Lick Us

by

09/01/2008

44th & 9th, 10036

Neighborhood: Midtown

It’s 31 degrees on the third Saturday in February and I’m ignoring everyone on 9th Avenue. I am not a native and my ability to ignore is still a blunt instrument, numbing when engaged, so that walking down the street feels a bit like being led by a string out of a dark tunnel into the bright lights of the world, while I only notice the texture of the string.

I am Gordon Gecko and the sidewalk is my free market. I slide past a woman piloting a scuffed stroller and scurry by an elderly couple ambling along the curb. I cut like popular music between a father and his teenage daughter, and overtake a Japanese girl and her urinating Labrador. A work crew jackhammers at the street’s surface, taxis honk, pedestrians chatter on cell phones and at each other, but I am an unseeing, unhearing locomotion, a machine built specifically for trips between apartment and barber shop. I can be neither stopped nor delayed. By the time I’m traversing 44th against the impotent red hand of the crosswalk signal, I’m challenging records for pedestrian efficiency. When people tell tales of this trek, they will be Bill-Brasky-esque.

Ahead is the first real challenge of the five-block course, a confused bottleneck of tourists and errand-doers. People press against the storefronts and edge past it: a middle-aged woman gesticulating in the middle of the sidewalk as if she were directing a plane into its terminal. She wears heels and a burgundy dress and clanging gold bracelets, and delivers an individual, taut direction to each passerby, as if a general pronouncement of her nonsense is too informal for the occasion. She is alarmed by my relentless advance, but she gives me the same admonition she gives everyone else: “Lick us,” she proffers in her Italian accent, waving once toward the street. Like a priest handing out communion wafers, she believes her offering should suffice to redeem me, and she ignores me completely after she hands it over.

She turns toward the storefront to address emerging shoppers. “Lick us,” she says, this time with a shrug of her shoulders, as if she’s embarrassed to have to be telling everyone this. I see my chance to slip by. While others press up against store windows or cross the street altogether to avoid her flailing arms, I slip in behind her with a twist of my hips and for a brief moment we fit snuggly together, like dancers.

I plant my right foot on the sidewalk and it flies skyward, dragging the rest of me with it. I watch my feet up in the air; just off the tip of my left foot a jet heads south toward JFK. I hear the warning once more but interpret correctly this time: “Slick ice,” she says.

I lead with my elbow, plowing into the single square of sheer ice about which we are all being warned. I lie back for a moment and consider staying here for however long it takes to meaningfully reassess my place in the world. Before I can reach any conclusions beyond the realization that I’m very likely to be dead soon, the warning woman’s head hovers over me like a passing cloud.

“I said–”

“I know,” I say. “Thank you.”

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