I sit cross-legged near the curb in front of Walden Newsstand looking for my dog, Emmy, who is lost, and palm the various doodads I keep stuffed in the hip pockets of my quilted flannel shirt. The insides of these pockets have holes and I always worry I’ll lose some of my precious junk through these holes. So I always check my junk and probably look like I’m playing with myself.
Then—holy butt buckets!—the Shiite Muslim pops out from the newsstand through the thick steel door on the side and comes around to the front of the newsstand and walks up to me.
He looks down—I don’t know how he can see me through that crazy salt-and-pepper beard he wears—as I look up. Through my own crazy beard.
I’m not feel good, he says.
He hands me a ring with four keys on it—one old scratched up skeleton mother-humper, a couple of housekey-looking keys and a teensy little guy. The keyring says I Heart NYC with a big red heart instead of the word Heart. I’ve sat in front of the Shiite Muslim’s newsstand, off and on, for many months, and we have never had a conversation. We have never exchanged a glance. I have never bought a thing from him, not even a Rolo.
I’m not feel good, you, he says, please watch the stand for bit. Trust?
I squint at him a minute, cough and then nod with a limp flick of my hand. The Shiite Muslim nods, too, weakly, and then shuffles away. I pick up the magnifying glass that hangs from my neck by a piece of rope and, through it, watch him shuffle. He looks like a big bright walking carpet with that outfit he always wears and he looks sort of like a container of pills with the crazy bottle cap of a hat he always has on up there.
He walks away toward Water Street—limps, actually, with one hand on his belly—and I watch him through the mag-glass until he disappears into the crowd about a half-block away from Walden Newsstand.
It’s busy; lots of people walk around. It’s late afternoon. Long blue shadows. Everyone heads for the subway toward Water Street way and soon it will be relatively dead around here and not long after that is when the Shiite Muslim normally pulls the big, loud security gate across the front of Walden Newsstand and that’s when I usually go and hang out in that British Garden at Hanover Square until dark and then when no one is looking I jump over the little foot-high “keep out of the landscaping” fence and lay down low and scurry like a mole behind these couple of fancy-butt prickly purple bushes and fall asleep. At least that’s how it rolls when it is warm out. (When it’s cold out I have to get a bed at The Helping House or sleep near a vent or just keep dancing around.) I have a beat up old foul-smelling sleeping bag hidden back there under the bushes. It’s really gross to sleep on it and I suppose I am ashamed of it but it keeps me warm on whichever half of me is toward it and it is better than sleeping right on the dirt and having worms crawl into my undercarriage.
I look at the keys in my hand. I look at them again in the mag-glass. The skeleton key is the one the Shiite Muslim uses to lock the giant padlock that’s on the security gate I just told about. One of the other keys must be for the side person door.
I walk up to the side door of the newsstand and put one of the housekeys into the lock. It doesn’t work and this makes me disappointed. I try the little baby key. It doesn’t work. Motherhumpers!
I try the second housekey. Nope. Then I turn that key downside up. Bingo! It goes in like a sexual encounter. I turn the key, open the door, pocket the keys. I look around to see if anyone watches me do all this and/or is flagging down a policepig to haul me away. There are lots of business people that walk past, but no one pays me any attention. I go into Walden Newsstand.
I let the door slam behind me. CrrricKOOM!
It isn’t very big inside at all. Not sure how big I’d imagined it would be, but somehow I guess I thought it was like a Bag of Holding in there. Or like one of those closets in a Bugs Bunny cartoon that contain an entire Opera House. It is about as wide as a coffin and maybe about as long as a coffin plus the length of a chopped-off human head. So about the size of a coffin for one person and his or her extra head. Or maybe it is as long as a record-setting tall person.
I’ve never seen the stand from the interior before. I’ve always been on the outside, looking into the stand, having daydreams about eating from its cornucopia of snacks and beverages. From back here behind the counter I can see all the extra foodstuffs and products that the Shiite Muslim puts out, I guess, when some of the soda pops or magazines or chips or whatnots or gum get low on the racks or in the cooler in the front. I guess it is always the Shiite Muslim that puts it all out…I’ve never seen anyone work in the newsstand but him.
The Shiite Muslim also sells hot dogs and I can smell those beautiful sonofaguns. Emmy likes hotdogs, too. Steam comes out a hole in the top of this sliding metal door that’s on top of a little heated oven that’s the center of the front counter.
I love freaking hot dogs. Holy pickles, I love those freaking things, those long, long links of love that so excite the clusters of bulbous nerve endings on my tongue.
Before I can open the little sliding door and fill my maw with dogmeat, someone talks to me. It’s this bald business dude with a fat, pink tie who’s in front of the stand. He is my first customer.
