Me n’ Popeye on the Bowery

I had one of those New York moments this morning that could be construed as depressing or funny, depending on where one’s head is at, I suppose. It sort of warmed my heart a bit to the city that sometimes seems like a shell of its former glory to me.

On Saturday night I had to explain to yet another overprivileged trio of children fresh out of Westchester that in public areas in the city, space is tight, so slamming into the person sitting next to you at the bar (me) repeatedly is unwanted, and in some circles, considered a bit rude. 


I asked the girl doing the slamming to stop (nicely) and of course she continued. Because they always continue. 
I’m guessing in this case it’s probably because she’s a spoiled asshole whose parents have been telling her she’s awesome and everything she does or thinks or says is awesome and she’s never been told no throughout the length of her pointless, useless existence. But again, I’m guessing.

Anyhoo, this is the new me in which there is a concerted effort to resolve issues peacefully, so 
I sat through about ten more minutes of the irritation as patiently as I could, then turned and attempted to explain it all to her again, in a calm voice with a smile on my face. 

The boyfriend cut me off with my least favorite one word sentence on the planet: “Relax!” The sidekick said, in the most resentful and petulant tone imaginable, “It was an accident!” And the culprit in question merely pressed her face into the boyfriend’s chest to signify, “I honestly believe that I am too cute to deal with the problems I have created around me so I’m just going to behave like a five year old until the moment passes.” New York, New York on a Saturday night. 


I will always look back somewhat wistfully upon the days when the occasional bar brawl was par for the course and not a big enough reason to call the police. A trio like this would have lasted five minutes in our old world, and that’s maybe how some people have to learn how to behave. And 
I am somewhat sad, and occasionally resentful and petulant myself about the evil population tide that has washed over the bars and clubs of my neighborhood. So I welcome any encounter that resembles the East Village of my past, no matter what form it takes.

I walk to work every day and as I was nearing Bowery (the street on which I work) I saw a man ahead of me slumped over in a wheelchair. As I got closer I could see he was missing half a leg, and he was so far over that his hands were touching the sidewalk. His clothes looked clean. He didn’t appear to be breathing. 


Numerous people passed and I was a little shocked that no one even looked at him. There was a moving truck parked in front of where he sat and the guys doing the moving (giant flat screens into overpriced new condos, she says in a bitter tone) merely walked around him and into the building, without pause.


Now, it’s Bowery, which features a very expensive new hotel, the afore-mentioned overpriced bullshit condos, a homeless shelter and the White Hotel, which is the last oldschool flophouse left in that area. So anything is possible. It’s a melange, if you will, of the high and the low, the tourist and the bum, which can be very entertaining if you’re in the right mood. 


I passed the man, thinking, agh, he’s just in the middle of a goodly sized dope moment. But I wavered and thought, what if he’s not? It would be so typical of the new regime in this city to let a man die on the street without notice. He wasn’t moving after all, so things were questionable. Usually with heroin, or whatever opiates people can get their hands on now, you’ll get a little amount of snapping to and then going back down again. What if he overdosed? Or what if it’s a heart attack and everyone is assuming he’s fucked up? 


I turned around and went back. 
I put my hand on his shoulder and asked, “Sir? Are you okay?”

He sat up slowly and blinked a pair of very blue eyes. He looked like Popeye, which immediately endeared him to me.


He said, 
“Oh, yeah. I’m just very sleepy. Very sleepy.”

I said, “So you’re just high, right? You don’t need any help?”


He said, “I took a couple of aspirin, but I’m fine. I’m so tired. Thank you, sweetheart. Do you know what time it is?”


I looked at my phone and said, “10: 58.”


He replied, “Oh thank you dear! I’m late!” And he started up the wheels of his chair like there was going to be some hustling.


I turned, took a few steps to the corner and looked over my shoulder to wave back at him. He was already in full frontal slump, face between his knees (or one knee and stump) fingers on the ground. He’d probably moved three feet from the original resting spot.


I wanted to run back and give him a quick hug, but I didn’t want to ruin the nod.