran to the door, yanked it open, happily said "Don't worry! I'm goin' where you're goin'! The City, baby! 84th and West End!" and flopped on the back seat. He had a slept in his clothes look: his hair was a ruffled mess; his suit was wrinkled and splashed with some liquid; his yellow and black tie -- hardly a match for the blue pinstripes of his suit -- was loose at the neck and appeared to have been chewed by some sort of animal.

"84th and West End?" I asked. It wasn't that I hadn't heard him. It was that ruffled looking Saturday night individuals often haven't the slightest idea where they're going. It's not uncommon for them to spout some address and then, once I deposit them there, decide that's not where they wanted to be, even going so far as to blame me for hearing them incorrectly; and the last thing I want is to be babysitting some frustrated drunk for a second longer than I have to. Because that's what it comes down to: it's a situation where a "customer" wishes to be coddled and humored and indulged for as long as possible -- for as long as the situation can be milked. Some people, especially those a trifle the worse for wear on a Friday or Saturday night, think of cab drivers as their personal chauffeurs and confidants and lackeys and buddies and psychoanalysists and nurses, simply because they're paying a measly fare. In the blink of an eye a complete stranger can be clinging to me like I'm his last friend on earth; and sometimes it really brims over, one clinging pest after another seeking to wring the lifeblood out of me.

"Yup, 84th and West End!" he answered cheerfully, before lapsing into an abrupt silence -- the transition from speech to quiet far from smooth, typical of a drug or alcohol influenced individual.

"Great," I said to myself, "another Saturday night castaway! He'll probably start complaining about the shortcomings or outrageous expectations or unjustified griping of his wife or girfriend or boss and expect me to take his side! I'll have to trot out the sympathy and commiseration, and pretend to give a shit!" Yes, the space within a car is very intimate and nuances are easily picked up on: what the nuances were telling me was that I'd better get this individual to 84th and West End lickety split and keep my mouth shut, lest he use me as his confessor and expect a lot of heartfelt absolution. As another driver once said: "Fares think the cab is a toilet where they can get rid of all their shit."

Two or three minutes of blessed quiet ensued, during which I was still closing the gap between myself and the entrance to the 59th Street Bridge. Then he suddenly blurted, "Look! I've got a bunch of money!" I glanced in the rear view and saw him holding up a roll of bills with a look of childlike wonder and glee. "I can pay!" he continued, chuckling. The overall jitteriness of his manner -- the pointless dartings of his eyes and exaggerated gesticulations of his hands -- indicated he'd taken some variety of stimulant.

"Yup, I can pay!" he repeated "You needn't worry! I've been having lot's of fun! Lucille called me earlier and said to come out here to Queens and lick pussy! 'Yes Ma'am! I'm your pussy licker!' I told her; and I grabbed this money -- see it? (He waved it rather frenetically, by way of reminder.) -- and came right away!" And then another abrupt lapse into silence, as he sits staring at me with wide eyes.

"So you had a good time tonight?" I ask. I admit it: I'd become curious to hear his tale.

"Oh, yeah! You'd better believe I've had a good time!" he answers in an erratic half-shout. "One of my old flames -- well, not an old flame -- a younger than old flame -- a thirty-eight year old flame, to be exact! Lucille! She calls up and wants me to do her pussy proud with my tongue and, hey, I'm not going to say no! The second she opens her door, I'm waving this tie in her face (he grabs his black and yellow tie, flaps it about), saying to her: 'I'm your yellow jacket, Honey! I'm your bumblebee! Bzzzz! Bzzzz!' And Lucille liked that a lot! One for the drama and games, Lucille is! An actress once -- well, waitress now at a Greek place -- still sexy -- still hot! Lucille knows how to writhe and rut like a cat in heat! She isn't shy! She's there in a pink nightie, giggling! -- takes me by the hand and turns around to lead me to a chair -- a big wide easy chair for an easy woman to sit in and spread in!"

