I noticed him long ago. He stands outside the entrance to the F train, at Warren and Smith. Sometimes he sits rather stands, his back against the brick wall behind him.
What he’s doing is begging, although I’ve yet to see him beg. He just stands there, silent. Often he looks down. He has no sign. I’ve seen him there at all hours, which has made me wonder where—and when—he sleeps. I’ve yet to see anyone speak to him, or give him money, or even look at him, although it would impossible not to notice him there.
Two days ago, at about 7am, as I was returning from Starbucks, I found him in his usual spot, but sitting this time. He had his head down and his knees up and was holding a lidded cup of coffee to his lips. He was completely still, as though frozen in place, which seemed entirely possible given how cold it was.
I moved closer, just to make sure he was alive. I watched his jacket for signs of breathing. There weren’t any.
I’m not proud of this, but my next thought was of what would happen if he was dead, what I would need to do—the police, the questions, standing there while his corpse was put on a stretcher and lifted into an ambulance or whatever sort of vehicle the city uses to transport the dead.
For the briefest moment I thought of walking away, of leaving him, or rather leaving the problem he represented, for someone else to deal with. But that was not, I knew, what I would do. This man was a man at the top of the stairs to the F train, as alone as a man could be, whether living or dead. I could not, and would not, walk away.
Instead I took another step toward him and extended my hand, touching him lightly on the shoulder.
“Sir,” I said. “Are you okay?”
“No, I’m not okay,” he said, looking up at me. “But it appears I’m still alive.”
Today is the tenth anniversary of my first date with K. I’m not sure how this happened. Ten years ago I went on a date with a woman named K, and when it was over I asked to see her again. Then we had a second date, and a third, and so on, and now today is ten years of one day following the next with this one woman, K.
I don’t believe there’s a word for the kind of disorientation I feel. K says, only half-joking, that there must be a word in German.
In the simplest sense I know exactly what happened. But those are merely the facts of the case – one day followed the next, and so on. At the same time there’s another, deeper sense in which the facts are beside the point.
Whenever I fly cross-country there’s always that unsettling moment when I suddenly find myself several thousand miles from where I woke that day.
Sometimes when K and I are talking, I try to retrace how we arrived at the current subject. Rarely do I manage it.
But then, really, what does it matter? We arrived.
I saw a policeman on the bus today. He had a puppet with him. They sat together in one of the side-facing seats toward the back, having a quiet conversation. The puppet appeared to be made of wood. He wore a policeman’s uniform with a little policeman’s hat. When he talked, his mouth opened very far. I noticed that his lips, which were bright red, had been painted on his face.
At first I couldn’t hear what the policeman and the puppet were saying, so I moved to a seat across from them and pretended to be reading a book. It turned out that they were discussing a little boy who had gotten lost at a party. In the middle of the party the boy’s parents realized that they hadn’t seen the boy in some time. They looked everywhere and called his name over and over, but the boy didn’t appear. Soon all their friends joined in, but they couldn’t find the boy either, so eventually the parents were forced to call the police. The officer who came was the puppet. He told the policeman that he felt bad for the family, who were terribly upset about their missing boy. Everyone was. He said that there was a chocolate cake on the table that looked delicious but that no one was eating any because of how upset they were.
At this the policeman shook his head and said that everyone probably wanted to eat the cake even more than usual but were stopping themselves because of the boy’s disappearance. “It would have looked like they were celebrating,” he said.
“Oh, shit, you’re right,” cried the puppet, who then smacked himself on the side of his head, knocking off his little policeman’s hat.
Once, at a crowded party, I went around asking strangers about their dreams. One man said he dreamt only in colors and feelings. His dreams had no people and no stories except in the sense that the colors and feelings often formed a kind of progression. It was like music, he said, like songs.