Sunday, January 22, 2017


I used to know
one of those
gypsy lady types.
She had a small
booth in the very
front of the building
in which she also
lived - a curtained,
front-street area,
with glass, curtains,
one of those, in
white, fortune-tellers
balls, a deck of
tarot cards always
displayed, some
incense and candles;
the whole shooting
match. 'Fortunes
Told, $5.' Back
then anyway. That
was start-up money,
but they never
told you, these
fortune-telling people.
They would do
what they called
a 'preliminary read'
of your aura or
zodiac, they'd say,
and then bait you
for more. Whatever
you'd fall for; they'd
sense it. Then
they'd load that
up with all sorts
of enticing material
 but tell you really
nothing, unless
you kept forking
over further money.
The more you paid,
the supposed more
they'd give. It was
as bogus as a
shine on a tennis
ball, but the entire
thing was a game
of sorts, and those
doing it knew that
those seeking it
needed something,
and they'd supply
it. The really good
ones, sensing their
'need' would get
that person involved
in return visits,
follow-ups, further
information 'as it
 came through.' It
was like being
hooked; they'd
get you. Addicted
to nothing but
the addiction
for something.
All immeasurable.
These gypsy people,
the women, they
had it down pat  -
their outfits, the
cigarettes, the
dark faces and
the smirks,
and smiles.
By the time of
their late forties,
in age, these
women were
mostly chubby,
wide and swarthy,
covered in loose
dress or billowy
capes and things.
You couldn't really
see anything. But
you just knew
they were done
for in that
department  -
so, once again,
enticement. They
always had a
'daughter' or two,
maybe 18-25 in
age. Now that
was something
to come back for.
Played just right,
you'd leave there,
The lady I knew,
at least the daughter
was really her
daughter. I was
told anyway.
She had like 4
other kids upstairs.
Other fortune-ladies
faked the daughter
part, and just kept
some person they
knew or a niece
or some connection
around. It was most
always a two-part
operation  -  for the
gullible. I won't say
'scam' but that's
just because I'm
lazy. It was always
incredible that
these places
actually had
customers, but
they did.
They met expenses.
They got people
to fork over
good money,
big bucks. It
was a solid,
fake industry
of its own. The
one I knew was
named 'Mariana,'
as in 'Mariana
Sees All'. Her
little hole in
the wall was
next to some
Spanish hole
in the wall,
except that
hole served
up tacos and
quick Spanish
foods to take
away, or sit
on some cramped
little chairs they'd
throw around.
In Summer it
was better,
and for the
too, because the
chairs were outside,
a table or two,
doors open, some
semblance of
cooler air and
ventilation. In
the Winter it
was all just a
cramped mess.
I'd stop there  -
in the Spanish place
next door  -  enough
so that the Mariana
person finally asked
my if I wanted a
reading. I demurred,
kept saying no
each time, and
finally, to placate
myself in her eyes
at least, I brought
someone else in,
a girl, for a
one-time read,
and that was it.
The girl said it
was surprisingly
informative, and
the fortune-telling
session actually
told her things
that were startlingly
close to real-life for
her, matching
situations and
people. Who
knows. She said
Mariana mentioned
really wanting to
do my reading,
because she
'sensed to feel
something deeply
lively' in my
presence; things
that needed
and airing, on
my part. Yeah,
well. Good a
line as any. I
laughed it all
off, and also I
figured, if I got
really lucky,
I'd someday find
my way to get
Mariana's door-keeper
daughter to tell
me, ahem, all I
ever wanted
to know.
Later on, during 
those years I was 
at St. George Press, 
I got hooked up 
with this bunch 
of Gypsies who 
were in the junk 
business  -  metal 
recycling. There 
was an entire 
family, about 6 
males that I dealt 
with. Fathers, sons, 
different ages. I 
never saw any
women, except 
in the vehicle 
they never got 
out of. These 
guys would come 
in, asking only for
me. Mostly, I was
the only one there
anyway. They 
were another 
result, as I 
mentioned, of 
the crud customers 
who'd been turned 
over to me, and 
also were a 
result of my 
being the guy 
who had to 
institute the 
Saturday hours, 
when, as I mentioned, 
a real dose of 
printing riff-raff 
always seemed to 
turn up. These were 
all big, sloppy guys; 
dirty, shiny, white 
shirts, half tucked 
in half not, a sort 
of partially formal
dress-wear gone 
to seed. They 
just looked different, 
and they had the 
false last-name 
of Leo. Leo 
Brothers, to be 
exact. They talked, 
between themselves 
in another tongue, 
Romanian or 
something, and 
called each 
other by names 
I sometimes 
could pick out. 
