Todd of The Sidewalks

by

02/06/2004

Neighborhood: East Village, West Village

Todd of The Sidewalks
Photo by Adrian Miles

Middlemarch was a bitch: all lace and wayside chapels and conversations hissed behind gloved hands. Eliot’s prose was denser than a Dorset garden, and we were all lost. All except for Todd, the grinning mook genius in British Lit class, who would interrupt the torpor with irreverent debates. We craved the distraction.

It was the Spring of 1980 at Syracuse University. At this point, 19th century fiction had little relevance in my life. For I had just discovered psychedelics and bisexuality and was dancing around Oakwood Cemetery on mushrooms, peering into the polished faces of gravestones for answers.

Todd was a rich Jewish kid from Jersey, short, wiry and dark-eyed. And Professor Judy would always indulge his outbursts. Dressed in black shrouds, with a wild nest of Havisham hair, she who would cackle in delight as Todd punched holes in the hand-wringing, stile-jumping dramas of Eliot, Hardy or Trollope.

I don’t know how Todd did it, but I finished the course with a C. Eventually, I learned how to juggle mind expansion with the rigors of academics.

I came to New York City in 1982, and was drawn to the feral East Village. I roamed the streets with friends, weaving in and out of Ukrainian bars. And there, invariably, was Todd, all wicked grin and laughing eyes. We would nod hello while on our respective rampages.

My hedonism eventually focused; I traded bisexuality for gay activism, leaping into demonstrations with ACT UP and Queer Nation. I was now living hand to mouth on Essex Street. And then I saw Todd again.

He began materializing on Avenue A, eyes hollowed, hands slapping at his clothes to keep warm. I tried to play it cool when we met; no judgments. After all, I was a fan of weed and the occasional hit of ecstasy. Todd, however, had gone hardcore. He was always wired, his jackal smile looking wounded. He insisted that he had just knocked out a new book on income tax management, and it was sitting in the window at Barnes & Noble. I smiled in pure placation. How do you respond when a guy looks more an addict than a man of letters?

I fled the East Village three years ago, just as cafes and boutiques moved in to chase the shadows and the dopers from my neighborhood. I moved to the cobbled, leafy calm of the West Village with my new boyfriend.

Last October, I was doing errands on an unforgiving, overcast autumn morning. I was passing Two Boots Pizza at the corner of 7th and Greenwich. Huddled in the doorway was Todd. His face was tattooed in city dirt. I gave him a brave smile, walked past him to the drugstore and came back with a bottle of juice and a packet of vitamins, handing them to him before I crawled away, churlishly convinced my own shame was far more burdensome than his.

I felt like crap all day, trying to bolster myself with pep talks crafted from pure liberal guilt. I’ve fought for the homeless, I reminded myself. I’d even been arrested during a sit-in at Trump Tower. But what did I owe this guy? A shower? A bed? Where did Todd fit into my crusades?

I would see him again and again. The last time, he was sleeping on a cardboard mat. I woke him with a big bag of food from Au Bon Pain. Todd smiled winningly and insisted he was getting up to go to work. I just nodded.

I figured I could end this piece with some leaden observation on the vagaries of Fate, in the tradition of Thomas Hardy. But I ran into Todd this morning on East 15th Street, and he provided a hopeful coda: He’s up for a job as a super in Brooklyn. He sounded relieved. Both his agent and his father, he continued, urge him to write a book about his months on the street. He shook his head, telling me no one would ever believe the reality of it. He smiled sheepishly and asked for a quarter. I pulled out a dollar.
 

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§ One Response to “Todd of The Sidewalks”

  • The government really needs to step in and help these people to get into homes and regular jobs. When they fall down this path each day it is harder to get back up. If we as a society can figure a way to help these people in a way where they can still have their pride, we could end homelessness.

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