New York City has jaded me in many ways – in part because the streets are littered with the insane, the degenerate and the hopeless. Truth be told, whether we’re forced to contend with pierced twenty-something loafers asking for cigarette money or toothless drunks sleeping on dried dog-urine, most of us find it all quite routine. Boring even.
It’s obvious that every psychiatric facility emptied its inventory onto the streets. That, combined with the sad fact that people no longer feel the slightest bit of shame asking strangers for money, means that the sheer quantity of wretched souls makes it impossible to recall any particular details about them. In the end, they are merely folks that wanted something for nothing, or carried on conversations with a lamppost. Tired, tired, tired.
However, once in a great while during a routine stroll down the mostly well-ordered streets one will encounter a person with whom interaction leaves some kind of lingering memory. Or, in your case, an emotional scarring so horrible that while it was being violently laser-etched into my brain it incinerated all happy memories from 1968 to present.
The last such person to make a vivid impression and earn a few bytes of my memory was an old black gentleman two years ago. It was a sunny autumn day, a weekend, fairly cool. He had apparently been enjoying the contents of the empty fifth in his hand. We arrived at the scene after the fact, but it didn’t take a degree in forensic science to determine what had transpired. At some point post-consumption of his adult beverage, the gentleman had experienced the urge to empty his bladder – yet seems to have not had the motivation to actually bring his bladder somewhere. Instead, he’d removed his enormous penis and emptied the bladder’s contents upon himself and a section of the sidewalk in close proximity to his penis. Apr�s-pee, his beverage got the better of him and he took a nap, exposed penis in hand.
This image was fairly unique, I’d even say extraordinary, and so it’s one I still recall quite vividly. I considered it my ultimate New York sidewalk experience. Until Sunday.
Sunday was a lovely day. Sunny and brisk. The baby was well behaved and dozed right off after a bottle of milk. While my wife pushed the stroller, I followed behind alongside my buddy Mike – a former improv comrade visiting from out of town. We were recovering from a lovely night that had begun with visiting a friend at Saturday Night Live and ended in the wee hours at some After-After party filled with bimbos. In fact, I had hoped to be writing about that evening right now, and had already begun organizing the paragraphs in my head as we strolled towards SoHo.
But you had other plans.
The mind is never prepared to process the visual of an obese, middle-aged woman in a pink hat leaning against a car, pooping. The mind can not be trained to suffer that horror in any capacity. Nor should it have to.
When it does encounter such a traumatic optical assault, the brain’s first response is to deny. This isn’t happening. But reality can’t be denied. Even though countless brain cells die trying to prevent the acceptance of such foul memory, it ultimately breaks through. It then makes its way to the recesses of your brain – to one of the small villages therein. Perhaps a place called Memoryton. Once there, it rapes and murders everyone in the village. Then it sets fire to it and slaughters the goats for good measure.
That was the effect of seeing you before us in broad daylight, propped against some poor soul’s tire whilst grinning, pooping and making full eye contact with every passerby.
And there were many.
My wife was smart enough to sense that something was amiss, and was able to divert her gaze and guide the stroller in a different, safer direction. She was unscathed. But Mike and I and certainly many others were not so lucky. If you had been Sodom, we’d have all been salt.
Madam, I’ve seen dead people, grisly crime photos and a guy from New Guinea with testicular elephantitis – but it was you who provided me with the most disturbing visual image to date. And nature was an accessory to the crime too: The sunlight was perfect, illuminating your underside just enough to create a darling silhouette of your ongoing efforts, as well as a few accomplishments which rested peacefully on the newspaper you placed underneath yourself.
And how proud you were. Beaming with joy as you made eye contact with us. All of us. But Mike in particular. Mike is traumatized – quite so – and if he survives he may very well never come back to this city again.
That visual, the smile, your roundness, your pink hat and the cursed eye contact: it was the perfect recipe. Kudos. You have earned a place in the memory books of dozens. Perhaps hundreds. In my book you’re somewhere near the front, well ahead of the time I nearly lost my fingers in a freak watermelon-cutting incident. Probably a few pages ahead of the crazy Jesuit priest.
Our time together was brief, but somehow it seemed like an eternity. Perhaps because the image will be with us long after the earth is swallowed by a supernova.
We’ll never forget you. Just ask Mike. Or the unsuspecting French people who passed us. Or the scores who shared what should have been a most intimate moment. Countless people now ask themselves the same two questions: Why did we look? and Why did you look back?
Congratulations madam. You’re a somebody. And if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.