Saturday, March 2, 2013

Cold Feet

While homeless in New York City, my friend Marie and I became friendly with a man known as Starr. Starr presented himself to us as a person well-versed in the ways of the street, a person more than willing to help look out for a pair of eighteen year old punk rock girls from the suburbs. Starr was African-American, with cookie- cutter shaped stars tattooed on his temples. He wore black leather pants that looked like they had become one with his body from continuous wear, like he had a darker, second skin from the waist down. One day, the three of us were sitting on a street corner asking people for spare change to buy heroin when an Indian man drinking a beer in a brown paper bag set down next to us. The man was friendly and a little drunk, and over the course of the conversation let it be known he would like to get to know me better, and flashed a wallet full of cash. I wanted to get high, but was by no means desperate enough to agree to have sex with the man. But before I could give him the brush off, Starr took me aside. “You won’t have to do anything with him,” he said. “Just tell him you know a spot by the river where you two can go.” Starr opened the small bag he carried with him wide enough so that I could see that there was a brick inside. As I walked with the man towards the East River, I felt like I was outside of myself, watching my body as it ambled down the streets with this drunken stranger. Starr slunk behind us, keeping his distance, trying to conceal himself behind monuments and people. The Indian man held my hand without a care in the world, babbling away. Closing in on the East River Park, I had to confront the fact that no third option was going to present itself, no deus ex machina was going to fall from the sky and save the man from Starr’s brick and line my pockets with gold. I stopped and turned to the man. “You need to get out of here,” I said. “My friend is going to rob you.” He looked at me, confused. “You need to go,” I said firmly. We had stopped in the middle of the block and when Starr rounded the corner, he expected us to be farther ahead, so he made no effort to hide himself. Finally, the man understood what was about to happen to him and took off. “What happened?” Starr asked, cradling his bag under his arm. “I don’t know,” I answered. “He said he couldn’t do it, that he didn’t have it in him. I think he got cold feet.”
© Fiona Helmsley