LIFE IN TWO HOURS AND FIFTEEN MINUTES
(Photo by Bald Punk – Lower Manhattan by South Street)
I’m not perfect.
I see homeless people on the street and think, should I give them money, pity, the cold shoulder, an evil stare that says “stay away?” Is the way they are their fault or is it God’s, societies, bad luck or did a watershed event ruin them?
Then I turn away and forget them.
This post is the third in a series. These are the first three in order of posting:
I remember my high school biology teacher, Mr. Buegler, figuring out how much sperm a male could produce in a lifetime. As impossible a feat as that was, it seems as difficult to calculate all the homeless one might pass on the streets in NYC over an extended period, especially when you tend to look right through them.
(Dick Buegler/Painting by Sarah Yuster)
Though I did meet one unlucky soul that I’ll always remember.
It was a few years back when I was killing time on the promenade that runs along the East River by the Brooklyn Bridge.
It was a Friday evening, and I was going to meet some friends at Jeremy’s Ale House on Front Street. It’s one of those bars decorated with drunk-women’s underwear. You’d probably like it. I’m not saying that because most people on the Internet are perverts. I’m saying that because it’s a fun, forget-about-everything type place.
(Jeremy’s Ale House)
So there I was sitting on a bench near the Bridge. Man-oh-man am I handsome–then and now. Though at this time I had a nice quaff of blond hair, and was a touch slimmer.
I can’t remember what I was thinking, but it’s not like I’m Einstein. Beer, food, girls, music, books, do I have an illness I don’t know about – take your pick. It was one of those.
Come to think of it, I must have taken a reality break and zoned out. Because I didn’t notice this homeless guy until he was two feet in front of me. He was leaning on the railing, seeming to be absorbed by the sight of the Brooklyn Bridge.
(Brooklyn Bridge/Manhattan Bridge – Photo by Bald Punk)
He had on heavy woolen trousers and a shirt. Both looked like they could last for years without a wash. His hair was stringy and flying with the breeze, but it wasn’t dirty or tangled. It seemed he had just arrived from bum-hell or out of a homeless fashion show.
More importantly, he was a little too close to me. I wasn’t happy. But before you go hatin’ on me, you have to understand, in NYC a person has their own space. When it applies to an encroaching homeless person, it expands two or three times. It’s a safety thing. Plus I don’t want to have to smell them.
Sorry. But you know I like to be honest with you. I won’t lie to you like your Congressman.
Btw, if this guy smelled, I didn’t notice. But he was totally bonkers. He was talking under his breath, a mishmash of half-sentences–gibberish.
When his gaze jumped my way I gave him the ‘deadly-serious, stay-the-f away stare. I’m not Gandhi. Plus, as you know, when I do shit for mankind, it’s spontaneous.
That’s how I’m wired.
But I decided to vacate the bench, while thinking things like: was he born to be homeless? He seems more nutty than drug addled? He was probably born to lose?
Then I heard him say something that I thought was directed at me. He had said, “Born that way.”
“Born that way,” I repeated just to see that I heard him clearly. He nodded and my body kind of pulled inward at every perceivable angle. “When?” I asked, the word slipping past my lips, but somehow it was the right thing to ask.
“Two hours ago.”
“You were born two hours ago?” I asked and looked up at the criss-crossing steel-cable of the Brooklyn Bridge, amazed that this guy could read my thoughts.
He didn’t answer.
(Photo by Bald Punk)
“I built that,” he said, his tone a little less nutty as he also set his eyes on the bridge.
“You built the Brooklyn Bridge, and you were born two hours ago?”
He turned with a razor-sharp glare. A shiver ran through me.
The wool clothes he wore seemed from another time. They had a utilitarian style, that is to say, they were made to last as I had first thought. The bones of his face were heavy and pronounced. You’d break your fist on his jaw.
“Fifteen minutes to live,” he muttered, and his eyes darted to a row of old, red brick buildings across South Street. It was where the Fulton Fish market used to have offices.
In seeming response to something he saw, he muttered angrily and walked off. His shoulders were hunched though he had a wide, powerful back.
Now why I didn’t get up and go after him is a mystery to this day. I really couldn’t move (this is something I’ve experienced more than once). I watched him trudge along until it hit me that he was going to walk right into the traffic lane.
Finally, I “came to” and sprinted after him.
One of those big-and-tall tourist buses with a large glass windshield was coming up the street. It never slowed as he walked right in front of it.
I winced at impact. It slammed into him and he went flying. There was no damage to the bus, which kept right on going. All while the homeless man hurdled through the air.
I was terrified and needed to vomit. I loathed myself for how I had felt toward this man.
I turned again to the red-brick fish market offices across the street. Someone stared at me from a doorway. I had the feeling, he had seen the accident, too.
(Photo by Bald Punk – South Street)
If I wasn’t terrified enough, in the window above this man, I saw the homeless guy again. He waved to me, and clear as day, I heard him say:
“Two hours and fourteen minutes to live.”
I took off though not before I stole another look at the guy on the first floor. His head was narrow and elongated, and he had a beady-eyed, intense stare.
He wasn’t human.
To be continued . . .
Here are all the posts in this series: Episode Fourteen – August 2009