Developing Character


At the holidays, I think of Wolf.

Wolf, howling nighttime, prowled the Upper West, growling and swearing to himself. Apparently, he'd had a run-in with a real howling nighttime beast -- or rabid attorney or businessman, say -- at some point in his devolution ... So Wolf would prowl around the streets of my 'hood then, growling and howling about his run-in(s).

He was generally harmless, howling "Wolf", and kept to the demons within his head. But occasionally, he would lash out physically ... hurling bricks and trash at his visions, while chasing kids and "frilly panties" and scaring the hell out of yours truly!

This was in the late 1980s, not long after I'd arrived in New York. Naively thinking, a la West Side Story, that I only had Jets and Sharks to fear, I'd prowl around the streets myself, regardless of the time or weather. For sure, I was always neighborhood-watchful (naive, like I said, but I wasn't stupid!) ... Back then, though, if it was going to happen, a neighborhood's boundaries wouldn't stop it. Plus, I used to reason (naively), I could probably outrun a knife; I wasn't black or gay, so I would likely not be set upon (... I'd tell myself); and I didn't have any money, so they could chase me and try to take what they wanted!

The only way I wouldn't be "immortal" was if I happened to come across a nut with a gun. Then, in the event of a cold-blooded something -- or a dark alley encounter with Pepe and Indio -- there might be drama. But otherwise, I'd (stupidly) dance through the streets of each night, meeting shells of former selves like Wolf.

There was Popeye, who had a harelip and used to offer passersby his sailor cap to pose for pictures ... Young Old Joy and her posthumous mane - walking her dogs with expired thighs out, tiredly crying for attention ... George the Frisbee, 'cause he looked like one (this flat-faced, perfect round head!) …

There was Mike Tyson ... no, the real "Iron Mike" Tyson. Who used to throw hundred dollar bills in the air.

And every so often, I'd cry "Wolf!", when I'd see him shuffling toward me, howling, growling, swearing epithets, occasionally hurling bricks and trash.

The last time I saw him on the street, several years ago, it reminded me that I was not ‘immortal’: Wolf had aged - albeit gracefully, with a little salt and pepper, George Clooney thing going on (short on the sides) ... His posture improved … Occasionally, he’d ask me “How’s the Mrs.?” as he howled.

Then I ducked, as he swung a tree branch at me on Christmas Eve in 2010.

Since then, at the holidays, I think of Wolf …