It was my nephew’s birthday and we were going to Sahara. We got out on the Avenue U stop, me pinpointing the transfer from express to local on Kings Highway as the trains crossed for a brief moment at the station. Ah, yeah, back in my element. The Avenue U station got a nice makeover sometime in the past decade. Everything but the poorly oiled high-exit cage turnstiles, which turned every three seconds with a death-throe screech that really got under our skins.
Wandering through the familiar row of Chinese dim sum joints, food markets, and value stores (single tear), I passed by the somewhat unlikely awning for “Vlada’s Dog Grooming.” I slowed down my walk on cuteanimal alert. A leathery middle-aged guy ambled out whistling to a cat left pressing its whiskers to the window.
We kept walking stopping at the crosswalk. One guy yelped at another in greeting at the corner bodega. I turned around instinctively, not to much out of alarm as curiosity. “Uh oh, uh oh,” a meek voice rattled from somewhere on our left flank. Something compelled me to turn back again.
“Uh oh. Time go get worried!” It was pretty clear the man from Vlada’s was taunting us. I don’t know what he thought, or what he was after, but I imagined it might have to do with his assumptions about us, inasmuch as I was now making assumptions about him. It might have had to do with him being black and my being white, or his being messed up or unmedicated and my being sober and relatively adjusted. Maybe he just had a shitty day. Maybe the cat bit him. Maybe his wife had just left him. Maybe he didn’t have a wife. Maybe he was homeless. Maybe he didn’t want to be at home. Maybe I was just swimming too far from the shores of practical reality.
“Yeah, you heard me,” he resumed, this time louder and bolder. The SO could feel that I wanted to turn around and get the last word on it, and I shook off the faux-provocation. I tilted my head slightly in his direction but we had started to cross. I don’t know why it mattered, but I wanted him to know that I wasn’t worried, that I had lived in this neighborhood and all around it for 20 years. But it wasn’t even a hard neighborhood, it was Avenue U! And I wasn’t hard either, but the man probably was, or harder than me anyway. And what the hell would I do? Throw down with this guy for teasing me as an alleged yuppie on the street corner? Come to my nephew’s party in tattered clothes, with a black eye, explaining to my familythat I had to stand up for my Brooklyn pride?
It was all silly, and ridiculous, and not worth another thought. But I couldn’t deny it. I wanted to punch this stranger whom I don’t know, punch him very hard, or at least whip him with a good quip.
“I’m not worried!” I would have retorted. Yeah, that’s the ticket. That’s it. Glad I thought about it. Now I’m ready for the next vagrant, come hell or high water.