He pauses again -- not for long. "Do you like ass?" he asks, poking his head halfway through the divider, regarding me with a dazed grin.

"I love ass!" I answer. "It's what makes all this driving worthwhile!"

"Exactly fucking right!" he yells, rubbing his hands together with delight. "And Lucille's got the very best ass a woman could possibly have! Perfect for shape, no sagging, and smooth to the touch! And she was walking in front of me in an almost transparent pink negligee, and that ass of her's was talking to me -- laughing to me! Ha, ol' faithful was upstanding right off, ready to keep the faith and fountain faithfully; although that isn't what she wanted..."

Here he trailed off and gazed absently for a few moments, as if sobered by a recollection that wasn't entirely pleasant; before I could say to myself "Oh, shit! Here the wailing begins!," however, he regathered his good cheer and laughed, saying: "And then Lucille sits in that chair, slings her legs over its arms, and shows me the goods! Ha, she was plenty heated, Lucille was! Her pussy lips were wet and warm, and swollen! Her tunnel was an open mouth gasping for air, so that I could see down inside! 'Lap it up, Baby!' she says, already breathing deep and looking to be halfway there. What the hell had she been doing to get herself like that without me around?"

Again, an uncomfortable pause, as if he's considering the possibility he had a predecessor. He bangs the ceiling of the cab with enough force to make me jump in my seat. "Ha ha, here it comes," I say to myself. "Some sort of tirade!"

But no: he's banged the ceiling in joy, not rage. "I'm telling you there's nothing like the sweet taste of pussy! I love seeing the pink in a thick dark bush like Lucille has, and diving deep! Ha! Ha! Ha! I can't get enough of smearing my face with the warm wetness, making my lips and chin gooey! Yup, there's a reason why Lucille called me up to come out and service her! I'll service a horny whore anytime, anywhere! And Lucille made plenty of noise when she came, yes she did! Whinnied like a horse and purred like a cat!"

A moment of silence; then he says: "Bitch! She didn't want to be touched after she came! She pushed me away, crossed her legs, and didn't want to mess around anymore! I had my pants off and she wanted nothing to do with it! And when I sort of insist she shouts 'Get out!,' just like that! Do you believe it? I service her like she wants and then she won't let me stick my end in! I got the toss with a roaring hard on!"

A smile threatens to creep onto my face, but I stifle it -- shove it down hard inside myself with a biting of lips: I don't wish to provoke him with a display of amusement. Again, I'm expecting some rage and complaining; instead, he starts laughing. "Ah, Lucille -- Lucille! She calls me over to be licked, and then kicks me out unsated! Whimsical Lucille! But I got some payback, yes I did! I snatched her panties on my way out! And she was screaming some shit about them being fifty dollar silk panties -- ha ha! It made me appreciate them all the more! She doesn't want my dick? Well, then I'll take her precious pink panties! She got a last lick in, though: doused me with a glass of wine when I was at the door -- I raced down the hall laughing! I'm outside, aroused all to hell, and have to jerk off in a doorway! I shoot my wad into that fifty dollar hanky and then toss it on her doorstep! Ha! Ha! Ha! I hope she slips and falls on her fifty dollars in the morning! Hope she does the banana peel thing and ends up on her ass!"

He ended by laughing for a good half minute, obviously revelling in the absurdity of his night. By way of further celebration, he brought out some cocaine and started snorting rather forcefully, line after line. This went on until he was seized by a violent fit of sneezing; then he was silent, not even bestiring himself: I figured he'd passed out. So it goes: a few minutes of entertainment, and now I was stuck with a drug befuddled slob. We'd entered Manhattan a few minutes ago and were about to enter Central Park at 79th Street: I drifted into Rachmaninov playing on WQXR...

When we reached his corner, he made no movement to indicate he was aware of the fact: still passed out, no doubt. I called to him several times, louder in each instance, but he didn't stir. I hate having to awaken drugged or drunken buffoons, remind them of where they are, hassle with getting paid, and then guide them to their doors, like some kind of social worker. I got out of the cab, opened the back door and shook him -- at first gently, then quite emphatically, saying: "Hey! Wake up! You're in a cab and you're home now!" But he still wouldn't budge.

