Stranger of the Week

Franklin Street, Brooklyn

Illustration by Forsyth Harmon

Earlier, I’d been walking behind a young guy with a spliff in one hand and a can of Arizona iced tea in the other, jeans coasting southwards of his skinny butt. He'd been progressing slowly, a blissed-out saunter, and I could picture the kind of expression he’d be wearing before I even levelled with him: there it was, a dopey, crooked smile like bunting sagged between tentpoles. A smile as much to do with the spring-at-last weather as the weed, which had smelled so good in the sunlight that I’d wanted to pluck that spliff from his hands with a quick, casual “may I?” gesture, take a drag, hand it back to him, walk on. I should have. Maybe if I’d been wearing something different—old jeans, instead of a strappy white dress on its first, self-conscious outing of the season—I would have. Maybe then I’d have felt safely in the realm of hi-and-bye rather than come-on.

I wonder how many of our interactions are, at some level, forms of redress for previous encounters with other people, efforts to rectify and recalibrate. Being meticulously kind to one friend, for example, after having snapped at another. A false mathematics: the friend you snapped at remains disgruntled and oblivious of your extra kindness to someone else. And yet, in our private internal universe, it feels as though balance has been restored.

When you stepped out of the florist some part of me wanted to rectify the non-encounter with the Arizona Iced Tea stoner and, since you and I were instantly, unavoidably walking in synch and side by side, ignoring each other would have been both ridiculous and mildly sociopathic. You were holding a big, femmey bunch of blush-colored dog roses, pink ranunculus and baby’s breath, and I looked at them, then thought of all the times I’ve walked down the street holding a bunch of flowers—how each time I’ve experienced the devastating comic genius of passing men who ask, grinning, “Are they for me?” or say, loudly, “You shouldn’t have!” It makes me suddenly lust for violence—Yes, everything is for you, Man, this world, these flowers, the female body, all here for your consumption. It makes me wish I were holding a bouquet of knives, not flowers. And of course the rage is compounded by knowing that any kind of display of irritation, any rebuke, would be met by the butthurt of “Jeez, just being friendly!” the unassailable confidence in the innocuous neutrality of the remark. There is no neutral.

So I thought, briefly, about playing the dude to you—some grim, ironic attempt to push things towards gender parity. But instead of “Are they for me?” which in practice sounds a lot more like making a lame come-on than summarily smashing patriarchy—I said, “Are they for you?” “I wish!” you said happily and you inhaled them heartily to telegraph your satisfaction. They were for your friend, whose birthday it was, and even though “her husband or daughter may have gotten her flowers already” you had thought, what the hell. You had a big, russetty, brohemian beard and were burly in a way that suggested craft beer, recreational woodwork and rugged optimism; I could see you as one of those dads who gamely dressed up in a princess outfit to please his three-year-old daughter. This flower-sniffing display won me over, is what I’m saying. You offered me a sniff and I took it and they smelled nice, but it was a faint fragrance. The weed, naturally, had been more pungent.