But I just always 
ended up saying 
Mr. Leo, to the 
old guys anyway. 
They always 
wanted contract-forms 
printed for some 
inane junk-removal, 
stipulations abut 
transport and 
metal purity, 
spaces for weights 
and signatures. 
A real complicated 
mess, all the time. 
And they never 
wanted receipts, 
only paid in cash, 
peeled off from a 
wad. It was nuts, 
sometimes three 
or four hundred 
dollars, just like 
that. Other times  
-  and this was 
the most annoying, 
although they'd 
throw me like 
ten bucks for 
my trouble  -  
they knew what 
they wanted to 
say but were 
unable to say 
it, or phrase it 
correctly in 
writing. So 
they'd dictate 
their intentions 
to me, and I'd 
write the paragraphs 
which eventually 
came to say what 
they were meaning. 
And then it all 
had to be read 
back, aloud, If 
they started reading, 
it was as if a 
was reading it, 
hesitant and 
stumbling. The 
metals, it stipulated, 
could not contain 
this or that chemical, 
was not coated 
with this or that..
and it went on. 
It always took lots 
of time, and was 
sometimes annoying. 
The younger guys, 
they'd just stand 
around. Never 
spoke. Sometimes 
12 years old, 
sometimes 20. 
Just sidekicks along 
for the ride. They'd 
go back and forth, 
outside, to the 
car with the 
lady or two in 
it, and come back, 
while the older guys, 
there were always 
two, fathers, I 
guessed, would 
huddle over the 
business at hand. 
Then, when we 
were done, they 
never wanted to 
leave  -  just talk 
about this or that. 
They'd start fingering 
things in the office, 
electric pencil 
sharpeners, this 
or that gadget. 
Nothing specific, 
spoken about. 
They kept everything 
close to the vest. 
I learned little 
about what they 
did, and how and 
where; certainly 
nothing of their 
life stories. When 
I go to the gypsy 
cemeteries now, 
I always see Leo 
graves, and look 
for recent death 
dates, wondering 
if it's any of these 
older guys I knew. 
They'd be pretty 
old by now, and 
are probably deceased. 
This was all in the 
1980's when they 
were already 50 
or 60. It's funny, 
because, even 
though it's fake, 
they apparently 
get buried as the
Leo name too. 
There are real 
names involved  -  
Evanko, or Evanich, 
Miller, Vlado, and 
others. They seem, 
at least, real Slavic 
names. I've also 
read that many, 
many use the 
name 'Miller', 
as these guys 
used Leo. And, in
the graveyards, 
yes, there are a 
lot of 'Miller' too,
but maybe they're
not authentic either.
Anyway, maybe 
they're not even 
Slavic, maybe 
it's something 
else; a deeper 
Russian strain, 
or something 
I don't know.
It always seems 
to be, and I've 
tried to break 
out of this over 
the years, that 
people  - myself 
included  -  are 
often reluctant 
to just ask people 
about themselves. 
It's really a 
simple matter, 
and as a writer 
of this sort of 
material, I have 
by now accustomed 
myself much 
better to just 
finding ways 
of 'asking in' 
to strangers or 
the merest of 
to find out 
more about them 
and their past and 
background. Most 
people are willing 
to talk, and some 
just gush on as
if they've been 
waiting for the 
call. It's enjoyable. 
But I never got to 
that point with 
these Leo people  
-  nor with Mariana, 
who for all I know 
was a Leo. Or a 
Miller. Was that 
'past' consisting 
of their nationality 
and an adherence 
to it? All that 
strange old-world 
stuff? Or was it 
just a manner of 
'put on' to be crass 
enough, like any 
other American, 
to seek for money 
and get the dough? 
What was up? How'd 
they get started, 
where had they 
come from; where 
were they when 
they were twelve? 
A hundred questions 
now, I again wish 
I'd asked.
I guess each culture 
has its rakish aspects,
its codes and hidden 
tales and habits. 
There would be 
times in NYCity 
I'd see perfect 
characters  -  faces 
and bodies from 
the old Russian 
steppes, the plains 
of Hungary, 
whatever. I just
knew it, one glance
would bring me to
the exotic. Some times
you knew about it,
and other times you 
knew nothing at all.

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