Yesterday I put in a load of laundry and then I went to the grocery store. On the way to the store I saw the Newspaper King by the Radio Shack on 7th Avenue and 23rd Street. He was pulling a plastic bag out of the Village Voice paper box on the curb and talking at a man standing a few feet away. He looked at me as I was passing and said: “That man wants to steal my sandwich. I see him looking!” I glanced back at the other man, who was standing there minding his own business, and I recognized him as someone who works in the little discount mens clothing shop next to the Radio Shack. He likes to stand outside the shop and I see him standing there almost every day. On my way back about 15 minutes later, the Newspaper King was sitting on the sidewalk between the Radio Shack and the clothing shop, which has a big sign up now that says: “Recession Special—All Suits $59.00.” I see the Newspaper King all over the place, and have for a long time. A couple of years ago I saw him up on 35th Street and 8th Avenue and I had my camera with me. He told me that if I gave him a dollar he would let me take his portrait. So I did. And yesterday he looked just as resplendent as ever, sitting there on the sidewalk with his bottom half tucked into a Hefty trash bag, leaning against the Radio Shack.

I went to the library and while I was there a man charged in, looked at the line of people waiting for the check out and shouted, “Next!” He raced down the line toward the back of the library, saying, “Who’s next? You next?” He had a big smile on his face and when he laughed it was contagious. Even the librarians were smiling. A lady checking out a book asked, “Does he come in all the time?” And one of the librarians said, “Yes. He comes in every day for a drink of water.” The man came tearing back to the front, turned his big smile on the librarians and said, “How YOU doin’? Next!” He stood beaming into the library and then he whirled around and ran out. It was the second time I had seen him. The first time was a few weeks ago when I was just leaving and he was coming towards the library. He had on two coats and the same big smile. I heard him say: “I’m going in there to tell a buncha lies and eat a lotta berries! Yup! That’s what I’m gonna do, I’m going to go in there and tell a buncha lies and eat a lotta berries!” His words sunk in just as he was passing me and I laughed. He stopped and said, “My dear! I’m so happy to see you again!” He seemed to really mean it. I said, “Me too,” even though I had never seen him before.

On my way back to the Laundromat I saw a man and woman coming toward me on 22nd Street. They both looked about forty and very regular, like a couple of off duty bus drivers. I saw the woman lift to her lips a big cigar, light it, and then very luxuriously smoke on it. Then I saw the man produce a big cigar of his own and light that. They walked leisurely towards 7th Avenue, puffing their cigars. It’s not every day you see a woman smoking a cigar, and this one made it look like something women do all the time. I could imagine them having a little ritual--of meeting in the Cuban cigar shop on 6th Avenue up by Superior Flowers, and buying their cigars together after work--and how much they probably look forward to that. I went in to the Laundromat and my machine was still going, so I took a little walk over to 9th Avenue. All the trees along 22nd Street were exploding in flowers and crowded with birds.

On the corner of 9th Avenue and 20th Street I saw Dominic, one of the bums who usually hangs around my block, foraging in the trash at the curb. He looked up and saw me and said, “Hi, Patty.” I’ve never told him what my name is, but he always calls me Patty, and sometimes he calls me Pat. I saw a taxi driver who looked like a magical swami in a white turban and the longest beard I have ever seen come out of the Punjab deli with his lunch and climb in to his cab, which was parked there. I saw him open the bag and pull out a plastic fork. Then I saw another swami with a huge belly and a blue turban run over and tap on the window. I saw the first swami’s face light up with happiness at the sight of who was tapping his window.

By the time I got back to the Laundromat, my clothes had been taken out of the machine by the attendant and piled in a basket. I threw them in the dryer for two quarters' worth of hot air and went next door to the Salvation Army to look at books. I found a thriller for 99 cents and the cashier rang it up as $9099.00. He got all flustered and the manager who came to fix it said, “Jesus, just go take a break or something, will ya?”

In the laundromat I read the police blotter in the free paper, which made it seem as if 9th Avenue is just crawling with old-style pickpockets bumping into people in broad daylight. I read about a man arrested for swiping seven tubes of Colgate from CVS on 8th Avenue, and then I took my clothes out of the dryer and hauled them home to finish drying on the fire escape.

April 10, 2010


1 comment:

  1. Hey, I used to live around there, on 21st between 8th and 9th, across from the schoolyard. That was in the mid-80s. It was a nice neighborhood then. Chelsea hadn't quite become the commercially gay section it later was. I'm glad to hear some of the character remains! Thanks, Romy.