Terry J. - 11/10/2007 12:47 PM ET
this is not like anything else... and that makes it very good. well done
| Hundreds of people zombie-shuffle their way down the street. Vacant faces, bumping their shoulders together as each one vies for a spot on the sidewalk. Macy’s looms off to one side and lit up billboards mount the surrounding buildings, like a bootleg mini Times Square. Across the street, next to the Citibank, there is blue scaffolding setup. Shadows lurk beneath it.
And within these shadows squats a man. He is wearing filthy dirt caked jeans and a pair of raggedy New Balance sneakers that have seen their prime years ago. He is dressed in layers, a grimy I Love NY t-shirt with two sweatshirts over it. It is mid November and a thick beard covers his angular face, helping to keep him warm on these chilly nights. A black winter hat is pulled down over his eyebrows, giving him a sinister look.
A grunt passes through the man’s lips as he applies abdominal pressure on his colon and a fat turd forces its way past his puckered anus. People walk by the man and give passing glances of disgust as the stench of unwashed genitals and a shitty ass tickles their nostrils. All the man receives is glances, because no one bothers with the homeless. If a clean-cut gentleman in a suit was taking a shit on the corner of 34th and 8th people would be outraged and the police would be called instantly. A homeless person on the other hand has the ability to be practically invisible. It is expected for a bum to be shitting on the street. It is expected for a bum to smell like crap slathered rotten meat, especially in New York. Homeless in this city are a fixture. On your way to work you see the same bums, in the same spot. Talking to themselves and begging for change. If one day all the homeless of New York disappeared millions of commuters would find their mornings lacking something. At first they wouldn’t be able to place it, this strange feeling that something is different, then the realization that their bum friends are gone would cause the city to mourn. Well, maybe not morn, but they would at least think about the loss.
The shitting man still has enough dignity left to wipe his ass. He pulls a wad of newspaper from his bulging pockets and cleans himself off, leaving ink smears on his ass cheeks. Buttoning his pants up he looks at the passing people, who part before him as if an invisible barrier exists around his immediate area. He hocks a glob of greenish phlegm and it lands next to his steaming pile of excrement. A passing man in a suit hears the bums’ stomach rumble in hunger and doesn’t even think twice, his own belly satiated with the $60 steak he just consumed at some posh restaurant.
“Spare some change for a sandwich sir?’ the bum asks to the passing man.
“Get a job!” the suit hollers as he squeezes by. At the same moment a woman with four huge bags from Macys lumbers by and bumps into the suit. He is shoved towards the scaffolding. As he tries to regain his balance, one of his $600 Italian leather shoes plops into something warm and mushy. The suit glances down and sees his foot buried in a pile of shit, the shit riding up the sides of the shoe to stain his sock.
“What the fuck! Damnit! I stepped in dog shit!” the suit says as he balances on one foot and tries to scrape the crap off with a Metrocard.
“It’s not dog shit.” says the bum as he walks towards Penn Station with a grin on his face.
He has not eaten since the morning when he managed to scrounge three donuts that were half smashed inside a paper bag. Another hour of begging after that got him two hot cups of coffee.
He makes his way to the Golden Wok Chinese buffet across from the Garden. There are several massive black garbage bags full with all the food left over from the buffet. Two bums, with empty Chinese food containers in hand, have already ripped open one of the bags, revealing a pile of fried rice. They scoop into the rice with their containers, filling them to the brim. Welcome to the Bum Buffet. Every night, when the Golden Wok closes, they leave bags full of food out front. The local bums in the area all know about the spot and that is how our squatter found out about this nightly feast, fit for a homeless king.
He steps in front of a bulging bag, sauce leaking from the bottom, and rips it open. Ah, lomein, his favorite. He pulls some more newspaper from his pockets. With one hand he flicks off a roach crawling on the noodles and then grabs a fistful and slaps it into the paper. He puts his lomein packet back in his pocket, removes another piece of newspaper and moves on to the next bag. Another rip and glistening nuggets of General Tsos chicken tumble out. Jackpot. The other bums see the chicken and abandon the rice bag and head towards the morsels, rice stuck around their mouths, resembling maggots on the face of a zombie. Our bum quickly selects the most appetizing pieces, places them in the newspaper and makes way for the shambling bums with chicken on their hungry minds.
Sitting on the steps that lead up to the plaza area in front of Borders bookstore, beard shiny from the greasy food, he rests and thinks, about life, about time. His name is Tom. He is 43 years old and his past is not important. What is important is that he has been living homeless on the streets of New York for a little over a month now. Where he was before that is not important either. When he first arrived in the city he gravitated towards the biggest train station in the area, Penn Station. Bumming it in other cities he quickly learned that big areas of mass transit are convenient for the homeless and destitute. He could have walked to Grand Central but the wind was chilly and the stations warm lights were so close. When he first arrived he quickly befriended Red. Red is a local bum. Everyone knows him. They buy him coffee in the morning and sandwiches at lunchtime. He is that one bum that is super friendly and always has a funny anecdote to tell anyone willing to listen.
Red instantly noticed that Tom is new to the area and promptly struck up a conversation. Where you from? What’s your name? How long you been homeless? Tom only revealed his name, the other questions he deftly avoided. Red knew enough not to pry at a man’s secrets so he let it be. Red went on to inform him of the Bum Buffet and the soup kitchens in the area. He told him witch stores toss out the best food in Penn Station and which bums to avoid in the area. Red told him about Crazy Charlie, who never speaks to anyone but himself. Many of the homeless have attempted to talk to Crazy Charlie and they were rewarded with spit and curses hurled at them with vehement force. Red told him which cops were friendly and willing to let minor stuff slide, such as an open container or loitering. He told Tom which cops are no-nonsense-by-the-book assholes that should be avoided whenever possible. Tom absorbed all this information like an eager student. The hidden secrets of the ancient art of bumming.
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