Shopping for some colored hairspray for halloween, I was in Rickys on Broadway. Throngs of people were looking for something to change them for the evening. The proprietor was a middle-aged chinese man who sauntered through the store singing along with Lauryn Hill's "Doo Wop" on the loudspeaker.
Riding the subway to work, there are always many young jewish wives. They pray constantly, their lips moving, yet making no sound. They work to support their husbands, who are studying at the yeshiva. She was standing just in front of me. She sneezed. "Gesundheit," I said. She ignored me.
Until she got off at Chambers St, when she smiled and said thank you.
People panhandle on the subway regularly. Sometimes it's a first-person homeless and hungry appeal. Other times the appeal is on their behalf. And there's the blind accordion player.
People sing too, but rarely well. I saw two kids dance the other day, and they were good. They had a boombox and announced the show. They spun and twirled around each other with great vigor. They even did an acrobat roll, hands to the others' ankles, the length of the car. They got mad props and tons of tips.
You see people sleeping in public all the time in New York. At first it seems nuts, but I've done it so many times now, I suppose it seems natural.
- On my second visit to New York, after arriving to live in New Jersey, Al and I had to sleep on Scott's roof. It was cool, but otherwise just like camping. We were glad it didn't rain.
That morning we got some water and breakfast. I sat on The Bowery at 6am on a Sunday, with a bottle in a brown paper bag, slumped sleeping against a shuttered store. Al wished for a camera.
- When I'd come into NYC to see Scott during the year I lived in Jersey, I'd often time my return for the last minute. This meant I was bound to miss the last train once. And so I did.
I had a 4 hour wait for the earliest train home and it would have taken almost half that just to get back to Scott's. I opted to snooze on the floor of a deserted Penn Station.
I was awakened by a kick from a cop who wanted to know what I was doing. I resisted the urge to get smart. He told me I could sleep in the Amtrak waiting area. Nice guy.
- Scott had missed a plane and we were riding the A back from JFK. I had nodded off for a while and awoke to mass commotion in the car. Scott was nervous and couldn't believe I had dozed off, let alone slept through the yelling.
I rode the front car of the train to work. I usually ride the second car because it puts me directly in line with the exit. I don't know why I was in front.
I was watching the tunnel as we slid through it. There was a reflection in the window due to the differing amounts of light. I found my face framed by a black hat and long curly sideburns. I already wear a beard. It was a vision of a Hasidic Dan.
Ann asked me how I felt about this vision. I was grateful it wasn't me. I'm the third generation to remove religion from my life. I'm proud of that and intend to continue the trend toward improving the world, if only in my small way.
I've always wanted to cross-country ski down my street...
...or on my roof, even!
The view out my back window.
How I miss Curtis. He was a mental case confined to a wheelchair who haunted the Bowery. He was no ordinary bum, tho. He cleaned up the streets. No joke. He'd be out there in all kinds of weather picking garbage off the streets. But it's what he did with it that I'll miss most. He made art.
Big amazing pieces with the found stuff he personally secured. Montages of trash arrayed across an otherwise featureless wall. You could always tell a Curtis composition. It was best from a distance. You might have believed it was some famous artist's work. He had a keen eye for proportion in his abstract human figures. They were nearly always tall. Whether that was because he wasn't anymore, in his rolling prison, I never knew.
Scott and I happened on Curtis in Cooper Square once. The Borg cube was tilted on it's way back to wherever. Curtis was sitting at the foot of a very tall, lithe figure. It was shrouded in dark material and sported various cast-off accoutrements. We asked him how he was doing. "I'm pulling on my big black dick!" he fairly shouted. We then noticed that he wasn't kidding. He continued, "This is my wife. We're on our honeymoon. We apologized for the interruption and hastened away.
The last time I saw Curtis he was out of his chair at a corner, leaning into the street. I thought he was trying to reach some trash, but he was batting at the nearly frozen puddle there, like a bear fishing.
I'm about to go nomad here in NYC. I will miss the street characters from my neighborhood. Like the guy who wears many hats. Even in summer he wears large furry hats, five or more, piled up on his head.
Or the bundled up bum I always saw jogging in East River Park, early in the AM. He had many, many layers on. No matter the temperature. He always had a friendly word and a wave.
The two white tourists fumbling in their bags, on a collision course with 4 black teens on a subway platform in Harlem. The woman bumps into one and puts her arm around him. The man does the same. One of the kids calls the woman "mom".