High Plains Literary Review VI.2
I'm telling you, taking a walk in New York is no simple matter of recreating yourself the way taking a walk once was. I mean you can easily find yourself smack in the middle of unanticipated thoughts and decisions by just strolling around for a couple of hours encountering other people.
Now when I take a walk I like to be attentive and notice what's around me and I try to maintain an open and receptive attitude toward other people although I also take care not to intrude in their lives or to invite them by word or gesture too deeply into mine. It's a delicate balance that's clear enough in my mind's eye but imperfect in execution because there's really no predicting other people's behavior or its effect on you.
Yesterday, for example, as I walked up Fifth Avenue I saw a burly mustachioed man in a business suit carrying a large potted poinsettia in front of him like a bass drum. He was darting from one person to the next, offering the plant and screaming "Five dollars! Five dollars!" I considered buying the plant just to ease his obvious discomfort but I didn't want to be burdened with it while I walked and throwing it out didn't seem right nor did just giving him five dollars and telling him to keep the thing. When it was my turn he thrust the plant at me and screamed "Five dollars!" I smiled and shook my head, but called out "Good luck!" We just couldn't do business on that particular item, but I was wishing he had offered me something I could use so that we could have made a mutually satisfactory deal.
I continued up Fifth Avenue in the spring sunshine but my psychic balance was tipped just a tad because I couldn't help wondering if the poinsettia was the last thing that man had to offer the world or if it was part of a larger inventory of goods and services. It occurred to me that maybe he owned a small, failing flower shop somewhere off Fifth Avenue. Perhaps driven beyond endurance by the slow pace of business, he had taken to marching each plant out in turn for one-on-one confrontations with the public. When a man with a plant comes at you like that, it forces you to think of reasons why you don't want to buy the plant which might be considered good aggressive marketing in some circles.
But as I said my balance was tipped because I had started out on this walk planning to think some rather nice thoughts about some specific subjects I had chosen in advance and here I was trying to fathom the poinsettia man's world which was certainly filled with problems and probably crazy. So I did some deep breathing to clear my mind and soon I saw the glorious parapets of the Plaza Hotel against the sky as I crossed Fifth Avenue and entered Central Park.
It was close to 1:00 P.M. and I was heading over to catch the Delacorte Clock in action when I saw a nurse companion arm in arm with an old woman who was bent like a hook and perky as a sparrow. The dear old thing gestured to me with her cane and when I approached she said "Excuse me sir, but could you tell me where I can get a taxi to New Orleans? I'm sorry, I mean to Alabama?"
I wanted to help and it was clear that she really did want to go to Alabama or someplace southern or at least someplace other than where she was. But her request wasn't practical and it didn't seem practical to explain to her why it wasn't practical so I just smiled helplessly and gestured in a southerly direction. Her face hardened and I think she knew instantly that I could be of no real help to her and was deeply disappointed. "Fuck you, sonny," she snarled, and jerked her companion's arm forward.
I watched the Delacorte Clock in action and that helped my state of mind but I still hadn't gotten around to thinking the thoughts I had planned to when I started wondering if there wasn't maybe some kind of limo rental service nearby where I could have taken the old gal. I was thinking that if they wanted a man along on the trip I really could have taken off for Alabama with her and the companion. I mean, I'm not that busy, I could have spared a few days. I could have made myself useful.
I thought of cruising down Fifth Avenue in the limo with them, all excited in the pit of the stomach the way you get at the beginning of a trip to a new place. I thought of finding the poinsettia man and stopping the limo while I bought the poinsettia for the batty old broad to show her I was a true gallant. And then it's off to Alabama and who knows what adventures?
Do you see what I mean? It requires mental vigilance to live in New York these days. If you don't watch your step in this town, other people can just about use up your entire life with their own agendas.