I’d watched this man for a few months without any intention of documenting that fact. If anything, it would be only to note his anachronistic clothing and curious gate. This changed early one morning, when my voyeurism paid off, so to say. Meaning that I saw something worth seeing, saw the man in a desperate moment.
I was staying in a midtown hotel, been put up there by an acquaintance who had my best interest at heart, although also in her brain, body, and soul. More accurately, her intentions where selfish, but in any regard, at that time I wasn’t above selling my soul if it got a roof over my head.
My life was monotonous. I hadn’t taken the subway in months; I existed in midtown, something I could never have imagined before, nor here after the fact. The most exercise I received was a shallow expedition into the park, and then only to sit on a particular bench, one who was dedicated to Emily M. Grangerford. Watching this old man was the basis for my existence, in a way. If ever I missed him, the day felt oblique, and I was not right again until I saw him.
As anyone can imagine, it was not the most invigorating spying. Each morning from my fifth story window, I saw the man emerge from the subway, walk half a block, and sit down in between sculptures of Atlas and Prometheus. There he stayed for the next hour, occasionally contorting his face in what must have been screams. People seemed to avoid him, in some cases even crossing the street, wiggling through stuck traffic. Once I saw a young tourist woman come up to him and push him backward. He didn’t get up from immediately, but stayed flat on his back so long I became bored. I turned my attention to something else, but saw eventually from peripheral I saw crowds milling away from him again, and I knew the screaming had resumed.
This location was only the first stop on the old man’s itinerary. From there he crossed the avenue and walked up two more blocks. There he always entered a deli, but came out empty handed. Once he did have a king cone, an anomaly, but he gave it away to a child. I was surprised to see that sort of humanity, didn’t really like it, as it made me think of him more as a person and less as entertainment. After the deli he crossed back over the avenue and sat down on the steps of a theater. The police hardly bothered him, a fact unimaginable presently, but it could have been because it was so early in the morning and huge crowds had not yet amassed.
This was his mainstay for the next couple hours, and I never knew his next move because I always went out, and obviously at street level I lost sight of him. I never sought him out either, and by the time I returned to my rooms there was no sign of him. It was always easy watching him from up high, I should described this in more detail earlier, because he dragged his left foot, and besides that, his getup was unique, clad strictly in a black double breasted suit with wide lapels, and very bright, even florescent, sneakers. Also, this is so out of sequence I should give up, after he left Prometheus and Atlas there sometimes appeared a priest with whom he seemed to speak in a normal sort of way. Once I saw them embrace and found that to be extremely singular. What happened on one particular day really mixed things up for him, one could say.
I had never seen him beg or solicit people, and so perceived he was in no want of money, plus the sneakers he wore changed for a new pair quite often. Stranger it was, then, when I saw him sprinting for, and finally catching up to a five dollar bill. Bending down to pick it up, the bill abruptly blew away from him. It occurred twice more, and I didn’t realize until then what exactly was happening. I remember laughing at the ridiculousness of it, couldn’t in fact believe that the trick was happening, nor that my old man was falling for it. Yet there he was, dragging his foot behind him, eager to catch the five dollars. The bill must have been weighted because once it flew up, right away it fluttered down, spinning like a helicopter propeller. Such a precise action looked very comical, with the man jumping up to catch the bill, clapping his hands together and then jumping again, all quite uncoordinated.
I searched building after building, window after window, and finally spotted the culprits of the unmerciful act. It was two young boys, brothers ostensibly, who held a fishing pole out a window, almost level with mine, and laughed and laughed as they teased this poor fellow. What had possessed them to pull off a prank that, frankly, I had never seen outside of television, I don’t know. Despite myself, I enjoyed the whole scene, glad for a change to the daily monotony.
My diversion soon ended. The bill leapt up before the old man snagged it and fluttered down again, landing in the avenue. The man followed, and in what proved to be his last attempt to catch it, was struck by a bus. The bus was not moving slowly, readying for a stop, but must have been cruising through at least three lights. It was immediately obvious that the old man would not move again. Traffic around him stopped and a crowd gathered, followed by five or six police officers.
Drawing up my gaze I saw that the boys had disappeared but had flung the fishing pole out a window where it became caught upon a gargoyle a floor below. I could have easily identified exactly which building, and even floor on which they’d been. I can’t rule out the possibility I was the only witness to the full scene, but it seemed unlikely. As it happens I had been watching for longer than usual and was late for my appointment. Anyway, I didn’t have much desire to see him covered with a sheet and loaded into the back of an ambulance. The last image I have in my mind is of those bright green sneakers lying about fifty yards from the accident scene. No doubt they’d been knocked off from the force of the bus striking his body. As I left my rooms I could not help wondering if it would have happened if I were not such a voyeur.