It was a cold blustery day a few Wednesdays ago in Washington Square Park (where else?) when my friend said, "Take their picture." I hadn't been planning on capturing their kiss but who was I to argue:
Now while the above picture was taken a few weeks ago, the encounter described below happened just a few hours ago...
I spent much of the day sending film through the YashMat in the West Village and wanted to load up just one more roll before heading home. It was crowded in Washington Square Park, and bench space was at a premium, until I noticed one that was completely free and saw a man in the adjoining bench yell something that I wasn’t sure I heard right at first. It sounded like:
“A VAGINA NEVER AGES!”
He was maybe in his early thirties with olive skin and a full head of black wavy hair. Again he shouted, “A VAGINA NEVER AGES!”
I knew where I was going to sit.
Next to him sat a weathered black man. They were denizens, neighborhood people who seem to be just on the border of homelessness and are almost always in the park. As I began to load up a fresh roll of Ektachrome VS he engaged in a new mantra.
“CUNT CUNT CUNT CUNT CUNT!"
He turned to me and said, “Isn’t cunt a great word?”
“Yeah, it’s short and to the point.”
As a pretty blond girl was walking by, he yelled out a short quick, “CUNT,” and she turned her head. “You see, she looked! You know she’s been called a cunt before. CUUUUUUUUUUNNNNNNNNNNNNNT!!!!” He then turned to me and said, “What is that, a Hasselblad? I studied photography.”
“No, it’s a Yashica-Mat, the Japanese knock-off of the Rolleiflex.”
“But it’s still got a decent lens right?”
“Yeah, it gets the job done.” As I was saying that, another man came over. He was probably in his forties with long salt and pepper hair. He looked at me with a devious smile and said, “I want you to give me lessons in style.”
“No no, he’s cool,” the first guy said. I was flattered that he thought so, even though I hardly said much beyond talking a bit about the camera and agreeing on the efficacy of cunt (the word, that is).
“I don’t think I’m qualified,” I said.
“No, look at you, you’ve got the old camera, the hat, the sunglasses,” he said as he sidled up next to me. He put his hand on my back and I could smell the booze on his breath as he leaned in to sweat me further, even as the first gentleman kept protesting that I was “cool.”
“No,” the second man said, “I mean I want lessons on how to be stylish. Once a week we can meet and you can tell me how to do it,” he said with a casual yet intense southern California drawl.
“I don’t think I’m qualified,” I repeated. “This is just the way I dress.”
The first man then jumped up and said to me, “Have you ever taken a picture of an asshole?”
“A person, or the body part?” I responded.
“I’m talking about the human sphincter, because I’ll drop my pants right here and spread my cheeks and you can take a picture of my asshole. I’ll really do it. I bet you don’t have any pictures of any assholes.”
“Did you ever hear of GG Allin?” I asked him, as he started laughing.
The man who had been putting the squeeze on me leaned back. “I knew GG Allin!” he said.
“So did I. I went on tour with him.”
The man then went to tell me how he used to live down the hall from GG in Atlanta god knows how many years ago. He said that to make money, GG would let people hit him over the head with a whiskey bottle for five bucks a pop.
“Fortunately, I knew him after those days,” I said. I never know what might happen when I play the GG card. In this case it worked, but you never know. You might mention it and someone will say, “GG Allin? He beat up my sister!” Then things might get a bit dicey.
But with GG smoothing things over almost 17 years after his death, we went on to chat about how Washington Square Park was the coolest place in the coolest city in the world, “And we’re right at the center of it,” he further explained. I did not (and do not) disagree. After I told him I was originally from New Jersey, he told me about how in California he heard how people from NJ were always mean and hard, and how NYC was full of people acting like they were from New Jersey! But he went on to say how glad he was to be wrong. After some more small talk he said, “Listen, I’m a bit hard up…Can you spare five bucks for a drink?”
“I’m sorry, I can’t.” I said. The last and worst thing I could have done at that moment was to feel charitable. If a denizen knows you’re a soft touch, then it’s over. It’s all about keeping that certain distance where you’re close enough to chitchat, yet not stepping over that fine line of them knowing they can get more from you, or them just thinking they can get more from you, which is potentially more dangerous.
He didn’t seem too disappointed after my denial and said, “It’s okay, I’m resourceful.”
That I don’t doubt.
“Check this out,” the first guy jumped in. “This is from a fight I got in three weeks ago,” he said as he showed off a right fist with scabbed knuckles. “This one got dislocated,” he said, indicating the middle knuckle.
The second gentleman said, “Look at this,” as he produced both fists, each row of knuckles barely visible under a dense strata of scar tissue. I kept my pristine knuckles to myself (though every so often they get really chapped and I have to use that Neutrogena cream to get them back to their usual notpunchingpeopleintheface softness).
The rest of my visit with them was pleasant enough, and I even let the second gentleman examine and take a picture with the YashMat (while I kept a close eye, of course). But soon enough I bade my farewell and left their world of comparative scar study and discreetly consuming alcohol in public to my own Fortress of Solitude (apologies to Kal-El) and my world of worrying about making my next post to this site, talking to a lizard (perfectly normal, right?), and pondering the possibility of taking my old scanner in to be repaired if I can’t figure a way to get a decent high quality scan out of my newer one.
Aren’t you disappointed that I had to mention the scanner situation after all that?
I am too.