Archive for the 'casualties' Category

down the block

The cold air is bitter and dry. There’s a man crouched down by the church parking lot, where a tribe of cats holds sway, either stalking the open ground, or perched like sentinels near the gate. The man is heavily bundled against the cold, but there’s something off about him, a raggedness. He is unkempt in a way that suggests hard times. He has been still, crouched for a long minute before he reaches his bare fingers under the bottom of the chain link fence. He waits. The cats approach, and seeing he has no food to offer, retreat. He waits. One of them rubs up against the fence and then passes by and licks the man’s fingers, a throwaway gesture as the cat moves on to perch on an old tire. The man turns to me, he has known all along I was watching. “They make me happy,” he says. “You know?”

by the bodega

He’s always in front of one of them, pacing around or rocking on an upended milkcrate. His skin has the browned hardness of a person who takes in every ray of sun he encounters. His hair is thick and shocked straight, merging into an equally thick and stiff-straight beard around the chin. His clothes are eternal and dirty, though the only smell that reeks from him is boozy sweat on warm days. I don’t know if he lives anywhere, but he is always at his post, on this corner or on that. He speaks and gestures almost constantly, unintelligible in any language. The only words I’ve ever understood from him have been “good morning,” and “god bless you.” He’s never a threat, he’s just carrying on a lively conversation with a world the rest of us don’t see. Sometimes if his inner dialogue casts itself in my direction, I say hello. Yesterday in the sunny chill, I walked by, and it was one of those days, so I greeted him. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Look, it’s the queen of the neighborhood!” Then he retreated into himself again.

in the east village

There’s a splattered coffee on the ground, a startled woman surrounded by strangers-in-aid. A man is yelling at another man, and then the smaller one pivots and breaks into a practiced sprint, his legs blurred in the slight rain. The yelling man runs after him, they dodge through the people on the sidewalk like a car chase. The coffee is still there, the woman is still there, she is still shaken. The sprinter has half a block over his pursuer. They race around the corner out of sight.

in alphabet city

Every time I come down here, something else is gone. Now a man with a fine-boned face and an untucked shirt walks toward me, his arm angled out like a dandy’s. He comes closer and I see that he’s been crying in a dry and quiet way as he walks, the face quivering and the eyes ringed red. Up close the cocked arm seems to be holding him up, no longer a flourish. It’s so early in the morning, it all bespeaks heartbreak. A final night, a last, fumbling exit, a sorrow that sinks like a stone.

on the sidewalk

She’s in a housedress, pulling out unwanted sprouts around a sapling in a sidewalk planter. “I’m gonna make a whole garden out here,” she announces, gesturing in a sweep that includes the whole street. She speaks in torrents. “Little white fences! I’ve got a green thumb. And you know, I work for the city, that’s right. This is hard work.” She steps back a little and shakes a fistful of weeds. “So every time I yank one out, I think about a politician I hate.” Her laugh is, predictably, a little unhinged. I bid her good morning and turn down the street. She’s still talking when I walk away.

on a sidestreet

Everyone here is maimed somehow. A pimply girl shuffles along, her head tipping back like a narcoleptic, she is nodding on something, coming unwound with each step. There’s a man dragging his leg along behind him like an unwanted burden. Then a skinny guy in hightops with breasts bouncing under his t-shirt rushes into one of the doorways. A round woman who guides her electric wheelchair with flipper limbs whirs past an old man with a bandage around his neck like an ascot. An elegant woman with upswept hair and three fingers in a claw-shaped cast is telling a story to no one. Then the nodding girl doubles back, tucks herself into the shade of a ghetto palm and gives in to the sleep that she can’t outrun.

by the bodega

He was small, with narrow sloped shoulders and ratty hair. He wore a dirty black t-shirt, dusty jeans. He could have been anybody around here, working construction on one of the new monoliths or helping out in some unzoned light manufacturing outfit by the canal. The thing about him was how he clutched a thick roll of cash in one fist, and walked toward the bodega like a zombie: lurching, slow, staring without comprehension.

on the subway

He was handsome and his clothes smelled like money, but something was wrong. His eyes were stunned wide open, he never blinked. He had a slight smile that hinted at severed neural pathways, inert violence. He wore a woolen hat on a warm night. He spoke to the backs of the Japanese girls who stood near him, “You’re not listening,” he said, over and over, varying his inflection a little with each repetition.

on the street

His fingers are stiff and splayed at his side. He’s looking all over the place, walking towards me, saying “fuck man fuck man fuck man fuck maaan fuck.” I pass him by, he lets out a wicked cackle and shouts, “that’s a church lunch!”

on the street

A man walked toward me, walking fast like he wanted some distance between him and what was behind him. His face had an addict’s ashen cast, the skin loose over the insistent bones. He shook his head, I could see the greasy tendrils of his hair bouncing. He looked back over his shoulder, and then muttered decisively, “Man, I quit. I fucking quit.”