An Intersection of Bones

John Vincent Saulen

Gene wakes up when he likes, but it is always early. He’ll eventually make it over to the park, but not until he’s taken care of a few other pieces of business. The manager of the flophouse sometimes lets him park his overloaded shopping cart around back. Otherwise, he wakes up somewhere around the footing of the Brooklyn Bridge with it tied to his ankle.

Gene is a walker, most of the day, everyday, pushing that cart out before him like a rattling tank clearing the way. Luckily, there are no hills in lower Manhattan, because it is a mystery where Gene, all snaking arms and bowed legs and an ass that seems no more than an intersection of sprightly bones, gets his leverage. He leans into the cart bar like a gust of wind might lift his feet and fly him like a streamer.

The truth is that even urban gypsies have their habits, their rounds and regular dealings. First thing each Monday is a stop by the clothes bin at Muni, the City Shelter on 3rd, from which he’ll withdraw a few items and hold them up. Gene is old school, and when it comes to fashion likes brighter colors and a tighter fit than is acceptable on a man these days: this morning it is yellow jeans with red socks and a pair of two-inch heeled disco shoes, suspiciously just his size, which the staff probably threw in just to bet on whether he’d reach. They’ll be sure that the joke is on him, and he’ll just nod — “Here’s to ya’ — and be off. They won’t get what’s beneath that single polite nod.

Gene settles into his particular spot on his particular bench in Washington Square Park, where for awhile — a shapeshift — he becomes a gentleman talker. He doesn’t hit the wine, like some, and wind up belly to the sky like a whetted King. For now he needs to keep it real, preserve the credibility needed to draw someone over from thirty feet. Maybe an NYU coed, out-of-towner, Soc major, who will include him in an email to her friends back home (as Gene well knows, he does have a certain wizened, grandfatherly familiarity).

She’ll point to herself. “Who… Me?”

“Sure you, Sugar, why not? C’mon over for a Cup-a-Soup. You know, Sugar: soup — in a cup. I can get’em right across there.”

…Well, it is a public place. But this time she declines. Gene doesn’t push, holds up his hand good-bye.

“I’m sorry,” she’ll say, after she has doubled back. “I’m just having a crazy day.” She’ll reach into her pocket.

Gene will wave her off. He’ll decide it’s too early to be thinking about money today. Instead he’ll get to talking, sentimentalizing for a minute, tell her of a Rockette he once dated — “you been up to Radio City yet, Sugar?”

And somewhere in the course of the easy flow, and pools of the girl’s nervous but studious young eyes, Gene may get carried away, tell her how he really loved this dancer, but that before he realized it, it was too late. That there must have been something wrong with him, even back then… and now… well, “what female of her caliber would ever come near a smelly old mothafuck like me now?”

And the young, out-of-town girl will become afraid, and as a means to be quickly on her way, leave a couple dollars on the bench.

And, as he’s done before, Gene will belatedly pick up those bills, stare at them in his palm, and tuck them away.

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