The Poet

New York City, Greenwich Village, 1985

1

MacDougal Street is quiet for this time of night. The usual stream of NYU frat boys and their dates are strangely absent. So are the Jersey boys and Jersey girls who normally stumble around the neighborhood drunk and disorderly.

It’s an eerie sort of quiet for a Friday night in Greenwich Village.

The Speakeasy is quiet as well. Only a half dozen people are here and half of them are there for the act that just finished their set. The other three — The Poet and his brother, and a classmate of one of my friends — huddle around one of the small Formica tables, nursing bottles of cheap beer. I don’t know The Poet nor his brother and when I’m introduced to them I immediately don’t like them. I find them smug and pretentious, trafficking in pseudo witticisms and side glances that only they understand. The Poet is a few years older than us. His brother, even older. They know the band we are about to watch. I never heard of them.

Before the show begins we talk about music. The Poet and his brother begin name dropping obscure bands or the names of their friends’ bands, not to let us know about them, of course, but doing so in a way that we should already know who they are. No one does but that doesn’t matter, anyway. We get it.

The Poet says he likes our band, that we’re ‘pretty good considering we were from Queens.’ Meanwhile The Poet is attending Queens College so we figure his education must be ‘pretty good considering it was from Queens’. The irony is lost on him. His quip makes me like him even less.

His friends take the stage. They’re basically a novelty act, decked out in hipster attire to lend a little ‘irony’ to their gimmick — playing on toy instruments. It’s actually an interesting idea but after three songs the novelty wears thin rather quickly. The ‘guitarist’ keeps making faces and leaping around with his blue plastic guitar getting just a little too into it. Maybe he’s being ‘ironic’. The girl on the toy piano clinks away with the prerequisite ‘übercool bitch’ puss on her face. A regular Mozart, this one. My friend quips that she looks as if she thought she were hot shit with her series of ‘you guys will have to work to get me’ facial expressions.

‘The keyboard player happens to be a good friend of mine,’ The Poet says.

The ‘keyboard player’. On her $2.99 plastic toy.

For the rest of the evening The Poet sulks, gives us the stink eye.

When it’s finally over we walk over to a diner on Great Jones Street for some burgers and fries, laugh about The Poet.

2

New York City, 1987

The Poet becomes somewhat famous for one single poem and one single novelty song before disappearing into the ether. Every so often we see him around with his hangers-on, strutting around like a rock star, like someone important. He’s just as smug as he was the first time I met him. We never acknowledge him, nor he us. He’s becoming something of a ‘big deal’ locally. All his friends tell him so. Good for him, I suppose. However, we just don’t get it.

3

New York City, Gramercy Park, 1990

The Poet emerges from the subway, his friend in tow. He’s carrying a ‘Keep Abortion Legal’ sign. His friend carries a camera. A few blocks away there is a demonstration taking place for abortion rights.

He melts into the crowd and immediately thrusts his sign in the air; rants, raves, and shouts with the rest of those in attendance.

All the while his friend takes photos of him with his sign aloft, his face red with rage.

When he feels a sufficient number of photos are taken, he drops the sign to the ground, walks away, again with his friend in tow.

4

New York City, Astor Place, 2014

I run into The Poet. He’s in his 50’s now but he looks the same, perhaps a bit fatter, a little more round in the face. Since we never really knew one another all that well back in the day, after nearly thirty years, I know he has no idea who I am, this middle aged guy standing next to him waiting for his espresso at ‘the bar’ in Starbucks; this middle aged man who recognizes The Poet immediately and remembers all those things recounted above. Unless one is of a certain age and of a certain peer group, no one knows The Poet these days but he still has the same smug expression on his face, making the same snarky quips, only now it’s to the barista, a pretty girl young enough to be his daughter. It’s embarrassing to watch. She isn’t impressed but that doesn’t stop him. Then he looks at me but his face registers absolutely no recognition. I’m just a guy standing in line waiting for his coffee like he is, like everyone else is. Here he is, after all these years, The Poet. Just another face in the crowd at Starbucks.