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Monday, June 10, 2002
By Paul Ford
Respect and fear while waiting for the gym.
Standing in gym sweats, hair uncombed, in the middle of a Friday, David waited outside the apartment on 9th St., watching for Alan's black Volkswagen. A tall woman walked past and asked for the time, wandering into Red Hook, followed a few minutes later by a young man with a tight do-rag who asked for Marshall Street. David didn't know where it was.
While he waited he read a hardcover called Toxic Waste is Good for You, a $25 book which condemned the public relations industry for its amorality, its lies and truth-twisting in the service of corporations. David recognized several of the evils exposed as more dramatic versions of the ones he had perpetrated himself, when he had worked in advertising. It's not that you set out to lie, he thought; it's just that story is much better if you leave certain things back. Enough of those, and it turns into a lie, and you're stuck with it.
Alan was late, as expected, but David was so constantly late for events that he couldn't begrudge it, especially on this gorgeous ringing afternoon. David wished for a stoop, rather than the small fenced-in concrete patch in front of the house, but standing burned more calories, and could be considered part of the workout.
Suddenly a young woman yelled something and pulled in beside him. A man on a red bicycle rode past her.
“Hello,” she said. She was small, a foot shorter than David, her features from India, her accent and clothing from suburban New Jersey, her clothing a mix of colors: I am middle class, I am educated, I moved to New York from somewhere else to have an adventure, to find interesting things, to figure out who I am.
David opened his mouth a bit and put his book to his side.
“Look,” she said, “there's this guy following me, he won't leave me alone. Is it okay if I just stop here for a moment? My name is Charlotte. How are you?”
“I'm David. It's nice to meet you. That's him on the red bicycle?”
She turned around. “Yes. I went to pick up my bike. He followed me from Red Hook, he said he'd follow me home.”
“Here he is, David said.” The man was sallow, with a three-day beard, somewhere in his 30s. His bike looked good, a fairly new 12-speed.
“Shit,” Charlotte said.
“Hello,” David said, “how you doing. My name's David.”
“My name's Steve, and I'm talking to—” said the man, motioning to the young woman.
“Sure, Steve, but this is my friend. She stopped to talk with me now.”
The sallow man narrowed his eyes, leaning in on his right leg. “Now look,” he said.
“No,” David said, “I'm here talking with my friend.”
“I was talking with her—”
“Yes, but she's talking with me now, and she'd like you to leave us alone. I think that's the respectful thing to do.”
“You're being disrespectful to me.”
David raised his voice slighty. “Steve, now, I'm being very respectful, I'm saying that my friend and I are talking, and she'd like you to leave her alone.”
“...Don't appreciate you getting disrespectful.”
From the man's quieting, submissive voice it was clear that this would play out quietly; David suddenly saw how he must look, with head shorn, fat, over 6 feet tall. The man on the bicycle wanted a way out, probably, with a few scraps of pride.
“This is my friend,” said Charlotte.
“Listen,” said David, “no disrespect. But she and I want to have a conversation. She'd like you to leave.”
The sallow man reached out to shake the woman's hand. David wanted to stop them (never let someone take your hand; the other hand can come around for a punch) but before he could come to a conclusion Charlotte had reciprocated limply, with a pinched expression. The touch, however, satisfied the man.
“I don't appreciate this,” he said.
“Just go on,” said David, lowering his voice. “That's enough.”
“I don't appreciate that disrespect,” said the man as he pedaled away. There was a silence.
“There he goes,” said David.
“Thank you,” said Charlotte, without turning away to see him leave.
“He's not from the neighborhood. I've never seen him before.”
“He wouldn't leave me alone. I left my bike at a friend's in Red Hook, and I went to get it, and he started after me. He kept saying he'd take me home.”
“That's awful. He just went right on Smith St.”
She turned around. “I guess I can go.”
David smiled. There was a quick thank you, and he watched her pedal off towards Park Slope, then waited for the sallow man to reappear, which didn't happen.
David began to think of all the things that could have gone wrong. He wished he'd introduced himself as her boyfriend, which would have likely sent the man away faster, wished he'd been perfect in the moment, more confident. Then he reminded himself he'd been fine; he'd helped the woman out of a threatening situation and then seen her on her way without making her feel uncomfortable or obligated. When she was two blocks off, a receding blue dot in his vision, he'd forgotten her name. He tried to read his book, but was no longer in the mood for analysis.
A few moments later, Alan's black car pulled up, and David lowered himself into the front seat.
“While I was waiting for you, I was called to protect the sacred womanhood of Brooklyn.”
“How's that go?”
He told the story.
“Were you scared?”
“Not when he came over. After, I thought of all the ways it could have gone bad if he'd been really crazy. But then, who's going to fuck with me? I'm too big.” David thought for a moment. “It wasn't much of an event.”
“Did you get her number”
“She was cute, but it would have been a little threatening to ask,” David said. “And I was wearing sweatpants. You can't ask for a date in sweatpants.”
“That's very true. You just can't.”