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Partners in Crime: The Life, Loves, & Nuyorican Noir of Jerry Rodriguez

Michael Gonzales | Longreads | November 9, 2018 | 5,320 words

Michael Gonzales tells a story of an enduring friendship.

Posted inArts & Culture, Books, Culture, Essays & Criticism, Featured, Story

Partners in Crime: The Life, Loves & Nuyorican Noir of Jerry Rodriguez

Michael Gonzales remembers a real friendship and the makings of a brutal crime novel.
Photo courtesy the author / Kensington Publishing / Photo illustration by Katie Kosma

Michael A. Gonzales | Longreads | November 2018 | 19 minutes (5,320 words)

It was the third week in August 2004 when my best friend of 23 years, the screenwriter, playwright, and noir author Jerry Rodriguez, called me to blow off steam. Although he never told me the reasons, he and his girlfriend were breaking up. She was an attractive light-skinned woman from the West Coast, a respected editor, music critic, and novelist with hair that belonged in a shampoo commercial and a Colgate smile. A moody Cancerian who proudly represented “The Bay,” she’d known Tupac personally and could recite the lyrics to Too Short songs. Jerry was sick with cancer off and on throughout their three-year relationship and was still ill when his girlfriend decided it was over.

Diagnosed on Good Friday 2001, a few weeks after noticing a swelling on the top of his right foot, the disease steadily progressed. “She said I have to be gone by Labor Day,” Jerry sighed. “I’ve already started packing.” I sucked my teeth. “Well, that still gives you a few weeks to figure it out,” I answered, trying to sound reassuring. “It’ll be cool, man, don’t worry about it. I’ll come by and help you tomorrow.”

“Thanks, man.” Jerry’s voice was deep and serious. A lover of Sinatra, he sometimes carried himself in that stoic Frankie way. He’d watched a lot of tough guy movies with Bogart, Cagney, Lancaster, Widmark, and Mitchum as a kid. In the living room sitting next to his dad, he became a lover of film dialogue that he could recite verbatim.

That phone call came a week after Jerry turned 42. Born under the sign of Leo, he was a natural leader who usually had a big roar, but not that evening. I came over the next day while his now ex-girlfriend was at the gym. There were white moving boxes scattered throughout the beautifully decorated apartment. Outside, it was Hades hot, but the space was comfortably chilled by an air conditioner. Theirs was a dwelling I knew well, having been over for dinner parties, Sunday nights watching The Sopranos, Monday evenings viewing 24, and dog-sitting when they were out of town. Next to the front door was a long, wide cage containing Jerry’s furry white ferret Bandit. I could smell the Café Bustelo brewing.

Brooklyn Hospital was across the street, and the sounds of sirens were constant. Jerry would usually be talking about some new project or telling me about the folks from his day job at a Bronx drug clinic, but that day he was church-mouse quiet. Glancing at him, I sipped the strong coffee and placed familiar books in a box. I knew exactly what was coming next. After a few false starts, he blurted, “Look, if I can’t find a place right away, can I come stay with you for a little while?” I looked at him and smiled, knowing that in New York City, apartment-hunting-time “a little while” could mean anything from six months to six years.

For the previous few years, since my girlfriend Lesley passed away suddenly, I’d lived alone in Crown Heights. The last thing I wanted to do was share space with anyone. Still, how could I say no? He’d always been there for me, especially after Lesley’s brain aneurysm. The afternoon of her funeral, after everyone was gone, Jerry and I stood together in the empty New Jersey graveyard as my mind tried to process my plight. I was afraid to go home and face the empty Chelsea apartment Lesley and I shared, and Jerry understood my dilemma. “Let’s go to the movies and see The Iron Giant,” he said casually after we’d slipped into the limo back to Manhattan. I smiled for the first time since claiming her body at St. Vincent’s Hospital. For the next two weeks, he visited me every day after work.

All of that came back to me as I contemplated his question about moving in. “Of course, you can stay with me,” I answered, “but is the ferret coming too?” Then it was Jerry’s turn to smile.

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