Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Dollhouse - part 2

William wakes every morning to say one prayer for every person he has lost. Each year his list grows. Today, it holds more people he remembers than people he knows.

He reaches out to grasp a small bedside table, pulls himself to his feet with the lack of grace that accompanies the old and overweight. Housed in a drawer are the items that made his life.

These items are the most sacred pieces of William. In years to come, when this drawer is dismantled and its contents are displayed, they will describe a man in ways that perhaps words never can.

There's a photo wallet, a dusty tint of yellow-grey plastic. Inside are approximately 50 pictures dating back as far as 1932 and as recent as 1984.

Nestled in between the photographs is a United States Army draft registration card. When William registered for the Local Board 145 of Philadelphia, on June 26, 1950, he spelled his name William Alaysius Subers. It was not until he was well into his forties that he learned he had been spelling Aloysus incorrectly his entire life.

He lived at 2043 South 22nd St. in Philadelphia, Pa. He was 18 years old. He had brown eyes, brown hair, and had a fair complexion. He was 5 feet 11 ½ inches tall and 150 pounds. He was white, and had a small birthmark on his lower left arm.

Inside the drawer, a stack of funeral cards approximately two inches thick that carry the names William recites in his prayers. A collection of Ocean City, N.J. beach tags dating back to 1982.

A wallet that belonged to his mother-in-law, Helen, who lived with William and Elizabeth from the moment they married, until her death in 1981. The contents are the same today as they were when the wallet lay in Helen's purse the morning she did not wake up to use it. It contains exactly $2.63 in change and a stack of faded pictures of her grandchildren.

A brown leather change purse that belonged to his father. Inside, one rosary, two silver sacred hearts, two scalpers, two silver crosses, one sacred heart badge, and a yellowed piece of newspaper clumped in a tissue that William tucked into the wallet before he put it in the drawer:

A policeman who heard the crash of a plate glass window of a haberdashery at 4076 Lancaster ave., early today gave chase to a Negro suspect and fired several shots as the thug fled in automobile south on Lancaster and east on Fairmount aves. Patrolman William Subers of the 50th st. and Lancaster ave. station heard the glass crash, learned it was the window of Harry Mothner's men's wear store. As he approached, the suspect who had hurled a brick through the window jumped into the automobile and sped off. As it sped away, Patrolman Subers said it careened and he believes he may have hit the driver. [sic]

Two bullet shells, collected from the scene, lay nestled between the rosary beads and tattered leather scalper.

During his childhood, William had an intimate relationship with the Philadelphia police department. His father, Buck, was an officer for 25 years. Buck was known by his Christian name, William Aloysus, only on the card he carried in his wallet, and the articles that dotted Philadelphia newspapers.

Of the 50th St. and Lancaster Ave. station, Buck was a police officer in a time when wearing the badge meant more to more people than it does today.

He was fearless; a trait that earned respect and admiration. But when Buck crawled in to bed every night, he laid beside his son on the twin mattress they shared. Many nights William would lay awake, listening to the wet hack of his father's lungs, trying to expectorate the lifetime's worth of tar that would eventually kill him.

William talks about his father often. When he does, he speaks with pride.

The whole neighborhood was safe because of my father. He'd sit outside on the porch after dinner in the summer with his t-shirt on, holding his whistle. He'd blow that whistle at the cars going too fast down the street, and give 'em tickets. If anyone gave him shit, he'd drag 'em out of their cars ...

He never left us kids alone. Never went out. Nanna moved in with us on Beechwood. After work. my father'd go down to the corner store and buy a couple liters of beer. He and Nanna would sit at our kitchen table and drink. By the end of the night, they'd fight like hell. Then Nanna would get up at 5 a.m. the next morning and get him off to work ...

My father taught me three things. He told me this story: Him and his two brothers were walking through a different part of the city, and 15 guys surrounded them, had them against the wall. So my father stepped up and said he'd fight the toughest one there.

One stood up, and my father kicked the shit out of him. So he always told me, if you can't pick on the biggest guy, don't pick on the littlest guy. That was number one.

Number two: Every dog gets its day, either in this world or the next. So don't think people are getting away with things.

And three, when you think you're intimidated by certain people, everyone has the Chinese rot. Everything they eat in the morning is everything you eat in the morning, and it all turns to shit by five in the afternoon.

Those are three things he taught me. Among other things.

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