Everyone in the park looks like a picture. This one has a bonnet, this one has a book. This one holds a ring, this one has a smoke. Another is staring into a tree, into the ground, into the sun. It’s all the same. It’s all the same to me.
I don’t have a job. I have a job interview, which is why I’m in a park in the first place. I’m not a park person. Park people usually carry guitars, walk around with their shirts off, have this fixed stare that says ‘I’ve suffered’ or ‘life hurt me,’ but if you look just a little closer you can tell the real ones from the fakes. The fakes need props (books, bonnets, cigarettes); something to distinguish themselves from the rest. The real one’s cover it up well. They look happy. Like you and me. Probably from years of practice. The fakes look like they practice, too. They probably work on it at home before they show up. There’s a guy, just like the one I’m talking about that’s been following me all day.
I took the C train to West fourth street station and walked toward the park. I took a quick left and moved into the street—avoiding law students and yoga mats—hoping to get a bite at my favorite restaurant, but it was closed. I don’t understand that. The sign was there. I saw it in the distance; In my head, began formulating my order and poof. Closed. I stopped in front of the window and it wasn’t just closed, it was shut down something violent. The inside looked ravaged and empty.
In the reflection, I saw the guy that’d been following me so I kept staring at the window so he wouldn’t know I was on to him. You wouldn’t know it by looking at me, but I’m sorta of a class act at that FBI stuff. When I was in 8th grade they did that thing where the guy comes into class, pulls a gun on the teacher and steals a bag. The teacher called the police, the class began running up and down, Billy on the wrestling team, shows up late and the girls damn near throw themselves at him. How they’ve been scared to death, how they’re life flashed before their eyes—everything. It was pandamonium. When the cop came, she asked if anyone could identify the guy. Everyone agreed, but it turned out not to be so simple. There was confusion. Some said red sweater with blank pants. Others swore it was red pants with white top. Some even claimed shorts and a Yankees cap. When the cop asked me if I saw the guy, I said ‘Yeah. It was a white sweater with green pants and a Stussy cap.’ She said I sounded pretty sure. I told her to let me know if she needed proof. She said she did, so I walked over to Billy’s desk, picked up his gym bag, and pulled out a white sweater with green pants. Turns out he was in on it. I’m sure the Stussy cap was in there, but after all, it was someone else’s bag and I wouldn’t like anyone going through my private stuff.
What scared me most about the guy following me was his look. It was desperate and it was fat. It was tired and it was old. I picked up my pace, headed toward the center of the park and knew that if push came to shove I could start running. I’m in fairly decent shape. I quit smoking recently and have put on a couple pounds, but you wouldn’t know it. Not by looking at me. Not that people are looking at me. They don’t look at me anymore. They used to, back was I was twenty one or something and wanted attention. Then, they looked at me. Not anymore. I think I’m doing less. That, or I’m getting older. I can’t remember.
I passed three black men singing acapella and an old man doing a lousy cover of I’ve Just Seen a Face* by the Beatles. He was on the part where it goes “Falling, yes, I am falling. And she keeps calling. Me back again.” I got twenty minutes before my interview. Don’t want to come early—desperate, clueless, annoying. Don’t want to come late—unprofessional, negligent, lackadaisical. I could sit out here all day. I could sit right in the spot I’m at. Eventually the grass would remember me and the tree would respect me and think of me less as visitor and more as a permanent fixture. Maybe something could fall on me. Maybe I could stand on Fifth Ave near the swank shops in the upper 50’s, right under a man on a ladder. Boy, you could make a penny from that. They’re doing something to my roof. I don’t know what but I heard them crawling up the fire escape. Maybe they’ll break my window. Maybe I’ll be at my desk when they do. Then I could sit in this park all day, answering questions from my lawyer. The man following me tapped me on the shoulder. I spoke first.
“I thought that was you.’
‘How you doing?’
‘I wasn’t sure; I don’t know if you saw me following you.’
‘What are you doing here?’
‘A job interview.’
‘What happened at Marks?’
‘I got fired.’
‘Oh, man. You, too.’
‘What they fire you for?’
‘I don’t know. It was an accumulation of things, they said.’
‘Yeah, same here. Except Marvin and Allister through me under the bus.’
‘Oh, I’m sure I was thrown under the bus, too.’
‘Good to see you.’
‘Good to see you.’
‘I’m going to be over at Becks. Come join me after the interview?’
As Peter walked away I saw a dog near the fountain. He was pulling his owner—dragging him toward the splashing water. I put my head down, then looked at the tree, then looked at the sun. The owner snapped his wrist—yanking the dog from the fountain. I know the person following me. That’s different. I wished I didn’t have so much in common with him. The owner and the dog moved up and out of the park. I stayed, smiled and finally, oh finally, became part of the picture.