I've dragged fares off the back seat before and slapped their cheeks until they regained consciousness; I've also taken a couple to the nearest hospital to turn them over to professionals and their smelling salts; but this was something different. His color was bad, his expression worse -- he reminded me of a gaping, washed up fish. A feeling of bafflement and fear descended upon me; suddenly, I almost knew that the worst-case scenario was true. I found myself checking his wrist for a pulse, even though I'd never done it in my life and didn't really know what to look for. I felt nothing, but wasn't sure I was doing it correctly. I then placed a hand in front of his mouth and nose and examined his chest for signs of breathing -- the truth soon became impossible to dispute: he was dead!

I dreaded the prospect of spending the remainder of the night in a police station, filling out reports and answering endless questions: my mind teemed with thoughts of illegal drug use in my cab, the possibility of being inplicated in the death. I'd felt lucky to find a fare returning to Manhattan from Queens, but the joke was on me: now I was stuck with a corpse and all the wretched responsibility that goes with it.

I stepped away from the dead man and was about to shut the door again, intending to go to the nearest precinct. It was then that I noticed two cops strolling up the opposite side of the avenue, chatting animatedly. "Officers! Officers!" I heard myself shouting, "There's a dead man in my cab!"

The officers didn't seem overly thrilled to be interrupted in their conversation; giving me "This had better be real!" looks of annoyance, they rather reluctantly crossed to my side of the street.

"What is it you want?" one of them asked.

"Officer, a man just died in my cab." I said.

Silently, they approached the cab and peered in.

"He has a lot of money on him," I said, without really knowing why. Perhaps it was an effort to apprise them of the fact that I was a law-abiding citizen who'd prefer to report the amount of money in the pockets of a corpse than steal it: an elimination of motive sort of impulse, so they'd be less likely to suspect foul play.

I wasn't prepared for their response: their faces immediately lit up; suddenly they became very enthusiastic about policing.

"Did you touch the money?" one of them asked.

"No officer, I didn't touch the money," I replied, enunciating very clearly.

The officers turned away from me and whispered together for a few moments; then they each went to opposite sides of the cab, leaned in, and began frisking the body -- tugging and shifting it around, checking each coat and pants pocket, until they located the cash. No sooner had they found it, than one of them crossed around to join the other: together, they pulled the body from the back of my cab and pitched it onto the sidewalk. One of them, not bothering to hide his glee over their windfall, advanced towards me with the roll of bills: he removed a fifty from the top, and handed it to me.

Looking at me meaningfully, he asked: "Is everything alright cabby?"

"Everything's fine, officer," I replied without hesitation.

I never cease to marvel at the contrast between one fare and another, the shifts and swings of fate's pendulum. One never knows what to expect next; one simply surrenders to the flow, hoping that one's professional detachment will allow one to deal with whatever the city-currents wash into the back of one's cab.

I returned to my cab, made a right at the corner, and picked up a young girl at the end of the block on Broadway. "It's partytime!" she said happily, giving a downtown address. She was giggly and bouncy with life, full of spunk. So, as soon as the lights turned green, off we drove on our merry way, racing towards club land and a world of new possibilities, leaving behind the corpse that had just purchased a sidewalk funeral.


Steven Edward Duescher worked as a New York cab driver at the Midland garage (now Midtown Operating Co.) from 1986-1991, and says the experience reminded him of "All the vandalism I did in junior high: a total free-for-all, with no rules." He once used his cab to push an "enemy's" parked car into the intersection of 1st Avenue and 7th Street and leave it there. He also enjoyed pretending to be a lunatic by loudly gibbering nonsense in a shrill voice: "Nothing beats it for freaking out the tourists." He resides in Brooklyn.

Sidewalk Funeral: A New York Cab Driver's Tale
© 2003 Sliptongue, Inc.





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