If you’re a writer it pays to be awake as you wander through life, eyes and ears open to the stories that are everywhere, even if this awareness of place and space is informed just as well by the desire to be safe. I love walking in New York City. Besides my Brooklyn neighborhood, one of my favorite places to walk is up 14th Street starting at First Avenue and heading west. Every time I do, I have the most interesting encounters.
Recently, I noticed a couple walking hand-in-hand across Third Avenue. The woman was heavily pregnant, heavy as in she seemed about to give birth, and maybe not to just one baby. Her lips and nose were swollen, her hair disheveled, and she looked fed-up and tired with the business of being pregnant. I felt a quick sympathy since I know what it’s like to be ponderous with child and want to take back control of one’s body. A glance at the man leading her across the avenue revealed he had a wide-eyed startled look on his face; it was a cross between embarrassed and scared; a cross between startled rabbit and deer caught in head-lights; a cross between, yes, I’m responsible for that belly, and what the hell have I done. It was a funny and tender scene.
Further up 14th Street, I came across a homeless man. He looked like life had dealt him a rough hand; he was grizzled and sunburnt, sitting on the sidewalk, back slumped against a building as if in defeat; his face was almost completely covered by poorly done spider web tattoos. After I passed him, I wondered what tattoo artist would agree to do that to someone’s face?
Past the homeless man, and in complete contrast, I encountered an attractive young woman sauntering up the sidewalk in a wispy, light colored dress that revealed a couple of well-done tattoos scattered about her body; I admired a lovely palm tree etched above an ankle before I began to listen in on the loud phone conversation she was having. “What are you doing this weekend?” she asked the cell in front of her face. A young-voiced male responded that on Saturday he was going to see Cool and the Gang at B.B. King’s, and on Sunday he was going into Brooklyn to a house party. “Give me a call when you head back,” she replied. I continued my trek towards the Farmer’s Market at Union Square, leaving her behind, thinking that maybe she was interested in him, but he was playing hard to get. Then I heard her say, “I’m not wearing underwear,” as if commenting on the weather, and then add, “I feel like such a slut.” I was so startled by the revelation that I had to stop, while she continued her languorous walk up 14th Street, cell phone still held in front of her mouth. I dutifully pulled out the notebook I carry around for moments such as these and began to write. I wasn’t waiting to get home to do it—I’ve learned that lesson well.
I wonder if anyone notices how every once in a while an older woman dressed in workout clothes suddenly stops on 14th Street to scribble furiously in a small notebook? And if they do, what stories about her, if any, flit through their thoughts?