Inside and Outside

The stage name Picasso Kid gave himself was far better than any moniker I could bestow on him, however I’ll call him the Picasso Kid. His nose had very visibly been broken and bent to the side and one day I remarked to my boyfriend that he looked like a cubist painting. My boyfriend thought that was funny.

One of the professors at school called my boyfriend Stoneface because he was always so impassive, his face never registering any emotion. He graduated, I dropped out, and we moved to a crummy basement apartment in Brooklyn, back when Brooklyn wasn’t trendy. There wasn’t a whole lot in Brooklyn in those days, at least not for us. We lived in an ethnic neighborhood of an ethnicity to which neither of us could lay claim. Quite a feat when I think of the long, and meaningless, list I’ve got.

Stoneface and I were in Barnes and Nobles on Fifth Avenue. I was the bigger reader between the two of us, so it was probably I who had wanted to go there. The site of something on a shelf pulled him away from my side. I didn’t take note because generally, you don’t browse in a bookstore like a pair of conjoined twins. “Come over here. Look at this,” he called from another aisle. When I got to his side, he was holding open a squat, thick book. It was a history of punk music. He showed me a page where the Picasso Kid and the band he had back in the seventies were mentioned.

Most of what I know about the Picasso Kid comes second, and even third, hand. He and my boyfriend were friends and we had a few other common acquaintances, but he hated me. We’d all gone to the same college. It was a small liberal arts school and the vast majority of the people came straight out of high school.  Also, many of the students were rich. The Picasso Kid was a poor boy from the Bronx, and he was older than the rest of us. It was only by a few years, but the student body was so homogenous he stood out. One of his band mates, not the band from the seventies, but the one he was in at that time, in the early eighties, wanted to go to college and found out about a scholarship program for significantly disadvantaged New Yorkers. A semester later, the Picasso Kid followed.

He didn’t last very long, then again he didn’t exactly come for the education. A large part of his motivation was to get out of New York City, to remove himself from the environment he’d gotten used to, specifically, the Bowery. The Picasso Kid was a junkie and he was trying to quit. He had started back when he was fourteen and in a band that often played at CBGB’s way back when. After a semester, he’d fail, and return to the city. He and Stoneface would stay in touch.

Now, Stoneface and I were looking for an apartment. A few weeks earlier, on New Years Eve, we’d gone out in the East Village. The Picasso Kid passed by on the sidewalk. He came in and we had a few drinks. Strange night. It wasn’t exactly festive, but it wasn’t bad either. Later, Stoneface would tell me that he’d been talking about getting cleaned up again. Apparently, he’d hit a low point, or more like the lowest point in a series of low points. He had hocked his guitar. So, I would say to Stoneface, while we were looking, why don’t we let the Picasso Kid live with us for a time.

“You know, he hates you,” Stoneface said to me.

“He barely knows me,” I replied, although I’d gotten that feeling. “It doesn’t really matter. Ask him.”

Stoneface told me about a day a few years earlier, when we were all in school but he and I hadn’t yet met. He and the Picasso Kid were sitting in a couple of easy chairs outside the cafeteria. In fact Stoneface could often be found there, watching everybody impassively. I walked through the room. After I had passed by, the Picasso Kid turned to Stoneface and said, “That’s the kind of stuck-up girl who wouldn’t give guys like us the time of day.” Obviously, he had missed judged me since I was now dating one of them, but I was used to people misjudging me if they were judging by appearances. The Picasso Kid didn’t really hate me, he hated the person he thought I was because of the way I looked.

Stoneface grew up with his father in a housing project on the Lower East Side. For many years, his mother lived on East First. His parents met through the Catholic Worker located on the same block. Near by, at the corner of First and First, there was a bar, a low-key place where you could actually talk. We sat on one side of a table. The Picasso Kid faced us from the other. He was intently picking the label off of a beer bottle. Stoneface laid out our offer for him to live with us. He stopped picking at the label. “What does she think of it?” he asked, addressing Stoneface instead of me.

“It was her idea.”

The Picasso Kid pressed his lips together and resumed picking at the label. “I’ll think about it.”

Stoneface had insisted on one condition that I had to admit was reasonable. He told the Picasso Kid that he had to promise not to get high in the apartment. He had said, “I want to help you, but I don’t want to come home one day and find a dead guy in the apartment.” In the end, that condition would prove to be a barrier. He just couldn’t promise that. I’ve got to give him credit for honesty.

After having his glasses broken in a shelter, he took to sleeping on park benches when the weather allowed it. He seemed to be going from bad to worse and we didn’t hear from him for a time. Then, he contacted Stoneface and they met someplace in the Village. One day, when he’d been sleeping in Washington Square Park, he woke up to find a beautiful young woman gazing intently at him. She said to him, “I know inside you’re a beautiful person.” She took the Picasso Kid home and he got cleaned up. It sounds like a fairy tale. I never heard about him again, but I hope it lasted. I think the young woman was right.

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