Life of a Cannibal

There is Quiet Street. On the bus, on our way to play sports on Randalls Island or Wards Island (depending on the season), we cross the first leg of the Triborough Bridge. Before we get to the Triborough, there is Quiet Street. It is 124th, or 126th. Maybe 120th. I can’t remember. The bus turns right off 3rd Avenue, and we must be silent. We are schoolboys, grades 7, 8 and 9, and we are as loud and shitty as you would expect. It’s a comfortable bus, a coach. Luggage racks, armrests that fold back and forth into the seat, a toilet in the back. No video screens. It’s the early eighties, and Mr. von Schiele or Mr. Trauth is standing up front by the bus driver, flexing his immense forearm. Mr. Trauth stutters. Mr. von Schiele’s first name is Per. We turn right off 3rd Avenue and everyone shuts up. We look out the windows. Someone once threw a rock at us on this street, and now we call it Quiet Street and we don’t talk. Nick and I created a sign language. I can’t remember if we did it because of Quiet Street, but it seems unlikely that we’d learn how to communicate with our hands just for one block.

There is the diner on Montague Street, where Beth and I order grilled cheese. It’s our place. Happy Days Diner, sunk into the street, full of irritable waiters and bad food. It’s next to a newsstand, and it’s got tables outside, but I’ve never seen anyone sitting at them. I write a poem for Beth that mentions the bright orange cheese of Happy Days, and the fact that she calls the subway ‘The Metro’. A euphemism, I call it. But she’s like that, sweet like that. She is from Boston, not Washington.

There is the corner of 91st and Park. I stand on the front steps of Brick Church with my choir and sing carols as Carnegie Hill’s Christmas trees light up in unison. We are golden-throated, I assure you. I sing weddings and funerals for hire. I am bluff tonight, familiar and smiley with my choir mates. It’s Christmas soon, and I am special in front of everyone’s eyes, and the air is crisp on my skin. It makes me feel confident. There will be a party afterwards.

There is the therapist’s on 82nd Street. I get to skip out on work for this, take off at 2:30, get stoned quick in the park maybe, and head for her office. She finds me deeply attractive, and she’s baffled by me. She’s not smart enough, of course, to make this worthwhile, but it’s a thing I’m doing. I enjoy discussing my thoughts and feelings. It amuses me to impress her with my complexity. I like pacing outside her building, too, smoking a cigarette. Her window’s right there, and I wonder if she ever looks at me before our appointment. Lots of young women are out at this time with their dogs and their children. I’ve had trouble walking lately. I’m aware of every step I take, and I’m aware that you’re aware, and the anxiety of performance is hobbling me. I’m a little shaky. I tell her about it. When the time comes for me to end the relationship, after a year of twice-a-week meetings that were, from the outset, futile, I am regretful but firm. After I close her office door for the last time and make my way across her vestibule, I hear her scream in frustration.

There is the northwest corner of 19th and 5th, catty-corner from my office. I lean against a building and smoke a cigarette. An SUV full of young black men drives by. They’re hanging out the windows. “YOU stand THERE,” one of them calls out to me, pointing authoritatively. I give him the finger and say “Fuck You!” cheerfully, a wide smile on my face. They pull over at the southwest corner of 19th and 5th and leave their hazards on. There are four or five of them–big, healthy gents. They surround me. They would like for me to apologize. I try to explain that it’s ridiculous for them to tell me to do what I am already doing, but they don’t want to listen. Eventually, in a tone I have carefully modulated to be sarcastic enough to spare my pride but not so sarcastic that I will get punched in the face, I say I’m sorry. 

There is Union Square. Jane meets me in the park at lunchtime. She is much younger than me, and has spent the day being admired by men. She says, “Boy, all you need to do is wear a tight skirt!” and I want to hit her for being coy. She asks about Beth. I shrug. I am driving her back to Vassar. We will spend one night in a wood-paneled motel room in Poughkeepsie, and then she will put on crappy jeans and a loose t-shirt and disappear. 

There is Fort Greene Park, where scores of dogs run off their leashes in the mornings before 9. I cut across the grass and worry vaguely that I am stepping in their shit. Dogs do smile. It’s painful to see them each morning, chasing each other, looking back to check that their people are watching. I am going to work in my worn shoes, hair wet with gel, and I am full of dread.