“Horseback riding,” I said.
“Sure, why not, Darryl. You turn 55 only once. ‘Double nickels,’” my wife, Regina, said.
We got to the Jamaica Bay Riding Academy in Brooklyn and waited in the entranceway in a short line for our tickets. We stood under a chandelier made from a wagon wheel. On the wood-paneled walls were paintings of horses, and dozens of ribbons, and a stuffed deer head. Under the deer head hung a sign: “No Refunds.”
It was 1985. I was 23 years old. Loud music. The smell of Clorox, and a mirrored disco ball that flung shards of light in all directions, and which looked in the dimly-lit entranceway like bugs crawling across the walls. A mean -looking man behind the counter stood under a large sign that said: “No Refunds.”
I handed him six dollars. He handed me three large silver peep show tokens, each token stamped with the silhouette of a naked woman in stiletto heels.
I climbed onto the horse with the help of a teenaged girl. “First time horseback riding?” she asked.
“Second,” I said.
I walked down the mirrored hallway with my peep show tokens. There were peep show booths on both sides. A Puerto Rican girl in fishnet stockings said, “Hey, handsome. Over here.”
“Pull on the reins,” the guide yelled. “Show the horse you’re in charge.”
I never liked fishnet stockings, too S&M for me. There was a long, slow wet kissing sound and a wink from a black girl in pink spandex. I never liked spandex. Too Jane Fonda- workout- looking for me.
My horse’s name was Pebbles. Regina’s was Daisy.
We started along the entrance hall toward the riding path, in single file.
At the end of the hallway was an old man mopping the floors, a cigarette dangling from his hollowed face.
I felt my horse start to go down and instinct kick in. I jumped and rolled as I hit the dirt. The horse lay on its side, breathing heavily. The first thing I thought of: If ever there was a legitimate reason for a refund, it would be your horse dropping dead halfway through a 45-minute ride along the Belt
Parkway. I don’t care what your sign says.
At the counter in front of me, some guy in a suit was yelling, “I want my money back! There’s no girls here.”
The mean-looking guy behind the counter pointed to the No Refunds sign. “Can’t you read, motherfucker,” and he jumped over the counter.
The first punch to the face knocked the guy to the floor. Then another guy came out of nowhere, and together they started kicking and stomping the guy in the suit. Blood gurgled from his mouth. They dragged him to the front door and threw him out on to 42nd Street. The guy climbed back behind the counter. There was blood on his shirt.
The guide made a kitschy kind of click/cluck sound and old Pebbles reluctantly got back on her feet.
The guide held out the worn metal stirrup for me. “Don’t mind Pebbles. She gets like this, sometimes.
Go ahead. Climb back on,” she said.
“What the fuck do you want,” the guy said to me.
I looked at the No Refunds sign and at the blood on his shirt. I put my three unused silver peep show tokens on the counter. I want to go home and get drunk, but I don’t have any money.
With his left hand he pulled the three tokens back toward him and at the same time pushed six crumpled one-dollar bills toward me. I picked up a pint of Georgi vodka on the way downtown.
As I stood and watched my horse waiting to be hosed down by a stable girl with a blond ponytail, I looked across Jamaica Bay at the Manhattan skyline in the distance. It’s a new Manhattan, soulless, homogenized, sanitized. A planned community engineered by an architect hired by corporate America, a a gated community where everything always works as planned and everything is new and clean. And nothing is ever broken.
No refunds needed.
Darryl Graff is a New York City construction worker and writer. His stories have appeared in Akashic and Hippocampus.