Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Two Librans

I’m sitting on the sidewalk with my packages at the corner of 13th Street and Broadway, thinking about how NY always has this alien, inhuman vibe, when this fellow pops out of the comic store and says, “You know, I can bring you a folding chair if you want.”

Another theory shot to hell.

It’s not that it’s inhuman so much, I suppose, but you always know when you’re in NY. There are many cities in America that you could be dropped in the middle of and you’d have a hard time figuring out where you were. I never have that problem in NY. Is it the pace at which the people move down the street, a breathless blur that even makes Philadelphians look like they’re out for a stroll? The cars that fight for every inch of space? The sense that you’re caught in the cogs of some great machine that will eventually chomp you if you don’t keep moving? The all-consuming hum and blanket of noise?

But the great paradox about New Yorkers is that for every one that bumps into you crossing the street, there’s another that’s more than willing to offer surprising friendliness and help to strangers like yourself.

I asked the wife later on about all the tiny dogs that seemed to be the preference there as I sat watching Pomeranians with tiny “I Love NY” shirts on being taken for their constitutional.

“Are they just easier to keep in tiny apartments?” I asked.

“Nope,” she said. “It’s the whole Paris Hilton thing. Everyone wants a tiny dog now.”

It certainly seemed to be the case at 13th and Broadway as I waited for the Clive Barker book signing to begin at the Forbidden Planet store. I’d shown up at 3:30 for a 6:00 signing and fully expected to see the beginnings of a line, but I was the first to show. Considering that I’d shown up much earlier and waited many more hours for similar events, two and a half hours was going to be a cakewalk.

I had to begin the line outside, which was ok with me: the weather was brisk but not uncomfortable, the kind of autumn weather I really enjoy. Sitting on the sidewalk, I probably looked like my usual vagrant self. However, with the arrival of the folding chair I seemed to enjoy a newfound air of authority as I quickly started fielding questions about directions to the Strand bookstore and Tower Records. I got the nervous feeling that someone was going to ask me to deliver a baby soon.

The next fellow in line didn’t show till 5:00. He wasted no time showing me the tattoos on his legs and demonstrating how he used to be “The Human Blockhead” at a Jim Rose-style sideshow by pushing a large thick nail first through his earlobe, and then up his nose.

“I used to ask for tips after, but I told the audience they had to staple them to my body,” he told me. “I once had 190 tips stapled to me, so I don’t mind pain. I tell people I’m using the pain to get ready for Hell.”

Clive has many kinds of fans and this is one of them.

They say that people often tend to enjoy those artists whose work or life experience resembles their own. I suppose this charge could be leveled at me with fairness where Clive Barker is concerned.

Not that I’m claiming to possess a sliver of the talent, mind you, but I always felt that in many ways we had probably been the same kid. Not terribly popular, an outsider, a kid who spent his time buried in books and in his own imagination.

The books were always the great attraction, of course, but I’ve always had a special fondness for him because of our mutual geek pedigrees. Not to mention the fact that he’s an exceptionally nice guy, even during those few frantic moments you get to share with him at a book signing.

He greeted the wife and I warmly and, when learning of the day’s festive milestone, volunteered that 50 had been a rough one for him, too (he’s got a couple years on me), but he wanted to assure me that things do get better. Knowing that Clive, too, had fought his own battles with depression, I took this advice seriously and actually felt a bit better about it.

“You know,” he said, “I have a theory that by the time we’re 70, they’ll have these pills that’ll make us feel like we’re 30 again.” Considering that I feel like 70 now, I hope he’s right.

We’ve been meeting like this for close to 20 years now, almost as long as the wife and I have been together, and so it’s sort of fun to touch base and see how we’re holding up. I can say with confidence, I think, that neither one of us seems to have developed much of an ego where our sense of fashion is concerned.

When I asked if he’d reached the point where he’d had to begin interviewing his daughter’s young suitors, he rolled his eyes and his husband David volunteered, “I don’t touch that – I just send them to him!” Knowing your date’s father invented that guy with the pins in his head has got to inspire them to behave, seems to me.

Then, after generously autographing my stack of books, we said goodbye till the next time. I like to think that we’ll still be meeting in 20 years, albeit a little slower and unsteadily, exchanging pleasantries about those new age-reversing pills.

But, in the meantime, it was back to our own battles, battles that treat everyone fairly and show no mercy to anyone regardless of wealth, success, or lack of same.

And, perhaps, just perhaps, we’ll learn to dress better.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nah, why bother (on the dressing point)? I mean, your comfortable, enjoy it. If you can't be comfortable, why bother?

I actually notice the big dogs more. I mean, sometimes you'll see a couple walking down the street with two gigantic dogs and you'll think, how the hell do they all live in one apartment? Plus, a lot of apartment buildings have weight limits on the dogs they allow as pets in the building (I know mine does!)

I love the image of you sitting outside on a folding chair outside and people asking you directions, etc. Hilarious.

-Jill (magentalai)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005 4:25:00 PM  
Blogger Count Screwloose said...

It's funny how little is needed to convince people that you're somehow an authority figure when they're desperate to ask a question, Jill. I know my mind works the same way - "Hey, let's ask that guy, he's got...a really nice belt on!"

Hey, wait a minute. Maybe all those friendly New Yorkers I've met were really out-of-towners who somehow got saddled with folding chairs...

The same thing happens to my wife at salad bars, for some reason. Must be something about her face you can trust because all the little old ladies always ask her what's in the bowls!


Wednesday, October 19, 2005 2:19:00 AM  

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