There’s A Man In His Underwear

It’s sweltering hot. A late August evening in Manhattan; it’s about midnight. Heat is still lifting from the pavement in puffs of vapor. Billows of wet fog cloud my vision. I’m afraid to open my mouth. I walk my terriers on 79th St and I smell the stink of rotting rubbish dumped in monolithic piles that block the doorways of swanky apartment buildings. Growing pyramids of rank garbage to which more is added daily while the collectors strike. Large rats meander around these memorials of rotting splendor while mice scurry under them. I can hear their scratching. My dogs don’t pay much attention to them. Their tongues are hanging out; they crave the AC as much as I do so we edge our way from open doorway to open doorway, smiling at blank-eyed, shirt-sleeved doormen, most of whom I think are asleep on their feet. The rest I see are asleep for real, on lobby couches, sprawled out like carcasses. A lot of good they’ll do if there’s a robbery or a murder, I think. My dogs and I venture closer to the street, to the heat, onto the middle of the melting sidewalks where I smell urine, and worse. Sweat drips down my armpits and I blot my sweat-beaded forehead with pads of tissues. My mother used to tell me that I didn’t sweat, I perspired. Bullshit. On this night I sweat. Period. I pass The New York Society Library, the Iraqi Consulate, the Greek Consulate. As I slowly hoof it past the Mayor’s house, I wave to his uniformed guard stationed at the Mayor’s door and mouth Hello while my dogs bark at him. He still has his jacket on. It’s a hundred degrees, for God’s sake. I arrive at Fifth Ave. and we turn right. On my right, I pass ex-Governor Spitzer’s apartment building. No doorman to be seen anywhere. We’re directly across the street from Central Park. I glance toward the Met which is also across the street, the Metropolitan Museum of Art that is, and to my shock there are hundreds of people camping out around the shallow ponds that encircle the museum’s fountains.

Do you remember seeing photos of the Hoovervilles that sprang up in the 30s? Vagrants, homeless people, made destitute by the Depression, people who lived in shanties and shacks in cities across the good old US of A. Do you remember seeing those pictures? I do, of shantytowns, where evicted people lived out their days. Well, that’s what this looks like! Over eighty years later too.

The dogs go nuts. Barking madly at one gent clad in his underwear, who strips in front of me to piss into the still water surrounding the fountains. Good thing the fountains don’t work. It usually makes me angry, that these fountains don’t work. But not tonight. It crosses my mind that these people use the water for drinking too. For washing their laundry and their dirty bodies. Oooh .. I shudder and mop at my face. To swipe away my sweat and the dirt of what I look at. OMG, I yell in my mind. Shantytowns at the Met. That’s what this economy has come to. Next to Central Park. Across from the Mayor’s house, the ex-Governor’s building. Just like in the 30s, when Hoovervilles appeared in front of the White House. I scrutinize these people, who are hunkered down under a multitude of umbrellas, sleeping soundly, spread out and covered in case of rain. One after the other after the other. Snoring, eating, defecating. Fires too, small ones in the middle of maybe four to five umbrella families. With food cooking too.

Where the hell are the police? What are they thinking? Allowing the homeless to take over the Met? I run toward the Mayor’s guard where I tell the uniformed guy in the doorway what I’ve discovered. They’ve changed rounds and a fresher younger face has appeared. I assume he’s not allowed to leave his perch, but he tells me he’ll report my discovery. He doesn’t seem too concerned, he just seems hot.

I half run, half stumble home to the air conditioning and my computer where I type in my finding to half a dozen news organizations, thinking I’ll see my writing in the morning paper. Thinking I’ll see something…

Morning arrives. Nothing. Except more garbage piled high, festering and teetering. Where will it fall? And when? Maybe this time it’ll block the oncoming traffic, which would flatten it in no time. Rain would help too. Cooler today, though not much, the dogs and I decide to make our way back to the Met. See what we can see. This time there are people standing in lines, wall to wall people of all ages, winding their way around block after block. I can’t stand it anymore. I ask a woman with a heavy bare stomach what the hell she’s doing. What are you all doing, I ask her. She won’t, or can’t, look at me – I have sunglasses on and you can’t see my eyes – so she stares at her child who holds onto her leg. Both of them have on gigantic blindingly white sneakers.

“We’re waiting for the exhibit; we’re waiting to get in,” the woman says finally. Her myopic eyes slither down to her sneakers. How can they not? Those sneakers could have been on feet traveling through the tunnel to Alice in Wonderland. I look to where she looks … and then it hits me. OMG. These people are waiting to see SAVAGE BEAUTY, the exhibition of British fashion designer, Alexander McQueen, that talented young man who has recently taken his own life. For months his lavish designs have been up for view at the Met, and today, maybe tomorrow, forecasts the end of the exhibition. They’re doing homage, these people, going so far as to camp out, making sure they hold a piece of his aura before it’s too late, his fame, his talent, a smattering of his fantasy, the fantastical world from which he has created his designs, desperate to see and understand his design genius before the show closes.

That’s right, even the pissing man in his underwear. Don’t you know? Desperation affects people in many different ways.

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