Willie walked, staring straight ahead with not much of an expression. Unless you’re a tourist, you should stay away from 42nd Street, especially in this weather. I’ve known Willie for years, but not intimately. We have mutual acquaintances. We didn’t talk much when I ran into him. I could dig the energy. It was about conservation. He’s a heavy-set, older gentleman, Puerto Rican.
He glanced at me wanly. “It’s tropical heat. Like Vietnam. The masters used to say, be still in the calm.”
“You were in Vietnam?”
“Yeah,” he said nodding.
I thought of his age, his demeanor. I know Vietnam veterans, the ones who have PTSD, the ones who had been drug addicts and alcoholics to cope with the horrors and aftermath of senseless war.
“Stay cool Willie,” I said. We departed and he waded slowly into the throng. I went to the Super Runner’s Shop to return running shoes.
Instead of being a pussy and taking the bus, I walked to 49th. I looked at the tourists and “dirty Elmos” in Times Square. “Dirty Elmo” is a phrase I learned from my sister. When she visited once, she and her son were accosted by one.
Today I saw two of them — God bless them in this heat, in furry red suits.
A man caught my eye, an edgy, downtown type, not a technicolored tourist dressed in pastels. His hair was mussed and he was tall. The tee-shirt’s the thing that got me. Black and white, faded. The tee-shirt had an upside down cross, and the words, “Hail Satan, drink coffee.” I’m no fan of Satan, but that tee-shirt was, kind of, cool. Would I wear it? Hell no! He walked past me and I turned to look. If it weren’t for the tee-shirt? But I don’t do religious zealots uh uh, no — sorry.
I traded in my running shoes and headed for the one train uptown. This all hadn’t been so bad. On the downtown side, across the platform, were dull streams of light pouring in from the street gratings above. The pillars were angular shadows. A woman in a sharp and casual business suit stood between the shadows, reading an electronic device and holding a briefcase. Her hair was swept back in a pinned up pony tail. She was a lone slender figure, her features blotted out by intermittent darkness, the perfect silhouette for a New Yorker Magazine cover.