(Here's the first story I performed at WYSIWYG, which describes a day spent shopping around Manhattan, with my friend Eddie. The video clip of this story is here and linked in the previous post.)
As usual before I visit my family in Florida, my sister has sent me on a quest to find the latest, hottest handbag knock-off. After visiting only two stalls, I find a bag that matches the picture in my sister's email.
The middle-aged Chinese woman trailing me through her stall purrs with delight when I pull the bag off its hook.
"Yes! New bag! Most popular!" she chirps.
"Ok, how much?"
I see her evaluate me in an instant, and I don't miss her well-trained eyes casting down to see my footwear, well-worn New Balance sneakers.
"For YOU, special price. Thirty dolla."
I'm just about to pay for it, when on a whim, I decide to pick up something for my dear friend, the fabulous Terrence Hunter.
"Where are the men's bags?" I ask.
She shakes her head, "No man. That lady bag!" she insists, pointing at the one in my hand.
"Yes, I know. But where are the bags for men? You know attache' cases? Satchels? For men?"
"No man. LADY BAG," she repeats, shaking her head at my denseness.
But I don't give up. "What I want is a bag FOR a man!" I insisted, patting myself on the chest.
No luck. Suddenly...inspiration.
I put one hand on my hip, and hang other one in the air, my wrist limp.
"You know, a bag for a FANCY man!"
Her eyes widen and she smiles broadly, "Ohhhhhh. YEEEEES! FANCY MAN!!"
She leads me around the corner to a small collection of slightly less feminine bags. I select a "Prada" satchel, for which I pay a "special price."
The West Village
Eddie and I are standing on the corner of Christopher and Bleecker, waiting for the light to change. Just as it does and we step into the street, a young scruffy homeless guy leaps up from a milk crate and follows us.
In the middle of the street, he shouts at us, "Hey!"
We ignore him.
"Hey boot man!"
We ignore him.
"Hey, I'm TALKING to you, boot man!"
And since neither of us are wearing boots, we continue to ignore him.
We reach the other side and he continues.
"You think you're pretty hot in those boots, DON'T YOU??"
Under his breath, Eddie asks me, "How do you KNOW him?"
I looked at him incredulously, "I don't KNOW him! Just keep going."
Scruffy Boy is still hot on our tails. He shouts again, "Let me tell you something man, ANYBODY can wear boots! Anybody can wear boots!"
I see the frightened look on Eddie's face and whirl around to confront Scruffy Boy.
"Look, if we give you a dollar will you leave us the fuck alone?"
"No, I won't. That'll take TWO dollars."
He snatches the bills from my hand and turns around.
We're about 30 feet away when he shouts at us one last time, "ASSHOLES!"
I'm waiting outside a thrift shop, having put my foot down with Eddie after he's dragged me into every crummy secondhand shop in Manhattan. Eddie is endlessly fascinated with everything, especially if it's old and crummy, and since I am basically fascinated by NOTHING old and crummy, it's a sore point between us.
I pace up and down the block, while keeping an eye on the thrift store door.
There's a bag lady wheeling a shopping cart up the street, and cars are slowing to avoid her, the drivers turning to her a digusted look as they pass.
I decide to find something fascinating in the store fronts as she passes me, but true to the theme of the day, she calls out to me.
I turn and say "Hey", and turn back to the window.
"Hey mister, I gotta tell you something!"
I turn again and say "That's OK" and put my hand up.
"I have to tell you something VERY important!"
"No thanks", again with my hand up.
She continues on, so I start to walk down the block. After a few seconds I turn to see where she is, and JUMP because she has run right up behind me.
"THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!" she shouts, and grabs my elbow.
I shrink back, "OK, OK, what?"
"Fire is hot! Ice goes in the freezer! Fire is hot! Ice goes in the freezer!" she says insistently, shaking my arm.
I pull back, "OK, well then...thanks for telling me."
And I give her a dollar.
That night, Eddie and I are at Christmas party in Harlem, having a drink in the kichen, when a guest arrives with a bag of ice and asks "Hey, where should I put this?"
I look at Eddie and say, "Well....I've heard that ice goes in the freezer."
Eddie and I crack up.
The guest throws the bag in the sink and walks out, "Assholes".
Heading down 42nd Street towards Times Square, I forget to cross the street at 6th Avenue, which I usually do so I don't have to walk past the shouting Christian woman with her megaphone, her card table and her gory placards of aborted fetuses.
Even worse, the heavy crowds on the sidewalk force Eddie and I into walking very close to her station at the top of the F train stairs.
"...because God knows when you sin! And an adulterer or FORN-i-cator will NOT enter the kingdom of Heaven! Sinners, you need to repent NOW and let the GLOR-REE of Christ JEE-sus fill your heart!" she bellows as we pass.
On impulse, I turn and give her the double-deluxe Brooklyn bird, two middle fingers with an upward swirl.
Without missing a beat, she points at me and shouts, "Because THAT'S what SINNERS do! They make OBSCENE gestures and become HOMO-SEXUALS!!"
So...I give her a dollar.
The Upper East Side
(The 6 train platform, 68th Street, 8AM the next morning.)
I guide Eddie to the far end of the platform, where we have a better chance of getting on the train, should it be as crowded as it usually is. Slowly, we weave our way in and out of the commuters, each of them lost in thoughts of the upcoming day.
Eddie, who has no inside-voice, starts talking to me, his booming voice almost feeling like a sacriligious interruption of the trance-like state of the waiting passengers. The closest ones follow the sound of his voice, their faces locked in the well-practiced New York expression-free mask.
I begin to shush Eddie, but from the middle of the platform comes an even louder voice.
"Nothing you do today will any difference," the female voice drones.
We all look in her direction, but we can't see who it is.
"This is as good as it's EVER going to be," she continues, as loud as any subway loudspeaker.
The passengers shake their heads and try to retreat back into their thoughts.
"You think you are going somewhere but you are NOT!"
"Who IS this crazy bitch?" we all begin to think.
Eddie leans in, "Are you dying to see who's doing that?"
"Let's go down there."
As we weave our way back down the platform, I imagine that we're going to find some deranged bag lady, maybe that one I've seen wearing a hat with a plastic monkey on it.
Instead, we find a young woman, wearing a stylish pantsuit. We pause for a moment and she lets out another pronouncement.
"If you think you are doing something important today, you are wrong."
I ask Eddie, "Is this performance art?"
He shakes his head, "Whatever it is, it's depressing as hell."
"Your job isn't your life. It's what to do to get one," the woman intones.
The passengers crowd onto the arriving train, but now they are suddenly reconsidering the world and their place in it....and that IS art.
We get on the train too, but I'm wondering if I should have given that woman a dollar.