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Street Seens
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I continue to slog through my work overload. And now we are in the middle of a snowstorm. However, The Orphan Scrivener must go through. You will want to click on the link that goes to our website to read Mary's article about ancient curse tablets. My own contribution is here:

Street Seens

Since the middle of January we've been in the midst of a cold spell. The office space heater has been blowing more hot air than the two scriveners. I've had to slither into the crawl space once already to use the heat gun on a frozen water pipe. At least the giant lurking spiders were probably all frozen to their webs.

There are people who'd be happy to have pipes to freeze, or a roof over their heads. I used to pass them on the streets when I lived in New York almost thirty years ago. They may have had places to live of some sort but as far as I could tell they were always outside. Or nearly outside.

The first level of the subway station beside Washington Square Park was deserted. To reach the lower levels and catch your train you needed to pass through a huge dark space resembling an empty parking garage. Somewhere in the shadows lived a man who screamed. He'd shriek and roar and the noise would echo around the pillars. It wasn't so much a communication of pain as rage. A monstrous anger that pulled a sound straight from a tormented soul that could never have been achieved by human vocal cords alone. Maybe he was one of the junkies who populated the park. I never caught a glimpse of this man nor did I want to.

I had plenty of opportunities to get a good look at the cadaverous looking fellow who stood outside the porno theater not far from Borough Hall in Brooklyn. His activities were equally as mysterious. No matter the time of day or the weather he'd be there, just under the marquee, writing in his notebook. It was a medium sized ring-bound notebook with a cardboard cover. He'd peer around, give every indication of engaging in deep thought, lick his pencil and proceed to jot down who knows what. He held the notebook close to his chest. Was he keeping track of pedestrian traffic along Smith Street? Making notes on passersby? Occasionally, he would bend down and, using a piece of chalk, make an "X' on the pavement at his feet. So he stood there amidst his burgeoning "X's" -- patterns which may or may not have meant anything -- until the rains came and he had to start all over.

A few blocks distant, an older man with a Santa Claus beard liked to push his shopping cart along trendy upscale Montague Street. The cart was filled with bulging plastic bags, bits of newspaper, an old shoe or two, and empty soda cans. He carried grimy scraps of paper covered with scribbles. He was constantly peering at them, shaking his head and muttering to himself. When I passed by close enough to hear him I realized he was mumbling about what sounded like extremely complex medical procedures. The terms he was using were a lot longer than the "Xs" scratched on the sidewalk by the fellow by the theater but just as mystifying to me.

One winter the medical man vanished. For weeks I didn't see him. I figured he had moved on or succumbed to the elements. Then one day in early spring, there he was again, pushing his cart as usual, dressed in the same ragged coat, near as I could tell, but he was missing a hand. The stump was wrapped in bandages.

It seemed incredible. Someone had taken this man off the street, amputated his hand, and then simply sent him back out, in the same rags, before his dressings had even come off.

Some street people engaged in business. A man with a saxophone set up shop beside an office supply store in downtown Brooklyn. He'd sometimes put the saxophone to his lips and sounds would emerge. Every time I went by he'd be playing "People" or maybe it was "When the Saints Go Marching In." People left money in the cigar box by his feet.

Downtown Brooklyn wasn't a prime location, even for begging. The fellow I'd see outside Macy's in Manhattan didn't have to perform. He just sat against the wall. The coat he wore, consisting of clear trash bags, must have convinced more than a few clothes shoppers to drop a coin or two into his cup.

Oddly enough, the city's street entrepreneurs seemed to keep abreast of what went on in their far flung community and were alert to new business opportunities. One day I was surprised to see that the Brooklyn saxophonist had replaced the sitter at Macy's. I suppose the previous owner of the location had vacated his spot and the saxophonist had leapt at his chance to move up in the world.

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