How much? He says and he holds up a can of Coca-Cola and wags a copy of The New York Times.
How much it say?
The man shifts his weight from one foot to the other and sighs and looks at the can closely with his gorgeous blue eyes.
It doesn’t say how much it is on the can.
Just a dollar. Just how bout a dollar?
The man gives me a scrunched-up look and hands me a crumpled dollar bill that he pulls from his pocket and I put it right in my underpants by my hog.
The man watches my hand go into my underpants and imagines my hog and then licks his lips like they’re suddenly very dry and walks away with his purchases.
As soon as he’s gone, I open the sliding door and a bunch of hot dog steam curls out of the hot dog oven and condenses on my face and makes me close my eyes. I smile and take a deep, deep, lusty breath of that hot dog steam. Mmmmmm mmm!
There’s a pair of long metal tongs hanging from a nail on the Shiite’s side of the hot dog oven and I take them and dip them into the hot dog water and mix the whole thing up like a witch’s stew pot filled with bat and potion soup. As I do this the big fat jumbo hot beautiful dogs float and bob in and out of view like frolicking dolphins in oily ocean water.
I get a hold of one of the hot dogs with the tongs and bring that long piece of love out. It’s a fatty! I swear that right then my man-hog grew into a fatty, too, as I thought about eating that drippy-wet hot dog! I felt like I had just hit a balloon with my last dart and was given a large stuffed Donkey Kong at the county fair. I have not eaten anything since soup at Back Door at Trinity Church the night before. Pea soup, actually; and why do they serve that, I’d like to know?? It is not very delicious and looks even worse.
I stuff the entire hot dog in my mouth at once and start to chew it. The juices ooze down the insides of both of my cheeks and I can’t believe my good fortune. It is so delicious. I see disco lights. This is such an excellent afternoon. Some of the juice drips out of my mouth and into the hot dog basin.
I peer out of the stand. When my mouth is empty, I whistle and call, Here, Emmy! Emmy, here! Emmy doesn’t come. She’ll turn up eventually.
Then I remember that the Shiite Muslim could come back at any moment and see that I’m eating one of his hot dogs and freak out and beat me with a pipe or relieve me of my job…or something! For the record, I’ve never seen him freak out and I’ve never seen him beat anyone with anything; he’s actually pretty mild-mannered. He’s actually pretty expressionless and peaceful and always sits on this little stool listening to a radio station on which people speak in a language that doesn’t sound like a language to me. I real quick wipe the tongs dry on my pant-leg and hang them back on their hook and try to chew faster so I can swallow faster all the evidence and not look like I just stole and ate a hot dog without money. I slide the lid of the hot dog oven closed but not before noticing maybe another dozen hot dogs swilling and smashing around down there like bumper cars. Mmmmm. I wish I could bob for those hot dogs. I wish I could dive in head first and ride hot dogs. Be the King of Hot Dogs.
A lady comes up and buys a magazine. I sell it to her for two dollars and she seems pretty happy about it. Heck, I don’t know how much any of the Shiite Muslim’s shiite is…how am I supposed to know these things? I have not taken a class in retail. I was not given sufficient training. The Shiite Muslim didn’t leave any instructions. I put the two dollars in my underpants along with the other one dollar. Now there are three dollars, wet, next to my testicles.
Several other people stop over and buy several other things. A gum, a candy bar, a container of mints. Another newspaper, another soda. A phone card. I just make up prices that sound low and fair and people pay and I put all of their money in my underclothing.
At about 6:30 in the night there are mostly no people around anymore. “No people around” for Manhattan, anyway. A few folks, a few homeless, but nothing like during the 9 to 5. The street lights along Walden Street start to flicker on. It isn’t really dark at all yet, but.
Usually, the Shiite Muslim has closed Walden Newsstand by now and usually I’m already over in that garden I told about trying to sneak into my sleeping spot. But I hold the fort waiting for the Shiite Muslim to come back from wherever the heck he has gone and take his keys back from me and lock up and I am sad. But maybe he’ll give me a few bags of chips or some hot dogs or a Twinkie package or even just some floss as pay and hopefully not count the hot dogs that remain.
At 7:00 in the night, I go out the side door of Walden Newsstand. I walk to the front of the stand and pull at the handle of the security gate thing that’s retracted into a green rusty metal round post at the stand’s right side. I give it a harder pull but it doesn’t move. I look up and down the green pole to see if I can figure out how you get it to come loose. On the far top edge of the part of the gate that emerges from the green pole there’s a little latch shaped like a T and when you push the top of the T away from you the roller of the gate comes loose and a few inches of the gate pop out of the pole like there’s a little spring in there and you can pull it out now. When the few inches pop out, I startle. But I pull the gate out and pull it all the way to the left side of the front of Walden Newsstand. Over on that side there’s a really thick metal loop embedded in the corner of the newsstand and the loop meets up to the safety gate to where the Shiite Muslim has a bad-butt padlock locked to the gate. I unlock the padlock with the skeleton key and string the padlock through the safety gate and the thick loop and lock the padlock. You can now only get into Walden Newsstand with the keys or with a shoulder-launched missile object.
