Friday, May 28, 2010

Mountains of Green (and Not the Bling Kind)

I'm in Vermont right now. And Vermont's in me. Ever since I got here, it's been all skipping and smiling. This is the first time I've been in the state of Vermont since childhood - and it's just the way I left it. I dig being surrounded by the decent people - I want to smuggle one of them back to the city with me.

This has been a negativity-free trip, aside from the bumblebee that ruthlessly antagonized me for a good 15 minutes during a 4-hour hike earlier today. Mofo spent so much quality time in my hair that he may have planted some of his seeds in there. And then one of his blood-sucking brethren took a bite out of my left arm - twice.

In better news, I liked the inspirational, life-validating conversation I had with a jewelry-maker/semi-precious-stone metaphysicist. She's another unapologetic member of the free-spirit world.

There's so much medicinally lush and open space up here. It's good for the head. Physical space yields emotional space. Which is why such a disturbing number of New Yorkers are perennially out of their gourds, vacillating between hysteria and melancholia. It's not healthy to be crammed up against each other, in grime-tainted air, for years on end. Spending huge sums of disposable income on therapists and/or bottles or baggies full of toxins is just settling for a Band-Aid instead of the Big Picture.

I'm just about ready to buy myself a bicycle and some cross-country skis, and upwardly move. All I really need is the water, the mountains, and the cold. I would complain so much less up here (at least I'm pretty sure I would)....

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Benchwarmer of My Dreams

As many members of my social orbit already know, I have a longstanding crush on a homeless man. I usually cross his path twice a day, most days each week. He’s devastatingly handsome and has a varsity athlete’s physique. At times, he looks slightly preppy or bohemian-chic. So much so that when I first saw him, I didn’t realize he was homeless – I thought he was just resting. He was serenely sitting on a bench, with his bicycle and oversized knapsack propped up close-by. I initially took his bag of bottles and cans for a progressively-minded recycling effort.

I don’t know this hottie’s name, but he looks like a “Hal.” I can tell that he likes me too, but we’re both still sane enough to understand that the two of us could never work out. Nonetheless, I’ll always remember the night he slowly rode his bike alongside me for a couple of blocks as we joked around about our days and the weather conditions, giggling; and the genuine concern he displayed the day I told him that I had recently been hit by somebody else’s bike.

He’s such a loner. Whenever a small band of tourists comes into and sticks around his area for too long, he usually goes for a little walk, presumably staying away until they’ve left. I once saw another homeless fellow (a real crazy-acting motherfucker) plop down on a neighboring bench. At which point, Hal (with a nobly put-out expression on his proud, cherubic face) summarily picked up all of his shit and booked it straight out of there. Which is totally something I would do.

For a homeless person, his grooming is impeccable. He clearly has somewhere to go (a shelter or the like) where he semi-regularly showers and shaves and changes his clothes. But he doesn’t stay there for long. In the dead of winter, he’ll be pensively sitting out in the post-blizzard snow. Or lying sound asleep, stretched out on a bench, beneath one or two ratty comforters, trusting passersby to not abscond with his bike or plastic bags full of glass and aluminum. I’ve often wondered why, especially in the bitter cold, he chooses to stay outside so often. I bet it’s at least partially because of the way he looks. I’ve heard that homeless shelters aren’t the safest of places and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that young pretty boys face the same lot in there as they do in the general prison population.

I don’t know anything about his educational or professional background; but, as a default plan, he could be a formidable catalog model if he just caught a break. I see him working it for J. Crew. Or L.L. Bean or REI, since he’s such an outdoors enthusiast. I’ve thought about snapping a candid shot of him with my CVS-brand disposable camera and sending it to one of these retailers. But would he have to move to Maine or a state of its ilk? Would he want to? Would all of his relocation expenses be covered?

