I stood and watched a man in a blue suit stare into the window of a shop that only sold popsicles. He stared for a long time. He kept staring and I said, “Do it, man. Get yourself a popsicle.” But he couldn’t hear me. I was all the way over here leaning against the brick wall on the other side of Bleecker Street and the wind ripped and sent a newspaper slapping into me. I laughed, kicked it away.
The man in the blue suit changed his stance and peered closer. His breath fogging the window. It was such a cold day. I was shivering. Part of my problem with shivering was that I didn’t own a coat anymore. I’d gotten too fat for my coat three years before, maybe four years before and I refused to buy another coat. That coat was supposed to last the rest of my life. That had been the deal.
Maybe I’d change my life or something.
The man in the suit walked away and I was sad. Everyone else streamed past the popsicle store without giving it a second thought. These were the most expensive popsicles in America. Right next door was a former guitar shop that was no longer a guitar shop. The sign remained but the inside was white like heaven now and I could see construction workers working the whiteness. Soon the store would become a Chanel or a Hugo Boss. You couldn’t sell enough guitars here to stay in business. I squinted and looked through the popsicle store’s window at the lone employee. He wouldn’t have that job much longer.
A few minutes later that same businessman, now wearing a plaid scarf, walked back up Bleecker Street, and entered the popsicle store and he bought himself a popsicle and saved the day. It was such a cold day. Leaving, he looked absolutely insane with that green popsicle in his hand.
I was waiting for Rae to get off work. We were going to go get drunk. It felt good to be waiting for something like that. Most of my waiting was about things I was terrified of: cancer; financial ruin; the death of my mother; the death of my father; losing the use of my hands and not being able to play piano, not that I did play piano; the loss of my eyes and not being able to write or read anymore; the loss of my hearing and not being able to listen to music, or talk to Rae, or Joey, or Ben, or my brother, or Bible, or any of my other friends, all of which I loved more and more with each passing day. But I was not terrified of getting drunk, so I could wait for that and feel brave and feel warm in anticipation.
Life often felt like it had unlimited potential, and the world was a playground, and a person could go and do anything at anytime, and that really got to be too fucking much, so it froze a person up, froze up the mainframe of their mind, and the person leaned against the brick wall and the person just stood there waiting for their brain to reboot, or their wife to get off work, or whatever came first.
Earlier today I took cold medicine and edited my novel, while sitting on my living room couch, using a metal TV tray as a makeshift desk. Gian had sent line edits and I was trying to do my best with them. But just outside the window was the crossing guard whistling and screaming.
She was whistling and screaming at random cars driving down JFK, cars that had nothing to do with anything. “Slow! Down!” she yelled at a bus that thundered by. “Slow! Down!” she screamed again at a gray Toyota Tercel. She blew that whistle at a cloud. I tried to do my work but it was hard, she’d obviously lost her mind. I went into the kitchen and tried to do my work at the kitchen table but I could still hear her screaming and blowing that whistle.
Whatever, I got my work done. There’s always some excuse for me not to get my work done. I try not to listen to any of those excuses whether they are internal or external. I refuse to give up before my work is done.
At ten a.m. the alarm went off and I had to move my car for the street sweeper. I packed my manuscript in my backpack and I walked out there past the crossing guard.
The other day I saw her nearly cause an accident. She was there to help school kids cross the street but she got wild for no reason and leapt into the oncoming traffic coming north up JFK. The traffic jammed to a stop, nearly causing a wreck. A Jeep went up on the sidewalk near the bus shelter. The ambulance breezed by. What the fuck was she doing stopping traffic like that? It wasn’t like the ambulance was going to try to quickly gun it the wrong way up this one way street.
I got in my car, started my long slow loop looking for a spot. Ten minutes later I still couldn’t find a spot and I realized it was Veterans Day. Everybody had off work. Including the guy who drove the street sweeper. I looped back again and onto my own street and came up to the light where the crossing guard was.
As I approached she got into my lane and held out her stop sign and she started blowing that whistle at me. I already had a red light so I was stopping for that anyway. Nobody was trying to cross the street or anything. I rolled down my window and stuck my head out. “Hey! Enough with the theatrics!”
“Excuse me?” She came to my window.
“Just quit it.”
“It’s no right on red,” she said.
I said, “Look there’s a sign just over your shoulder that already says that.”
“Well a lot of people don’t know that. You don’t have to get nasty.”
I said, “Hey, you see that window? That’s where I live. Okay? All day long every day I listen to you out here ‘Slow down!’ And ‘No right on red’ and so on and so on.”
“I’m not here all day, Dear,” she said all cheery. Now she was leaning in my window and being extra sweet because I was being an asshole. This extra sweetness was her way of being an even bigger asshole than me.
“Well anyway, enough with the whistling. And you almost caused a big crash yesterday, I saw it all.”
“T’was not I.”
I’d heard enough. The light was green. But she wouldn’t get out of my window. I pushed the button and started rolling the window up and she said, “Ah!” And then I turned the corner and just fifty feet away got back in the exact parking spot I was in before I realized it was Veterans Day.
She said, “Nice! Very nice!”
She blew her whistle at me. I walked up the sidewalk, my hands shoved in my pockets. Whatever. I’d listened to her out there being a pain in the ass for over a year. The person she replaced hadn’t even had a whistle.
