Atheist Hit By Truck

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01/15/2003

E 42nd St & 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10017

Neighborhood: Murray Hill

Photo by Morris Engel

McNulty, with cigarette, in his element.

This drunk came down the street, walking in the gutter instead of the sidewalk, and a truck hit him and knocked him down.

It was a busy corner there at Forty-second Street and Second Avenue, in front of the Shanty, and there’s a hack line there. Naturally, a little crowd and a cop gathered around the drunk and some hackies were in the crowd.

The cop was fairly young. After he hauled the guy up and sat him down, he saw there wasn’t much wrong with him. His pants were torn and maybe his knee was twisted slightly–maybe a cut.

The cop got out his notebook and began asking questions and writing the answers down. Between questions he had to prop the man up. Fellow gave his name – Wilson, Martin, some noncommittal name – and his address. Everybody around was interested in these facts.

The blind man in the newspaper felt a little put out because because nobody was telling him what was going on, and he could hear beguiling fragments of it. “What happened? What happened?” the blind man kept asking, but the event wasn’t deemed sensational enough for anybody to run and tell him, at least until afterward.

“What religion are yuh?” the policeman asked the man, who propped himself up this time and blurted out, “Atheist! I’m an atheist!”

For some reason, a lot of people laughed.

“Jeez, he’s an atheist!” one of the hackies said. He shouted to a comrade who was still sitting behind the wheel of a parked cab at the corner, “Feller says he’s an atheist!”

“Wuddaya laughing at?” the cop asked, addressing himself to the crowd generally. “Says he’s an atheist. So he’s an atheist. Wuddaya laughing at?” He wrote something in the book.

Another policeman, from over by Whelan’s drugstore, where there was a picket line, strolled up. He was an older cop, more lines in his face, bigger belly, less humps around his hips, because the equipment – twisters, mace, and all that stuff – fitted on him better after all these years. “Wuzzamadder with ‘im?” he asked his colleague.

“This here truck hit him. He isn’t hurt bad. Says he’s an atheist.”

“I am an atheist!” the man yelled.

The crowd laughed again.

“Did you put that down–atheist?” the older cop asked.

“Yuh, I put it where it says ‘religion.'”

“Rubbid out. Rubbid out. Put in Cat’lic. He looks like a Cat’lic to me. He got an Irish name? Anyway, rubbid out. When he sobers up, he’ll be sorry he said that atheist business. Put in Cat’lic. We gotta send him to Bellevue just for safety’s sake.” The young cop started for the drugstore to put in a call.

“Never mind safety’s sake. “I’m an atheist, I’m telling you,” the drunk said, loud as he could.

“Cuddid out. Cuddid out,” the older cop said. Then he leaned over like a lecturer or somebody. “An’ another thing–if you wouldn’t go around sayin’ you’re an atheist, maybe you wouldn’t be gettin’ hit by trucks.”

The crowd sensed a great moral lesson and didn’t laugh.

“Jeez! The guy says he’s an atheist,” the hackie said again.

A little later the Bellevue ambulance came.

“I yam a nathiest,” the man kept muttering as they put him into the ambulance.

Click here to buy John McNulty’s excellent collection, “This Place on Third Avenue.”

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§ One Response to “Atheist Hit By Truck”

  • Tommy says:

    McNulty is the gold standard for New York City blue collar vernacular in the 1940s & 1950s, thank you for giving him a well deserved spotlight.

§ Leave a Reply

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