GETTING MY ASS KICKED
BY GEORGE JONES
The city is a pushy place. If all its inhabitants and all those employed in the city were to simultaneously take to the open air, every inch of asphalt and concrete along the streets and sidewalks would be occupied, and everyone would have their hands at their sides, sucking in their breath.
This never happens. Thanks to the tall buildings. The traffic. The streets are already filled with cars dodging each other, accelerating into spaces ahead of them in neighboring lanes, spaces which are only beginning to exist as they press the pedal and assert a right to a place that then – miraculously! – happens.
It’s gorgeous the way this goes on. There’s no space, then an opening, which is immediately filled. And it’s not that different along the sidewalks. Even during workday afternoons, streets teem. Trajectories as unchartable, as unidentifiable as the genetic constituencies of the walkers. Mixed races cut off mixed ethnicities who cut off transplanted immigrants who cut off natives who cut off tourists who cut off all those with characteristics attributable to every mutation, no matter how slight, of every conceivable sect and style.
The streets teeming with everyone from everywhere into everything. An exploded star of humanity, expressed in recognizable forms (sculpted arms, taut waists, strong-stalky legs) moving, progressing, falling into and escaping eccentric orbit. We’re talking unpredictable trajectories here. This way, that way, every way movement. Some causing. Some effected. Opposite and equal reactions to others’ reactions and actions.
Now the scene is set: teeming bodies, unorganized, explicitly so, the only way it could work. Freewills asserting block to block. Now the scene is set, let me fill it with a story about how I almost got my ass kicked.
The subways are hosting an advertising campaign for something that says such things as “talk to the mugger,” advice meant to buy time and apparently meant to inspire you to check out a website for similar tips.
The masked man intent on swiping freshly pressed ATM-dispersed cash. Although he’s probably not masked, and you probably have no money on you, he knifes you or cuts you across the cheek to get initiated into a gang.
I cut off a man I shouldn’t have cut off.
I crossed the wrong path.
The movement. The stops and starts of pedestrian traffic. The stuttersteps and delayed footfalls, all to keep from contacting your fellow man, fellow woman. But sometimes you step and another doesn’t make the instinctual adjustment, the other rails right through you and you rail through him: if you were trains it would make the news; if you were boats . . . if you were planes . . . smoke and sputtering and subsequent collision with the ground. Instead, if you are two people, fast-cruising, moving toward places . . .
Where was I going? I was stalking Willem Defoe. He comes out a door, crosses my path ten steps ahead, proceeds down a sidewalk in the shade toward Broadway. His hair dyed black, a brownish gray goatee, a tanktop and worked-at shoulders, a rather flat ass in black jeans. Having nowhere to be, nowhere to go, I decided I’d follow him. For awhile.
If he took off on a 3-hour walking tour toward the Battery – forget it – but as it happened, he headed, vaguely bowleggedly, from west to east, across Broadway and then the Bowery and through the low-numbered avenues and entered the Alphabet area. He moved quickly, leaving a wake of walkers who passed and turned and checked him out (his rather flat ass, strong shoulders), corroborated what they’d seen, marked it down as a story to tell later, a sighting, no rarer than anything on moonless Dakotan nights.
My first movie star descended to street level. I’d seen George Plimpton and Lee Renaldo of Sonic Youth. But this was a Vietnam warrior, a vampire, Jesus.
Much taller than Mr. Defoe, I relied on long strides. Keeping my distance was not a problem. He was flying towards and then through Tompkins Square Park, never once looking back to see my eyes look away, following.
Suddenly, Mr. Defoe jaywalked.
And as I prepared to step into the street, the solid mass of humanity that is me slammed into the solid mass of humanity that is another. A collision. No dents. No billowing of smoke. No sinking ships. I can still feel the bruises along my left side, which ran into this, this, this, monster.
Pow. Slam. Bash. Ow.
I am a large man. Young-looking enough, but progressing agewise. A few steely strands of hair visible in windowfronts as I pass. This thing I hit was older, larger, all meat and tattooed muscle. A roaming Gilbraltar. A streetside iceberg. A big thing on a path you didn’t want to cross, black cat-like, except with this dude, the bad luck was immediate and not open to rationalization.
“What the fuck?” he said, his voice simultaneously dropping from the sky and rising out of the subway tunnels.
As sheepishly as possible, with as much conciliatory cooing, I said, “Oh man, wow, sorry.”
Wow jumped from me unintended, spurred by three things:
1. The painful shock of the collision.
2. The view of a monumentally curving set of 100% masculine breasts, sweaty, hairy, with some bold, chest-spanning tattoo that had faded into the ruddiness of his skin.
3. The slow, craning-upward shot across his chest and up his thick snake-veined neck, and a jaw shadowing everything beneath it and a wide open (what’s this?) benevolent face and forehead: all of it way up, the way a doormat admires a skyscraper.
“Where the fuck you going?” he asked, pressing two hands into my chest as though to imply you’re going down, you’re going through that there wall.
Motherfuck, I thought though didn’t say, since the hands pressed into my chest received a set of impulses like waves originating in the distant depths and crashing after peaking at a great height and with great force into his hands, and the whole thing -- a wave I had no intention of riding -- crashed, but only knocked me a few feet back.
That morning I dreamt of a fully-rigged SUV-type vehicle rushing down a steep hill, proceeding through the trunks of consecutive cars parked along the street. The parked cars piled up and split in a wake as the car kept moving through a garage, through everything in it, and through a back wall, and out of sight, screeching as a crowd gathered feeling the collisions rip through them. And now, here it was. That massive SUV, about to kick my ass.
I formed the words, my mouth tried to bring them into being, “But . . . Look here . . . I’m sorry. I didn’t mean.”
I tried to remember one of the posters: talk to the mugger -- yes, but what do you do when an unstoppable force comes into contact with tissue paper? How to stop thunder once it starts rolling in your direction?
He stepped forward before I could step back. His hand came down above my heart.
[To Be Continued At A Later Date]
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