I put the key set in my pants pocket. I look at the padlock with the mag-glass to make sure it is locked. It is. I look one way down Walden Street and then look the other way. I look up. The sky is pink-orange and I think I see a star. There aren’t a lot of folks around at all. There is an old lady with a little white dog and the little white dog wears a little pink sweater. The dog’s collar glints like diamonds.
I fish the keys back out of my pocket. The Shiite Muslim isn’t coming back tonight, I guess? I unlock the side door to Walden Newsstand again and open the door and go back in.
The Shiite Muslim has a little electric light bulb in there at the top of the stand and even more light comes in from a little plastic skylight in the top. The skylight is only big enough to fit a couple arms through if the plastic weren’t there so it isn’t big enough to break into the stand from there if that’s what you were thinking. (Pervert!)
I look around. With the front gate closed, the inside is particularly dim, even with the light bulb and even with the skylight. I open a few drawers that are under the counter to the left of the hot dog oven. Bunch of pens and paper and envelopes and all sorts of crap in the top drawer. In the bottom drawer is the money drawer. Holy mother magdalina! There’s one little compartment with 20s and one with 10s and with 5s and so on and on. The paper money is surprisingly well-organized. There’s also a big compartment in the front of the drawer with a bunch of change, all the different kinds of change, in it, not organized. In the back of the money drawer there is miscellaneous junk and also a small pistol.
I fold up The Shiite Muslim’s little black stool and lean it against the back wall of the newsstand. I look in the other little sliding cabinet doors that are almost everywhere below the counters and embedded in the back and side walls. Mostly they are filled with more food packages and products to sell. Moon Pies, soda, beef jerky. All kinds of products. There’s also plastic grocery bags, a calculator, a fire extinguisher. A stick with a nail-point protruding from one end of it? Newspapers. A hair brush? One of the cabinets has a bunch of packages with disposable cell phones in it. One shelf has a tall juice bottle that has what looks like urine in it. There are many, many fruity lipbalms for sale that hang from pegs in rows on the back wall. Many, many, many lip balms. And packets of pain relievers. And nail clippers. And on and on.
To the right of the hot dog oven is a little refrigerator. In the refrigerator are mostly hotdogs. Packages and packages and packages of hotdogs. Probably 5,000 hot dogs are in there. Also some plastic tubs with some kinds of leftover foods in them. Maybe they are the Shiite Muslim’s little lunches. I bet the Shiite Muslim enjoys lentils and kefir. I lift the lids and sniff the lunches and decide that I would not like them and so I put them back.
I take a plastic grocery bag and shake it open. I fill it up with all of the hot dogs that are in the hot dog oven. It takes some time to get them all with the tongs. There is now a grocery bag filled with about 20 cooked, drippy hot dogs!
I take a coffee mug that I find on the counter and dip it down into the hot dog water and fill up the cup with the hot dog water. I drink down the whole cup. I refill the cup and drink it down again. I drink down four cups of hot dog water. I’m unstoppable. It is like New Year’s Eve. Hot dog water should be a canned, commercial product sold at newsstands and around the world.
I turn again to the money drawer and take out all the 20s, 10s, 5s…I take out all the paper money. I don’t count it. I put it all in a stack and stick the stack down in my underpants. I take another plastic bag and pull out all the coin money and put it in a second bag. It is about five handfuls of coin money…mostly quarters. I also put a cherry fruit pie down in with the coin money. After scraping the last of the coin money from the drawer, my fingers smell like oil and taste like iron.
I tie the two bags off. I take off my ratty old quilted flannel and slip the loops of the hot dog bag onto my left arm and the coin money bag onto my right arm. The loops are dangling from my shoulders. I put the quilted flannel back on and button it up. You cannot tell that there is a fat bag of hot dogs and a fat bag of change hanging underneath my outerwear. Have you ever seen a movie where a gangster has a sawed-off shotgun hidden in his overcoat? This is how I feel just now.
I take a PEOPLE magazine and roll into a tube and close the money drawer and peak out the side door. There is no one. No one is around. Blessings! I step out and let the side door slam-close. The regular door part locks automatically but there is also a deadbolt. It looks like the second housekey works in the deadbolt so I use it and lock the deadbolt.