I took the train into New York. And then I took a different train into Brooklyn. While I was waiting for the train into Brooklyn there was a guy posted up on the subway platform with a set of bongos. He beat furiously on the bongos, and that ferocity lent a real tension to the waiting for the train…minute after minute…fiercer and fiercer…bongos from hell…gritting teeth…the F train never arriving. People began to look around with deep worry and then the bongos got wilder and they worried more. They worried their rent was going to suddenly rise 700%. They worried someone was going to break into their apartment and kidnap them and force them to move to Dayton, Ohio where there were no desk jobs for them, and where their master’s degrees would be useless, where they would unload trucks by hand in a perpetual blizzard. They worried they’d lose their hair tonight. They worried their teeth would bleed. They worried grandma was right about God and the Devil. They worried their dreams were just advertisements.They worried happiness was elsewhere and this was no way to live no way to live no way to live.
Finally the train came and I took it out past the Barclays Center to meet my friend Jeff who was in town on a book tour. We sat in a Greek Diner and drank Diet Cokes and ate vegetable sandwiches, and talked about our lives and our hopes for what our books would be to other people. He told me a famous book critic had asked him questions recently about one of his novels and wanted to know what the significance of the number nine was in his novel, the number nine having appeared time and time again. Jeff said to the critic, “I have no idea what you are talking about.” I gave Jeff two paperback books, Doctor Benjamin Franklin’s Dream America, and a copy of my own book of short stories. He bought lunch. After that we stood on the street and talked about the Minutemen for a minute and then he had to go. He was going to go and read at the best literary reading in New York. I wasn’t going to that. I was going nowhere instead.
It was four o’clock, Rae would be ready to meet up at 7, so I milled around drinking coffee and then seeing there was no bathroom at the coffee shop, I went back into the diner where we had eaten lunch and asked to use their bathroom. They recognized me. It was like we were old friends. Of course I could use their bathroom. Anytime, they said. Anytime. Come back anytime and use our bathroom for the rest of your life, or until this diner one day becomes a Chanel or a Hugo Boss.
I took a train back into Manhattan, the West Village, sandwiched between Rae’s job in Chelsea and the Path train station at Christopher Street, where we’d catch a ride home later for $2.25. That’s one of the bizarre things about not living in New York anymore. Now when I hang out there I find myself in Greenwich Village just for convenience. I never really hung out in the West Village when I lived in New York, and I lived in New York for ten years. The West Village was where we all went when we were sixteen years old and didn’t know any better.
One of the first dates I took Rae on, back in 2004, we wound up at The Slaughtered Lamb, named after the bar in An American Werewolf in London. We got a table by the window and right behind us a crowd of tourists packed in so we couldn’t get up to get to the actual bar, and so the waitress couldn’t come and take our order. We hadn’t even gotten a drink yet. Well anyway, we didn’t get one. We climbed out the window out onto the street and the waitress called to us, “I understand!”
I went to a coffee shop on Carmine Street and I opened up my backpack and began to read my own book. That’s the hardest part of writing a novel. You have to read it again and again and again and you have to make sure you’re saying what you want to say the right way and you have to make sure you’re saying it the right way. As I read, I marked the pages up with a red pen like a kindergarten teacher. I never really work on my writing in a coffee shop or a library or a quiet house. So this was different. I didn’t really like it. I could hear myself think and I didn’t like that. I began to miss that crossing guard and her whistle and her screaming into the void on which my life sat just on the brink of.
The coffee shop was supposed to stay open until 7, but they started mopping up and making to close at 6:30. So I got out of there. And after a while I was leaning against a brick wall and it was kind of chilly and I didn’t have a coat, and I was cold, but thinking about these stories my mom tells about her father, my grandfather, who died when I was just a baby. He worked outside everyday, construction, and according to her, he never worked with a shirt on. Even in the snow. He was always out there shirtless, working hard. I didn’t believe her, and she showed me a picture. I didn’t believe that one picture and she showed me another one. Man, he was in pretty good shape. I don’t know, maybe it makes sense that he died when I was just a baby. He should have worn a shirt at least. If he’d worn a shirt, maybe he could have lived long enough so that I could have met him.
I was sipping my cold coffee and watching the people walk by. Just then I figured out what I was trying to figure out with my novel and I threw the cold coffee on the sidewalk and said, “Hell yeah.”
That’s also when I saw the businessman stop and consider the expensive popsicles. He considered on and on and on. I considered what I was going to do too. I considered the IFC Center just up the block where Nicolas Cage was starring in a movie about his girl who was kidnapped by a hippie death cult and dragged into a King Crimson album cover. And speaking of album covers, I considered that I was just a block away from the photo that was the cover to The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. I considered where I could get myself a coat when my paycheck came in from the petrochemical plant on Wednesday. And I considered as always, time. Mostly, the time I had left to wait for Rae, both a short time, and a kind of eternity here.
Seeing the bodega there with all the flowers, I went in and took money out of the ATM and bought a bouquet of peach tulips. I felt lousy for the way I’d treated the crossing guard. When Rae saw the flowers she got so happy and thought they were for her, but I had to explain they were for the crossing guard who had lost her mind and forced me to lose mine. Rae said, “Good, yeah, make amends.” By eleven o’clock though, when I thought to think about the peach tulips again, I blinked and we were in a different bar and I knew the crossing guard’s flowers were long gone, wherever I’d laid them down and forgotten them at whatever bar that’d been. It was better to just focus on the here and now, which was all one supposedly had anyway. It was better to imagine there was no future. It was better to be in love immediately.