Is This Seat Taken?
The little neighborhood park I usually go to was fenced off for renovations one day, so, with coffee and morning paper in hand, I decided to sit on the steps of a random pre-war, rent-controlled walk-up apartment building on East 32nd between Second and Third. This place is what would have been referred to as a tenement back in the 19th century.
The city was very quiet since it was the Friday before Labor Day, so I sipped coffee and read the paper on the stoop. Even on the quietest days, though, New York still has a good amount of foot traffic, so I had to pull my newspaper back toward me to make sure that passersby would not brush up against it.
After about 10 minutes, a woman in a house dress and slippers ascended from the basement apartment to deposit a bag of trash. Then she started to eyeball me as she sauntered over to the steps, nit-picking the smallest leaf droppings off of the steps around me. I could tell she wanted to make her presence known and sniff out who this stranger on the steps might be.
Luckily, she left, and I was able to stay. Then a guy came out from behind me through the front door. He had long, blond, greasy hair. I could smell last night’s sweet booze oozing from his pores and breath. There were six steps on the stoop, but he chose to plop his big sweaty body right next to me.
I read and sipped on. Following behind him a curly-haired guy in a stained gray T-shirt came down the steps. He gave me a suspicious trespasser look-over – just like the old lady did. I was beginning to feel unwelcome on the steps, which I might have guessed wrongly were free for the sitting. I sipped and read on until he spoke.
Oh no, I thought. Oh NO. Here we go again. But the blond guy turned around to respond to the catcall which I mistakenly thought was directed at me.
“Why don’t you clean up the fucking cans and bottles you left all over the stoop from last night instead of sitting there like a bum? This ain’t the dump. People live here!”
“Who you calling a bum? You’re the fucking bum! Leave me alone, bum,” shot back greasy hair with spit spray.
“I ain’t a bum, you slob,” gray T-shirt responded angrily.
A husky female voice emanated from under the steps. “Shut the hell up, you morons! It’s still morning!”
“Oh yeah!” said greasy hair to T-shirt. “Why should I listen to you anyway? You ain’t the boss of me and besides you don’t even have any fucking teeth.”
That was enough for me. I decided the conversation, of which I was in the crossfire, was just going to go further downhill after the “no teeth” insult. I got up and moved down the block to another stoop, unfolded the paper again, sipped to the bottom of my joe, and I hoped I might be able to finish my coffee and the newspaper before another performance began.
Just when you think you’ve found the perfect, private spot, you realize that every square inch of this city is spoken for.