I stroll away, nice and cool. Can’t run. Don’t want to be suspicious. I stroll right on away from Walden Newsstand. Yee haw! What a haul! The hot dogs make my arm pit hot as heck and sweaty and uncomfortable which is the one downside. Also, I can smell them but can’t yet eat them. I can even smell the oily metal of all that metal money, if that makes sense. I really can!
I stroll on down Walden Street and take a left on Pearl and then go down Hanover. There aren’t many people around. A few suits. A few grubs like me sitting around. I recognize some of them from Back Door at Trinity but couldn’t tell you any of their names.
I try not to smile at them because I don’t usually smile much anyway and I don’t want them to get suspicious that I am out of character. If a homeless man starts smiling all over that usually means they have gone crazy or they have links of stolen sausage filling their pants or some other delicious item on their person and there is nothing a homeless likes to do more than tackle another homeless and take fresh meat from their pants. Actually, I’m not sure if that last part is true at all but nevertheless I try not to smile since I feel paranoid.
So I just nod all casual and head down the pretty cobblestone path into the British Garden. There’s a couple in there who sit and lick ice cream cones. So I can’t hop the fence and crawl into my secret spot just yet. There is also a skateboarder who is popping McPoppers or whatever you call those off of one of the curvy cement curbs. So I sit on a bench all cool and pretend to mutter to myself and leaf through PEOPLE. Later, I put my arms out to the sides of me and rest them on the top of the bench and wear an expression like I’m dreaming up a philosophy. It takes a lot of effort to not rip off my flannel and tear open the bag of hot dogs and gorge myself on hot dogs. But at least my arm pit gets to cool down a bit while I sit like this. Holy shiite, those dogs are hot!
After a little while longer, the couple gets up and moves along. After an even longer while, the skateboarder McSkates out of the park as well. No one is here now but me. I get up and pace around a bit and make like I’m reading the signs stuck in the dirt of the landscaping here and there to explain to you about some fancy bush or flower that’s planted there. Some kind of pink roses in one spot. Some kind of purple flowers in some other place. One sign says Future Home of Red Zinnias (Zinnia peruviana), Courtesy of Chase Manhattan Bank. Stupid, butt-licking banks and their courtesies. Anyway, the zinnias are sure easy on the eyes.
When I’m confident that everyone is pretty much out of sight, even along the sidewalk on both ends of the long, triangular park, I stroll on over to the bushes where my hideout is. I wonder if any other homeless know about my spot? You can’t see it from the park path. It never smells like another homeless has been in there. I certainly never have found another homeless in there. It doesn’t look like anything at all from the path…just a few thick bushes that combine to look like a long, thick Christmas tree in a landscaping bed in the middle of the park.
I look and look and look and when I know it is safe I hop the little fence, take about five big steps, get on my hands and knees and skibble into the bushes. I try not to make a lot of noise or rustling sounds while I’m in there so that I don’t attract attention. Not that I’m not used to evictions if it comes to that.
At first I sit cross-legged and look out between the branches of the bushes with the mag-glass. I take off my flannel and lay it next to me on the sleeping bag. I take off the hot dog bag and open it. I stuff a hot dog in my mouth immediately and chew. While I’m chewing, I sit up on my knees and pull all the paper money out of my underpants. Whew, that’s some sweaty money! I count out all the money, arranging it in piles by the number on the money.
There are 20 20s
There are 61 10s
There are 58 5s
There are 204 1s
I don’t know how much coin money there is and I don’t feel like counting it now. But there are about five fistfuls of coins and mostly quarters.
I don’t have a calculator but there must be about a thousand dollars here. I stack it all up, all the paper money, into one nice pile and fold it in half and put it back down next to my underparts. I put the coin money back into the plastic bag and tie it up and stick it under the lumpy top part of my sleeping bag that I use as a pillow.
I cough a bunch. I put a hot dog in my mouth. While I’m chewing that hot dog, I stuff another hot dog in my mouth. And then another. I eat another hot dog. Total, I eat about ten hot dogs. And then I eat the fruit pie. I lay my head down on the lump coin pillow and read my PEOPLE magazine and burp hot dog. I am sated and satisfied and set for life. There’s an article in the PEOPLE about a movie premiere and there’s Gwyneth Paltrow looking mighty pretty in a white cocktail dress with gold infinity symbols all over it and a fine, fine golden necklace with pearls on it hanging from her neck. Her smile is so very sweet and I would hump her right in the throat. I’m sorry, but I would totally hump her throat with my underdog and it would please me very, very much and hopefully it would please her, too. I would hump and hump and hump; see Hank hump. Wouldn’t you? I’ll bet her throat is as pretty and smooth and Hollywood as the outside of her appears to be. I would love to examine her closely with my mag-glass.
I wonder when the Shiite Muslim will come back?