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How Much a Bagel Cost
It's the second week of August. Nothing good happens in the second week of August. No matter who you are - rich or poor, smart or hot, happy as a clam or a sad sack wasp trap, the malaise of August is inescapable.
I can't seem to pay attention to things or people this week. Particularly strangers. They recede into the background to become one big organism. We both co-exist indifferent to each other and indistinguishable from inanimate objects. The other day, a man on a random street in SoHo said, "Excuse me," as I walked by eagerly to get a cup of coffee that I hoped would dull the August malaise. Before he could complete his utterance, I said, "Sorry no," and sped on like the roadrunner escaping the coyote. He spoke over me to complete his request, "Could you take a picture of me." I saw an emotion that can only be described as pure and utter rejection come across his face when I said no. I walked on as if I had no control over where I was going. Meep meep. By the time I realized what I had done, I had walked too many paces to recourse my action.
I wondered if I would have acted the same if a pretty girl had said "Excuse me" and was not pleased with the answer to that hypothetical. So now I tried to rationalize my action. Who takes a picture in the middle of a random block in Soho that was indistinguishable from all the other blocks? I suppose a tourist like me that lives in a southwestern American city without any conception of a compact city grid would do that. When I got coffee and walked out, the man was gone. Vanished into the wind. Probably got his picture taken. I hope he enjoys his picture. I hope the picture is as indelible as my memory of it.
I vowed to be more aware. More present. More attentive of the people around me. I flew to Oakland on a red-eye last night. Unlike in New York, I'm aware of every single person walking by me cause there are fewer of them, and they move much slower. They even abide by Dont Walk signs. It's crisp outside. I was reading Pure Colour by Sheila Heiti this morning. Benched outside a coffee shop in a little alleyway of stores where everyone seemed to know each other by name. I had an intrusive thought about buying $$$ Evan Kinori pants when an Asian man wearing a mask, a Giants shirt, and white Adidas shoes approached me.
"Do you have a dollar you can spare for coffee?" he said
"No," I replied
"You don't have anything?" he exclaimed and stood there for a few seconds, astounded. As if he was a medieval tax collector and I owed him this week's dues.
"I don't have any cash," I replied. Boring my head down on the book as if all the answers were in there.
I should have explained to him that I regretted having paid $5 for a cappuccino myself. He approached a woman whose fit I had noticed when she walked in. She brought him a croissant and a coffee. I got up and left a few mins after this transpired.
I saw the Asian man again on my way to buy groceries. He alternated between drinking coffee and taking a bite from the croissant. I decided I'd get him something from Whole Foods. It was not nice to make enemies in a neighborhood I planned to spend a month in. Particularly ones that linger around the coffee shop and grocery store I plan to frequent. Maybe he was collecting his local tax after all. I got half-dozen everything bagels each for myself and my soon-to-be acquaintance. As I walked out, I worried if I'd be able to find him. The unsurprising thing about homeless people in the US is that they are always where you'd expect them to be. There he was, right across the street by the bus stop. He was talking on the phone and pacing in a circle. I crossed the road and waited for him to finish his phone call but to no avail. So I approached him and said, "Excuse me," and before I could complete my words, he started shooing me away violently with his free arm. As if I was a fat pigeon trying to nibble on his croissant. I walked away while all the other homeless people at the bus stop looked at me. "So that's how that feels," I thought to myself.
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