At around 3 PM, I sit down in Union Square to drink my coffee and eat my bagel. It’s a relatively hot afternoon for early November; high 50s or maybe even low 60s. All of a sudden, something rams into my left foot. I look down. It’s a skateboard, with a man in tow. The guy vaguely resembles Hugh Laurie, only drunker and dirtier, like if Doctor House went on a three week bender and I happened to be the first person to see him. He’s tall and skinny with a black leather jacket, glasses, dirty black slacks, and brown leather Chelsea boots. He apologizes and I kind of shrug it off, mumbling something to the effect of “It’s fine.” I’m just trying to drink my coffee in peace, anticipating the long ride on the 4 to the Botanical Garden so I can catch the Metro North back to Yonkers. But he’s persistent; he comes back up to me and repeats himself.
He apologizes and I kind of shrug it off, mumbling something to the effect of “It’s fine.”
“I’m really sorry. You gotta come sit with us,” he insists. I start to resist but I quickly reconsider; if a stranger tells you to do something with this much fervor, it’s a good idea to do it. I start to gather my belongings when he tells me he’ll get my coffee. Clearly he really wants to talk to me. I sit down where he tells me to. There’s another guy with long dreadlocks and an Egyptian charm necklace who’s wearing an all-black sweatsuit. Beckoning toward the other guy, he says, “I look at you and I like you instantly. him? I hate him instantly.” I start to tense up; the other guy is black so I’m worried he’s going to say something racist. He continues, “I’ll tell you 3 reasons why I hate him: he’s cooler, he’s better looking, and he’s younger than me.”
At this point, the other guy, who’s been quiet thus far, posits that I’m probably younger too, and so by that logic he should hate me too.
“I’ll bet you this guy is 28 years old,” the first guy proclaims to no one in particular. I notice that his eyes point in different directions.
“I’m 18,” I respond, laughing.
“18?! You haven’t even read anything good yet!” He exclaims. I respond by telling him I’ve read Steinbeck. Upon this news, he leaps up, asking me what I’ve read. I tell him Of Mice and Men is one of my favorite books, and I’ve started The Grapes of Wrath. He tells me that I have to finish it; it’s “the best fucking ending to anything he’s ever read.” Just then, the other guy says he likes East of Eden. The first guy goes on and on about how much he loves it for about a minute, then sits back down.
“18?! You haven’t even read anything good yet!”
“You don’t smoke, do you?” He asks me, changing the subject abruptly.
“I do, actually, but I don’t have a cigarette on me, sorry,” I respond. He gets close enough for me to smell the booze on his breath, and announces that he can get a cigarette within ten seconds. He stands up and looks around, saying we all have to band together to find one. He then proceeds to count down aloud from ten.
“What’s he counting for? A cigarette?” the other guy asks me. I nod and he shakes his head, chuckling. The first guy runs his clock, walking back with a dismayed look on his face. He leans back in toward me.
“That goes to show, I can go a minute without smoking,” he says, as though it’s a revelation, “It’s sad but true.” I laugh uncomfortably, and then he asks me my name. I tell him my name is Noah. He says his name is Chris and then says to call the other guy “Dumb Fuck.”
“Man, my name’s Fuck Dumb, not Dumb Fuck!” the other guy says, suddenly very vocal.
“What’s your name?” Chris asks Fuck Dumb.
“Chris,” Fuck Dumb replies, “my name’s Chris.”
“We got two Chris’s on Noah. I like those odds,” Chris number one says. “Because you can bet your ass he’d be riding that bitch through the town square, oh yeah he’d be riding that motherfucker hard.”
Confused, I don’t say anything; I just finish my coffee. As I start to get up to leave, Chris number one looks at me and says, “You got a lot of fucking nerve.” I feel my muscles tense up; I’m sizing the guy up. I reckon that even though he’s bigger than me, he seems pretty drunk so if it came to it, I could probably take him down.
“Man, I just have to catch my train,” I say, trying to talk my way out of a potential altercation. “I’d stay and hang out if I could. Just then, he gives me a big hug.
“You got a lot of fuckin’ nerve,” he repeats, “I mean it in a good way. Keep it up.”
I thank him, throw my coffee cup out, and make my way into the darkened subway tunnel.
Noah Roth is a musician and student living in New York. You can hear some of his work here.