It’s Not What You See
(Photos by Bald Punk – Spring Street from Mercer)
Dog-tired after demoing an apartment the other day, I avowed to walk the mile or so uptown to Strand Bookstore on 13th Street and B’way. It would have been easier to jump on the subway. But I was in the mood for a good walk.
I left a dust cloud and heap of rubble in my wake, and it didn’t occur to me until two or three blocks later that it was one of those rare days where night had bled into day. The tell-tale sign was a hazy film on some of the buildings.
I put it out if my mind. I like to be oblivious. It’s good for the ol’ ticker.
He has a habit of either scaring the shit out of me, or he yaps on forever. Yesterday I was all about black and white. I was jonesing for new literature. I wanted to get my books, go home, and get my fix.
But I did pull my camera out of my knapsack. It occurred to me that the slight difference in the air would be mistaken for summer humidity in a photo. I thought it might look nice on film. When I passed Bond Street on Broadway, I was surprised to see a wrought-iron street lamp was lit. I took a picture of it. (See below)
(Bond Street from Broadway)
By Prince Street a door opened. From inside a burst of cool air flavored with the aroma of fresh-baked dough hit me. It was like a big hand reached out and pulled me inside.
I found myself inside Dean and Deluca’s. It’s a gourmet shop that sells cheeses, meats, breads, and desserts. I visually devoured two heroes and a crusted-n-creamy pastry, though I didn’t order a thing. I’m on a diet. The eat-less diet. Do I need to say, “I was tempted.” I almost gave in as I chatted “pastries” with the lady in the picture below. By her smile, you can see I’m a real charmer.
(Dean & Deluca at B’way and Prince St.)
After I left D&D, I spotted the cigar store Indian in the middle of the busy sidewalk across the street. He was like a fork in the river as people passed around him.
Oh! My lady friend is looking over my shoulder, and she says to make sure I tell you that his name is Benny. The pizza and Chinese delivery guys are huddled by my other shoulder. I feel like Charles Dickens, who also had to write with his fam hanging over him, too.
My lady friend also wants me to tell you Benny’s tribal name, but alas, it escapes me, and for good reason. His name is whacked out. He is too. He thinks he’s been reincarnated.
He says his Manhattoes’ tribe was an off-shoot of the Lenni Lenape Indians (aka the Delaware Indians), and that he was around at the time when they sold Manhattan to the Dutch for some loose change. He hates the Dutch. Once when I saw Benny in Washington Square Park, he pointed to the public bathroom and said, “Smells like the Dutch sailors.”
But before anyone starts to think Benny’s some great mystic or window to another time, you have to understand, he speaks just as passionately about the time he used to be a cigar store Indian–as he does the time when he was a Manhattoe.
Whatever. He’s a wingnut–like most of them.
Anyway, I continued on up to Strands. On the way I saw the sign for $10 back massage and got one. The woman had an iron grip. It was a surprise that she didn’t hurt me. But it was oh so guud.
(Massage Spa )
After that I went into Strand’s, which is on the next block. Last time I was there I took a chance on some novels after a quick peruse, and got burned on two of them. This time I wasn’t taking any chances. I bought, Memories of my Melancholy Whores and In Evil Hour by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and After Dark by Haruki Murkami.
(Strand Book Store)
Outside the bookstore, I saw Benny on the corner directly ahead. He was picking through a trash can. I yelled for him to stop. He smiled and reached deeper into the muck. He seemed to come up with something that he kept in his fist.
I ignored him. He followed me into Union Square on 14th St., and was being a real idiot. He kept showing his closed fist, making sure I knew he had something. I didn’t take the bait.
What I did catch was an awesome vantage that I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never noticed. I took a picture. You can see it in the previous post about Benny. It’s the photo with George Washington on horseback, the American Flag, and Empire State Building–all in it. That’s why doing this blog is great. Since I keep thinking about getting nice pics for you, I see lots of stuff that has escaped me.
I took a few snaps. Benny kept silent though nearly stepped on my toes. To make him happy, I asked, “Whatdaya got, Benny? Whadya find?”
He smiled–he’s got a space between his teeth, and his teeth ain’t all that clean, but he’s still got a nice smile. Kinda smile you trust. And his eyes add to his appeal. They have an innocent light.
Benny opened his fist and showed me a diamond engagement ring. “You want it?”
“Sure,” I said.
He held it out. “Take it, really, take it,” Benny said, his tone hinting at a deeper meaning.
I pulled my arm back.
“I don’t need it,” he added. “I don’t need money.”
I gave a big head shake, one that included my shoulders as well. Benny might be nuts, but there’s more to him than meets the eye. If I touched that ring, no telling what might happen. Maybe by the next day I’d be married, or if I hocked it, I’d be cursed with bad luck.
“No, I don’t need it either,” I said and took a thoughtful look around. For the first time that afternoon, I really let myself notice how the City seemed different.
“It’s old world spooky,” Benny said, probably suspecting what I thought by the look in my eye. “Back before the Dutch came, we never had days like this. Manna-hata was pure back then. We had to sing and dance to bring out our spirits. They never bothered us, unless we went calling.”
I didn’t say anything. Benny was gazing far off, his mind surely someplace else. And to tell you the truth, I wanted to jump on the train in Union Station below and shoot home.
“Take a few more pictures,” Benny said a little brusquely.
I was about to say I had to go, until he raised his voice.
“It’s not what you see,” he said.
(Union Square West)
To please him, I took more pictures.
“You have a good eye,” he said after I photoed the back of a statue and a building being renovated. “Now go get one from the front of the statue.” I was already on my way when he said again, “It’s not what you see.”
These are the photographs Benny had me take:
Update: I went back today and took the picture below. The statue is called the Temperance Fountain. The figure is of Charity and a nameless child.
Here are all the posts in this series: Episode Fifteen – August 2009