An old one! (Reposted for Chris, who still remembers the cup of pee.)

Today I took a walk up 10thAvenue, and at 30th Street I saw a bottle lying at the edge of the curb which was unmistakably full of pee. Over the many years I have lived in this city I have seen bottles full of pee sitting on curbs all over town. I know from my friend Joe, who for years and years drove a yellow cab, that the bottles of pee come from taxi drivers. Taxi drivers aren’t allowed to stop anywhere to pee, and they usually have twelve-hour shifts. So they pee in bottles, and a lot of them don’t pour the pee out onto the street, but leave the bottle by the curb. 

I’ve never seen anyone responsible for picking up the bottles of pee and throwing them away, but somebody must be doing it. Looking at this particular bottle of pee, which I took a photo of, I was reminded of an actual cup of pee I knew about once. 

The cup of pee was noticed by Chris Stein one early November day as he walked past it. It was sitting on the granite ledge of a boarded-up window in an old industrial building on a street still more or less deserted. 
He's lived in the city forever, so he instantly recognized it as pee. I don’t remember why he told me about it but I remember him saying, “I saw a cup of piss sitting on a window sill,” and sort of giggling. Over the next little while he called every day to tell me that the cup of pee was still there, because every day he walked past the cup of pee on his way to the deli where he went to get coffee. Quite a few days passed, and Chris told me that the pee in the cup was starting to turn from yellow to a shade of amber. He was amazed that the cup of pee was undisturbed after weeks of sitting there. 

Chris lived on Greenwich Street, right around the corner from the cup of pee. I liked visiting him, and I always thought his house looked like a museum after an earthquake. He had a glass case with a creature called a root demon in it and mirrors and masks and swords and paintings and junk he dragged in from outside and piles of books and sleeping kitties all over everything and plates of cat food and gadgets and guitars and skulls and a very messy kitchen.

We took lots of walks together during that time, and there always seemed to be a lot to look at. Chris always had interesting stories about certain old buildings and things that had happened in them. I remember him pointing out the building where the famous shirtwaist fire had taken place with all the poor seamstresses trapped inside. And one day we walked by the building where the cup of pee was sitting on its granite sill before the boarded-up window. Chris was giggling as he showed it to me. He could hardly believe that the cup of pee was still there. But who would touch it? Would it just sit there forever? 

It was around that time, in 1997, that my Dad came to visit me. My Dad was a noticeable oddball. He had Tourette’s Syndrome. He didn’t shout curses. What he did do was hum a little tune constantly and say “bump” over and over. He was born in 1922. He was very intelligent and he loved gangsters. He loved wandering around New York looking at the old buildings and he had no money whatsoever. I always put him in the Leo House, the Catholic hostel on West 23rdStreet, when he came to visit. They had an old hand-operated elevator then and sometimes the operator was a nun. My dad liked that very much. 

Chris was away when my Dad came, but he told me, “Take your old man down to my place if you want.” He knew my Dad would appreciate it, and he did. He looked at Chris’s skulls and books, he petted all of Chris’s cats, and then in the basement, he looked at all the guitars lying around and after a long humming silence, he said: “Are all these things in tune?” And he really wanted to know. When we wandered up Canal Street and stopped in front of a Chinese fishseller where all different kinds of fish lay all over a big mountain of ice, my Dad asked, “What kind of fish is this?” 

The fishseller said, “Rockfish.” 

“What kind of fish is that?” my dad asked. “Grouper.” 
“And what kind of fish is this?” “Perch. You want perch?” 

And my Dad said, “No thanks. What kind of fish is this?”

He would have asked what kind of fish they all were if the fishseller hadn’t turned away to help somebody else.

I told my dad the story of the cup of pee. Since it was right nearby, I asked him if he’d like to go and see it. A look crossed his face as if he were about to say, “What the hell for?” But he said, “Okay. Why the hell not?” I took him to where the building was. The cup of pee was gone. I could hardly believe my eyes. The cup of pee was no longer there. My Dad didn’t really care, but it seemed nevertheless like a chance missed, and he was disappointed. “I wouldn’t have minded seeing it,” he said.

These days it is usually the whole building that is gone suddenly when you go looking for something you remember. It seems that every other block has a big hole in it where something was and now isn’t. Something old and quiet, some little old theater or two-story workshop or florist, and in their places, new very tall buildings are shooting up as fast as slum weeds. When I saw the bottle of pee on 10thAvenue today, it somehow, suddenly, looked old-fashioned.


 August 5th2005

Copyright Romy Ashby 2021

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