Aluminum Siding And Hate – Matthew Ryan
Living in New York my entire life is a thing that tends to shock people, primarily because I’m a white guy with hipster sensibilities.Yet, if you strip away the aqua-colored glasses I bought to wear as a wrestling manager, the long hair and garish beard, it’s someone who grew up surrounded by cultures and identities not his own.
In spite of that, I was embraced, welcomed, and made to be a part of families, not all of them, but enough to build my own family within half a dozen others.
I grew up without a dad and two uncles who cared but were men in their 30’s with goals and/or drug habits. Leaving me to be babysat in bars or by the perpetually elderly woman who lived in my building.
The bar was an old VFW that was built out of aluminum siding and spite, which had some nondescript old man living on the top floor, but I’d happily sit on a barstool while my mom’s close friend and local bookie ensured that he knew what was going on at Saratoga while I watched Eureka’s Castle or Gulla Gulla Island.
I was the bar’s mascot, with every Irish, German, Polish, Swedish, or any other combination of old school Brooklyn drunk archetype knowing me as Matt, Matty (my mother’s preferred nickname for me), or Laura’s kid.
My mother dragged me along the two blocks and one avenue to that VFW every weekend when she couldn’t afford or be bothered to get a babysitter for me. It’s weird and kinda fucked up, but I remember a lot of it fondly. Mainly cause I got to watch pay-per-view fights or the occasional wrestling event there. I vividly remember watching Tyson bite Holyfield’s ear off while mesmerized by the teenage daughter of a family friend. I was only eight at the time, but that night solidified my love of boxing and dive bars occupied by cops, snack cake delivery drivers, and women who had their makeup permanently attached to their face, looking like a post-Pink Flamingo’s Divine.
The vivid energy of that place was coupled with the Vietnam generation turning 40 and dealing with what that meant for them. For many, it was a lower-class life or a disability check and consigning yourself to whoever you were at 18–25 defining your remaining time on earth.
For me people like Patrick, his son Patty, Jocko, his brother (the aforementioned snack cake driver), and Jackie, a biker/Vietnam veteran who sounded like David Johannessen from the New York Dolls, were my adopted uncles, my earliest champions, the drunk but reaffirming pat on the head I yearned for as a fat kid looking for love and attention.
I’ve not been inside that bar for what seems to be half my life at this point. My last memory of that place is my mom coming home from there drunk, telling me my father died after attending the funeral of the bookie who babysat me, who drunkenly changing a lightbulb.
I’ve passed by it just walking around, but those names, noises, and memories are faded into the abstract, which sounds somewhat self-righteous when you look past the bluster and bullshit and you see broken people looking for other broken people to occupy their time with, telling stories of when they had hope, but more importantly, time.
Crossing into 30, those times rarely come flooding to my mind, but I can still remember them, taste them, hear them, luckily not smell them.