Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Sidewalks of New York, Part Two

Overheard—a dialogue between two street people as they walked:
First man: We’re all separate individuals.
Second man: I respect that.
My ears went up when I heard “separate individuals.” The sidewalks of New York are heating up again. Not thermally, not just yet, but intrinsically, by nature of the people who drum their rhythms of life from them.

In the initial “Sidewalks of New York,” I wrote, “Everybody has a story” and told a scant few of a New Yorker’s slew of them. “A Distant Admirer” commented, “You don't have to be a New Yorker to love these stories, or your special New York. More, please?”

I didn’t have to be asked more than once. But then, curious, I couldn’t resist asking for “more” from my readers as well. Captured audiences we wry New Yorkers are, time-tested troupers of the serendipitous and the screwy dutifully reporting from the trenches, here’s the scoop:

This one starts like “The Ancient Mariner” and ends like a Quentin Tarantino film. A bedraggled fellow with a cheerful expression on his face approached Stuart Bardin. As Stuart tried not to be distracted by the pirate hat plopped on the man’s head and the stuffed parrot perched on his shoulder, he politely asked if Stuart had a minute to hear his tale of woe. Ever the gentleman, Stuart couldn’t say no, at least not fast enough. The less-than-ancient mariner proceeded to tell him that his ship had run aground in Central Park Lake and he was trying to raise enough money to "buy his crew some rum." He was awarded $10 for his creative fabrications—or, as Stuart puts it, for “the best laugh I ever had on the Sidewalks of NY.”

Overheard outside a Broadway theater:
I don’t understand what happened to this show. They loved it in Boston.
Celebrity-sighting in New York is a celebrity slighting the natives do well. You can read it directly from their five-borough body language: Who does he think he is that I should notice him? So the art of the game is to spot the illustrious one and then deliberately ignore him or her. Bernard Fox (no relation) relates the exception to the rule where his children’s godmother was concerned:

“She had just parked at a meter. She dug into her purse for quarters and found she had only large bills. Thinking for a moment about rushing to a nearby store to get change and then rushing back before her car was ticketed or towed, she spotted Woody Allen walking down the street. He was walking with a fisherman-like hat pulled way down over his head, his collar up, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. She stood in his path and said, “I have no change for my meter, and unless you give me a quarter, I’m going to shout ‘THERE’S WOODY ALLEN!’" He gave her the quarter. And a smile.

Hey, lady, you got a hundred bucks? I wanna get out of the city.
The following happened to me. Almost twice:

On a sunny day on the cobblestone sidewalk along Central Park West, a neatly-dressed, light-skinned African-American man seemingly in his twenties approached from the opposite direction, greeting me with a happy-to-see-you smile and a warm hello. While I scrutinized his face quickly, trying to recognize him, he said, “You know my mother.” It’s not a line you can walk away from. As I stood trying to place him, trying to find the face of the woman “I knew” in his, he asked, “Who’s the black woman you know best?” My mind flashed on Blanche, a woman who helped my mother raise me when I was a child, a woman I dearly loved many years ago. Perhaps it was emotion, perhaps it was the incredibility of the situation: I barely uttered her name. It didn’t matter—he didn’t need to hear it. “I’m her son,” he said.” The incredibility of the situation predominated. “Is your mother still alive?” I inquired. He assured me she was—old, but fine, he indicated with a proud, confirming nod. I was in no position to do the math, but now I could walk away and was ready to. Careful not to repeat her name, I pointedly told him, “If she were still alive, she’d have to be over a hundred.” With another nod, he said, “Let’s step over here and discuss it.” Stepping back and saying we had nothing to discuss, I departed quickly, feeling a little foolish and a little sad—I hadn’t thought about Blanche for years, and if there were any chance she… no, impossible. My melancholy quickly turned to begrudging admiration for the young man—he was good! I wondered how many people he took in per day, per week, and how much he asked for, for money surely was his object. I thought of reporting the incident to the proper authorities, but I know New York detectives, and, in addition to the serious pursuit of more dangerous men, they have bigger fishy people to fry. Continuing on my way, I couldn’t help smiling.

I said, “almost twice.” Less than a month ago, a man coming toward me on Broadway smiled and greeted me. It was the same neatly-dressed man, and he looked none the worse for the years that had passed, five by my count. Before he could say, “You know…” I told him, “I’ve already heard your hustle.” He smiled and said, “Good to see you again,” and moved on without breaking stride.

Could you tell me how to get to Times Square, or should I just go f#!* myself?