City stories

In college, in a smallish, suburban city, I would go out on weekends with friends who co-edited a student magazine. It was a dry college, so we’d end up at Denny’s or IHOP instead of some after-hours club, Belgian waffles replacing booze. To entertain ourselves, we’d play a game of making up stories about the customers at other booths.

“That girl over there, her name is Dolores,” we’d say. “She got pregnant a year ago, her junior year of high school. She gave the baby up for adoption. Now she’s out with a new boyfriend, but just look at him. You can tell he’s getting into her pants, and he’s probably not bright enough to use protection.”

After college I moved to the East Coast, first to Washington, DC and then to New York. I entered a whole new level of situations for which my clever undergraduate stories would be completely inadequate. A sampling:

A few days ago, walking up Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, I passed a homeless guy lying on the sidewalk sleeping. His shirt had risen up to reveal his stomach, upon which was perched an outie as big as an egg. What could explain such an enormous belly button? The mind reels.

Belly-Button Guy recalled to mind an encounter on Fourth Street in DC. I was walking home from the grocery store when I saw, lying near the sidewalk next to a park, a man of forty or so, clearly drunk or high, lying on the ground moaning with his pants around his ankles. His scrotum formed a single spherical mass as big as a cantaloupe. He yelled something incomprehensible and threw a pebble at me as I passed by. Again, what could possibly be the cause?

Then there’s the law office on Atlantic Avenue that I pass every time I take a cab home over the Brooklyn Bridge. A shabby storefront announces the law offices of Nelson W. Schmuckler, Attorney at Law. A 24-hour hotline is prominently displayed. How many stories have gone through that law office, and how did Mr. Schmuckler end up with that practice, and that exquisite name?

A highlight occurred just today, though, as I walked down Beekman St. in Lower Manhattan with my friend Lisa. She stopped the conversation to ask, “Is that guy really naked?” What? Of course not! But I looked up and yes, there was a skinny, youngish guy running towards us up the hill wearing a hospital gown gathered not-quite-daintily about his waist. He was clearly all alone in his own world as he ran by. He was making a break for it. Crazy. Classic crazy, like out of a Marx Brothers sketch that allows full frontal nudity.

But we couldn’t help staring, and when he passed us he turned and stared back, trying to hold his gown closed over his skinny white ass as he darted out into the street and into traffic, heading for City Hall. Just as Lisa and I started asking each other what we should do, we saw a security guard from the hospital running up the street. Once again, the back story is going to have to be much more creative than anything we came up with in that suburban Denny’s.

2 responses to “City stories”

  1. Lane says:

    I’m reading this having just returned from a “Quality of Life Citation Class.”

    I was issued a summons a month ago for riding my bike on the sidewalk. In lieu of a fine the City has you sit in a class with a dozen other offenders to “tell your story” and discuss the consequences of your behavior.

    It was fun to have a window on the common crimiality of my class.

    And hey everybody, be careful leaving that party with a couple more swigs to down, the cops really are watching!

  2. Stephanie Wells says:

    It sounds to me like some of your sightings, and the questions they evoked, are matters for Dr. Cedric Cedarbrook, M.D. A navel cyst? Prostate cancer? Perhaps Cedric can shed some light on these, but on the other hand, they might be better stories without the clinical explanations–just the metaphors of egg and cantaloupe to whet our imaginations if not our appetites.