|Up: The Neighborhood||[Related] «^» «T»|
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
By Paul Ford
I was entering the York St. station at 10 tonight, and as I swiped my card through the turnstile, a young woman, standing next to her boyfriend, said something to me—I wasn't sure what. I mumbled an apology and went through, down the long hall, only to hear her yell out “Why won't you wait?”
I tilted my head back and said, to the ceiling, “Because I'm going the train.” The hallway carried my voice back to her. Her feet slapped the concrete as she ran to catch up.
“I wanted to talk to you,” she said. I looked down and over—small, brunette, in her early 20s.
“What's there to talk about?” I asked.
“Why are you so serious? You're not living!” she said. “You need to live! What's your name?”
“I don't give my name to strangers,” I said, smiling. Suddenly I was sweating in the still, hot air, and I wanted to read the Times folded into my bag.
“Oh! Well, my name is...Sabine.” Making it up. Her boyfriend crept behind her, ashamed at her gregariousness, and was now hiding behind one of the station's large columns.
“You're smiling now,” she said. “You need to have fun.”
“Do you talk to a lot of strangers?” I asked.
“When I've had that many margaritas,” she said. “You look really mellow in that green shirt. Really cool! To be honest, I've never spoken to a stranger like this before. You know what's crazy? That at 5'2“ I can intimidate someone as big as you!”
Her boyfriend now came out from behind his pillar, and took her hand. He had short, fuzzy hair. “Come on, what's your name?” she asked me.
“Andrew Womack,” I said, and the train came. She shook my hand and said, “you need to live!” and got on another car. I sat down to read my magazine. I'd been coming from a rehearsal, with my friend Steve, of our 12-minute miniature musical about a squirrel (myself) and a rat (Steve) who live in Prospect Park. The first performance will be at How to Kick People, this Wednesday. We'd made solid progress, working out the musical cues, and the script was in reasonable shape, in need of smoothing, but basically sound.
I got off the train and went to my girlfriend's place. Half-gangsters lurked outside her building, surly men in v-neck T-shirts and do-rags. Hello, I said, how you doing? The man closest to the door grunted, and I nodded. My girlfriend has a badly broken foot, and is housebound. She can't walk without crutches, or protest the RNC. We spoke sad and light.
We'd been to the emergency room at Long Island College Hospital on Saturday, sitting in the waiting room on Hicks and Amity and looking out over the East River. My girlfriend wore a huge fuzzy yellow slipper (Steve Madden) over her swollen foot. While we waited it rained, until half of Hicks St. was flooded, and then the doctors took her, to make sense of the fractures. I read a book as people milled through. One man held blood-soaked paper towels to his forehead; some limped slightly; one man read the Spanish edition of The Watchtower.
Tonight, she wanted to do some work, and I left to walk the 15 minutes home, taking Court St. instead of Smith, because at night Smith turns into depressing, empty, dead lots, and I was in no mood. Hospitals, squirrels, strangers. A few blocks down the street, a man came up behind me, loudly thanking an invisible Jesus for his life. I counted three steps and then I heard, “big dude. Big dude. Big dude!” And then he was to my right. He asked if I could give him a moment of my time, but before I said a word, he told me that his wife had thrown him out and called the cops. He had no socks (hiking up his pants to show me), and no home, and he needed three dollars for some unspecified purpose. I gave him a half-handful of change, maybe a dollar. “What's your name, big man?”
I told him my real name. His name was Todd, he said, and some motherfuckers on the streets wouldn't tell you their real names. But he was keeping things real because I was straight up. He put out his rough, swollen hand, and I shook it.
He went over to ask a middle-aged couple for money, and the man he asked said, “I helped you out last week.” I thought, Todd is not a store or a bank. He does not know his own story, and his name keeps changing.
Todd caught up with me, and said, some people are motherfuckers. I know this, I said. He asked me for another dollar. I said no, and he said, I can't fuck with you no more, Paul, and told me I was a good man, and I told him to take care and watch out for himself.
There's another guy, who has no hand, just a few miniature, nubby fingers that come from a stump. He rides a bicycle at night, and begs from me every chance he gets. I have often been generous, but the last time he asked me for money, I didn't have any. I watched as he pulled the bike over, reached into his pocket, and pulled out his cell phone. I saw from the shades cast on his cheek that it had a color screen, and was much nicer than my own.
I don't know what the woman wanted, waiting for the train. The sockless junkie is another story, because I know he felt a real pleasure at the cascade of pocket change into his palm, relief imminent. I don't have room to criticize, because when I write, I make my living asking strangers for their approval, and their change.