A lot of the homeless men in NYC are first-rate assholes. Especially the homeless men of color who interact with non-homeless women of color - the men in this abuse-inflicting subset seem to be under the impression that we have an especial obligation to take care of them and empty out our wallets every time we come across their roosts. I’m not sure where they got that idea, but I don’t think much of it. I’ve contributed some of my pocket change to more than a few of them – and, in response, several have all but scoffed that it simply wasn’t enough. Hal doesn’t behave like this. Always respectfully unassuming, he’s never once asked me for money (or for anything else).

The point worth driving home is how ordinary he looks and acts. He’s attractive and articulate and self-possessed and comes off as eminently well-raised. It’s like dealing with someone I would have gone to school with. Maybe it’s all a fa├žade and he’s out on the streets because he’s a bad guy who’s betrayed his loved ones via too many drugs or raging psychopathology or something worse. But maybe it’s his loved ones who have betrayed him. Maybe his immediate family members are dead, his relatives unaccounted for, and his once-supposed close friends have all sold him out.

Maybe none of us are quite as immune from rock-bottom as we may wishfully think.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

To Mind My Own, or Not to Mind My Own

I was strolling along the other day, daydreaming about how much better life’s going to be once I finally pick up and move into the mountains. Right when I was particularly lost in thought about whether I’m better suited for a small cottage or a bona fide log cabin, I was interrupted by some commotion up ahead. (This is precisely why I belong in the mountains or some kind of wooded area - I’m so over commotion, and there’s way too much of it outside of the woods.)

This time, it was a domestic spat, exported from the indoor arena and landing onto an extremely public sidewalk — the very sidewalk I needed to walk down in order to buy my big bags of drug-store candy. A young couple had reached a major ideological impasse. After having hysterically screamed at the top of her lungs for a long bit, the woman grabbed her man’s BlackBerry and hurled it against a neighboring brick wall with the aim and focused intensity of a former state-ranked fast-pitch softball star. The look on his face, as we all watched the device explode into several different pieces, was unforgettable.

I quickly walked by them, avoiding eye contact. Moments after I passed, there was more yelling from each of them and I soon heard the distinct sound of an open hand swiftly and repeatedly slapping against bare human flesh. “You’re going to hit me again, even in public?!” she yelled. A few other people ambled out of the surrounding buildings to stand watch. One of the onlookers revealed how much he wished he had a camera.

I’m the type who would normally (somehow) intervene in a situation like this – and probably get into a fair amount of trouble for it. But I’ve recently launched a self-enhancement campaign, whereby I’m studiously training myself to become less impulsively mouthy, just to see where the shutting up and staying out of others’ affairs will get me. So far, I’m hating this new me and I don’t know how much longer this imposter act can go on. Ten minutes after having passed this couple, I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I should have said or done something. I should have offered to help her. It was so unlike me not to have acted; and it always feels uncomfortable to venture out of character. I remembered sitting in one of my college psychology classes and learning about the Kitty Genovese tragedy — in the 1960s, a Queens, NY woman was brutally stabbed outside of her home. She screamed out for help for the better part of an hour. And a lot of people apparently either heard or saw her. But nobody ended up doing anything in response, largely because they assumed that somebody else would and/or they didn’t want to get involved. So then Kitty died that night.

After about 15 minutes of this on my already heavy conscience, I turned around and retraced my steps, heading back in their direction. Fuck my pledge to mind my own business more often. I was going to kick this guy’s ass. Fling some of my bottled water at the both of them. Call 911. Whatever it took to diffuse.

When I reached the corner where I had left them, they were still there. But things had changed. There were no bystanders milling around and there was no more yelling. The woman was leaning against a parked car calmly talking to the man; and he was patiently listening to her, earnestly nodding his head and asking what she would like him to do about something from now on.

I guess I’m glad I stayed quiet. But I’m not innocent enough to think that there’s not going to be another, much worse, noisy flare-up at some point in this couple’s future — this time behind closed doors. And when that happens, I hope at least one person on the other side of the wall decides to pick up the phone and take a loud-mouthed risk.