A Manhattan morning lifts over the corner of 20th and 5th. The autumn chill holds still in the soft sunlight. A man named Carl once called Mr., and sometimes Sir, is wrapped in layers of throw away clothes he swiped at Goodwill. He sits down below the pastry shop window next to Arty the Dodger from the shelter downtown.
“Deranged, bum, hobo, homeless, crazy old coot, that’s all I could get so far today. Perfect freedom for a perfectly carefree existence… only subsistence required. Once a Captain of Industry with a shallow face and now I’m just a vagrant with a fragrant presence. All we need is food and shelter and this wasteful world provides. But, stupid pride and synthetic respect rules over the kids scrapping their way up the social ladder to nowhere. But here, no taxes, no telemarketers, no nothing. Sounds nihilistic but it is what it is, just survival. Damn it! Bet I missed the guy with the Chesterfield coat again. He’s good for a sneer and a ‘get a job’.”
Carl nudges Arty and looks down to his panhandler’s paper cup, a coffee cup that never had coffee in it. Carl shrugs and inhales a deep breath of sidewalk air. He exhales a stream of steamy breath into fast walking foot traffic and urban noise. Carl coughs and begins again.
“So Arty, this is the thing. Societies are artificial. They’re socially constructed values. Superficial no matter how internalized and regurgitated. I am, we are, at the crossroad. Modern primitive scavengers or societal rejects? No we are the ones who see the world for what is… an illusion of confidence, of agreement. The city is here and must be exploited and the validity lies in the fact that if you take this all away and it can be done again. I will be left standing in my desensitized worn shoes. By the way Arty, remember to spit when you talk to them. And here comes a real snoot, maybe I can get her to swear. Listen young blood, surprise is the essence of deconstruction.”
Carl springs up and puts his hand out. Dirty fingernails stab through worn knit gloves. He bows his head to the woman smothered by a gray business suit. She locks her gaze forward and speeds up her gait. He shrugs and slips back down on the wall below the window. Carl watches people walk by like he was watching a tennis match in the long gone years.
“Missus business suit there, if the world sank, would have problems but she has the cell phone so she would high tail it. The immigrant market guy over there, he would lose everything, but be fine, just start over. From the highest to lowest, the highest have problems moving in the continuum. Not enough desensitization, even if they seem insensitive. That is them thinking about ego and birth. A sweet smelling scatology so to speak.
That’s why I hang here and fish for insults, it breaks them down. Let’s them feel shame for a second so they react. I’m a street psychologist. Now take this one, a good insult coming from the prep-school boy. Wait for it. Damn just the finger! It was something. So why do you stake out this corner? Arty? Why aren’t you replying? It’s a little too early to take the night train. Yo! I’m talking to you.”
Carl taps Arty on cheek. His face is a calm blue, a cold blue. Carl shakes his head. “Now that’s insulting. You just had to tell me I was talking too much and I’d have stopped. Dying just to shut me up won’t work. Damn you were dead the whole time. Weren’t you?”
Carl looks at a woman strutting by in a red Channel wrap. He points at her as she passes.
“This is what your society did.”
“I didn’t do anything,” the woman says as she stops and yanks off her over-sized sunglasses.
“Exactly. You didn’t do anything.”