One evening last autumn I was walking along the West Side not far from the river when I saw coming towards me one of the prettiest-looking people I had seen in a long time. When he reached me and was about to go on past, I felt compelled to tell him how pretty I thought he was. I came very close to not saying anything, but I gathered up my courage and spoke. I think what I said was: “You are the prettiest person I have seen all day.” He didn’t seem to mind my saying that at all. He was just as gracious as he was pretty. I had my camera, and I asked him if he would mind if I took his picture. He said he would be happy to pose for a picture, and he told me that his name was Floyd Leon Fuller.
Since that evening when I met him, I have thought of Mr. Fuller every so often, but I especially thought of him a couple of days ago during the big blizzard. In the late morning I waded through the howling sleet along 12th Street all the way over to Avenue C. I was going to the Social Security Administration office to get a paper related to my social security card, something that would be a tedious errand on any kind of day. But I regretted even trying it on that one, especially when I reached the place and found it closed and dark. A handful of old men were standing around the door in their coats, looking at a sign saying that service had been suspended for the day. One of them looked at me and said, “What day is today?” I said, “It’s the 10th.” And he said, “No, what day? What day of the week is this?” And I said, “Wednesday.” The sign on the door didn’t state the reason for the suspension of service, just the fact that the place was closed. I was kicking myself for not checking before walking all the way across town, as far as 12th Street went almost to the East River, just to find the office shut. I promised myself that once I got back home nothing would get me outside again for the rest of the day.
I love the kind of big snowfalls when the city goes all hushed and forgiven in its silence of white magic. But this was not that kind of snowstorm. What was coming down was ice and slush whipped around by the wind. I started back the way I came and let my mind loose to wander as I walked home. Passing Stuyvesant Square near the Friends Meeting House and St. George’s Episcopal Church on East 16th Street, I saw the little park enveloped in the blizzard, and thought of a day not long ago when I sat there on a bench for a while. I sat and watched squirrels racing up and down the trees whose branches were crowded with pigeons, and listened to an old man with a cane belting out Give My Regards to Broadway over by a clutch of bums going through the trash.
I thought of my friend Victor Bockris and visiting him one March afternoon just as snow began to fall. I sat on his sofa and noticed, on the table beside me, a roll of toilet paper that Victor had scribbled all over in black marker as if it were just regular old notepaper. I wondered how deep into the roll the notes went, but before I could ask him, something distracted me and I never found out.
I remembered a night some years ago when I went down to visit my friend Lionel Ziprin on East Broadway. He lived in one of the big buildings originally built as low income housing to replace the old tenement houses that stood for so long on the Lower East Side where he grew up during the Great Depression. Lionel called those big buildings “memory batteries.” In his living room, which was full of big black hats and bookcases full of Jewish scholarly texts, Lionel had a beautiful divan. The back of the divan was of hand-carved wood in the shapes of leaves and vines. Sitting on it that night for some reason made me think of the great actress Sarah Bernhardt. Lionel was sitting in his rocking chair opposite, and I patted the cushion beside me and said, “Sarah Bernhardt.” Lionel nodded and said, “Yes, she gave that to my mother once,” and somehow neither one of us seemed to feel surprised by any of it. I remember looking out the window and seeing that it had started to snow. And walking uptown a little later that night I saw, way uptown, the Chrysler Building standing by herself all blurry and beautiful, like a nighttime watercolor.
By the time I got home from the closed Social Security office I was soaked and very glad to be inside again. And then I remembered Floyd Leon Fuller. Because on the autumn evening when I was compelled to stop and tell him how pretty he looked, he gave me a little flyer on which was hand-written: “Floyd Leon Fuller will appear at the Apollo Feb 10th at 7:30 PM. That’s a Wednesday. He is as talented as MJ.” I looked him up on the Apollo site and found him listed as an Amateur Night artist and read that Floyd Leon Fuller, also known as Mr. Hollywood, has “a five range octave and knows how to use it.” I had been looking forward to it for months. Just to be safe, I checked the Apollo Theater site, and I found this little announcement: “Due to inclement weather, the show scheduled for Wednesday, February 10th, has been canceled.” I sat by the window watching the storm, hoping that wherever Mr. Hollywood was sitting at that moment he didn’t feel too disappointed. I felt disappointed and relieved, both.
12 February 2010