It Takes a Village



Neighborhood: East Village

They say it takes a village…to raise a drunken man out of the gutter.

I discover this is true while crossing First Avenue at 6th street in the East Village. After throwing on an inside-out sweatshirt and flip-flops to visit the corner fruit stand, I see someone lying in the street near the curb by Dunkin’ Donuts. As I get closer, I notice it’s a man. His head is directly behind the rear left wheel of a parked car. The car’s brake lights are lit up. I panic, wondering if the driver knows that the man’s head is just behind the car. I run towards the car just as two young Asian guys get out. They do know the man is there, lying like a speed bump, behind their car. They appear to be NYU students and they are now in a quandary. How will they get out of this tight parking spot when the only way they can is to back up…and over this person?

The three of us peer down at the man attracting the attention of a Black guy, who judging from his odor, clothing, and glazed eyes, appears to be homeless. He begins waving his arms and saying, “I’m here to help ya!”

We’re joined quickly by a Hispanic man dressed like a building super with a ring of keys banging off his thigh. I round out this little group — a middle-aged white woman, out to buy bananas.

I reach down and pat the unconscious fellow on the shoulder to rouse him — and also to see if he’s still alive.

He mumbles, “What? I’m ok. Lea’ me alone.”

“Well,” I say. “We’ve gotta’ move you since you’re lying right behind a car that needs to back out.”

The homeless guy and the super grab the fellow by his arms and tug. The two college students and I get behind him on the other side to help and push him. We force his dead weight onto the sidewalk, and then we manage to get him upright onto his unsteady legs.

The homeless guy, who isn’t looking too good himself, announces. “Damn! The dude’s shit-faced.”

“Wooo, no kiddin’ bro,” the super laughs.

“We gotta’ sit him down,” the homeless guy tells the rest of us. “Cuz otherwise he’s just gonna’ fall down again.”

The drunken fellow wobbles with bent knees while the super and homeless guy walk him as far away from the gutter as they can. The two students and I stand downwind of the toxic cloud of cheap alcohol wafting off his entire body.

Now that the drunken fellow is upright, he’s chuckling merrily. We all look at each other. What’s so funny? He wiggles his arms loose from the two guys holding him up, staggers towards the brick wall of Dunkin’ Donuts, and then throws his arms up high. His hands land flat on the brick wall. He spreads his legs, as if he’s under arrest.

The homeless guy shakes his head. “Dude, we’re not cops! We gotta’ get ‘ya to sit down.”

The drunken man’s head lolls around a bit. He is trying to face us…his saviors. I’m assuming he’s going to thank us. His weather-beaten and liquor-soddened face bobs up-and-down a few times. His arms are still hanging in the air as if he thinks we might be a SWAT team taking him into custody. He seems good and ready for a trip downtown. 

The homeless guy and the super take his arms again, hoping to get him seated on the ground outside the Dunkin’ Donuts, as if he’d be a good advertisement to drink coffee, not booze. Instead, he wobbles around and staggers towards the rest of us, lifting his head slightly, and slowly taking us all in. His half-closed eyes fall last on me. His eyelids open a bit more and a crooked smile appears on his face. His slackened lips spasm as if he’s searching for the right word. Suddenly he emits a loud grunt. “YOU!”

We all stand there, looking at each other — dumbfounded.

Finally I point to myself, “Me?”

“YOU!” he grunts again, one filthy finger jerks in my direction. “Yeah you! How ‘bout I take you for a little drink?”

The homeless guy, the two students, and the super stare at me. They’re appalled, maybe even shocked…but, waiting for my response. The response of a middle-aged white lady wearing an inside-out sweatshirt on a quick banana run to the corner fruit man.

I lift my head, smile politely then say, “Yup — I’ve still got it!”


Coree Spencer arrived in New York City on February 4, 1989 from Athens, Georgia. Ten minutes after arriving in the city on a bus from Newark Airport was robbed of her wallet trying to get through the turnstile at the Cortlandt Street subway.
She has waited tables and worked in the catering industry most of her 32 years here in the city.

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§ 17 Responses to “It Takes a Village”

  • anne says:

    What a great story! Let’s hear it for all the hot middle aged ladies!

  • Paul says:

    A real slice of city life with both the unexpected and the comical. You can’t script this kind of stuff.

  • LUKE says:

    Its got a Real Lower East Side vibe really brings me into the Experience

  • Celia says:

    Great story!

  • Trish says:

    Yep, you do still got it! The City is lucky to have you!!

  • Dana Wu says:

    Coree: I like the vivid characterization. Your humor and humanity (observed not judged) in this piece reminds me of this poem by Lucille Clifton :

    homage to my hips
    by Lucille Clifton

    these hips are big hips
    they need space to
    move around in.
    they don’t fit into little
    petty places. these hips
    are free hips.
    they don’t like to be held back.
    these hips have never been enslaved,
    they go where they want to go
    they do what they want to do.
    these hips are mighty hips.
    these hips are magic hips.
    i have known them
    to put a spell on a man and
    spin him like a top!

  • Andy P says:

    I love everything about this. You do still got it and writing skills as well. Thank you for sharing this well observed story, a classic!

  • Rosie says:

    Yes Coree, I knew you still got it…love the poem!!

  • SLS says:

    Great story, Coree! I loved the characterization… and the surprise (happy) ending!

  • Ann Margaret Francis says:

    The talented, Coree Spencer, I always enjoy reading and seeing your work. Bravo 👏

  • Rosemary Colon says:

    Good lower East side story! Yeah girl you still have it for sure!

  • Jasmine Colbert says:

    Coree, this is fantastic!! Of course sums up your personality, writing is amazing, and I can confirm you do indeed, still got it.

  • Sandra Roque says:

    Oh, my gosh, Coree, I just love reading you.
    Thank you for sharing.
    What a NY scene… Would love to turn it into a short-film! When I finish my directing course… maybe we can talk!? 😉

  • Grace says:

    Love it! The way an extremely diverse group of individuals come together in New York to help out is really unique to this city…and it’s what I always reference when people say the city is mean or cruel (which it definitely can be, too!). There’s both melancholy and humor in the way our drunken hero of the story continues to misread the gravity of his situation. This is one of those stories that sounds insane if you don’t live here and makes perfect sense if you do. I love the part about the man being an impromptu advertisement for Dunkin’ Donuts! Very funny.

  • Jane says:

    I totally saw this whole event. I love the detail in your writing.
    What a real ending. Thanks for this vision of life!

  • A true New Yorker take on “The City”, as only a New Yorker can tell it. Doesn’t matter that you weren’t born there, Corree, you’re a New Yorker heart and soul.

  • Marnie says:

    Coree Spencer, story-teller extraordinaire, what a brilliantly crafted and detailed creation! Thank you for transporting me into one of your quintessential Coree experiences, and for sharing your art and unique vision with all of us! Chef’s kiss!

§ Leave a Reply

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