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Lenny & John


Went around the block to stick a load of laundry in the washer (along with some Tide and 9 quarters) and then doubled back to the apartment to pick up Sheila, the Village Voice and the Times to wait out the drying cycle. In stark contrast to the mind-numbing scene at the Marriott a few days ago, here's what happened over the course of 30 minutes (5 more quarters) when we returned for our wash:

John (on the right) offered his chair out in front claiming he was about to leave anyway. Turns out he's The Mayor of this particular block, greeting EVERY passer-by with their first name. At some point the fact that we were in town from Texas came up, and from then on that greeting included "...and these folks are from Texas!" John's a high-rise carpenter/shop steward and started talking about jumpers...that gay couple with AIDS that held hands as they walked off their 24th floor balcony together a few years back. Lenny sighed. And then there was the guy who fell from 15 stories up, and did NOT, shall we say, take the direct route down. "They didn't call the coroner...they called the fire department to hose down the place!" But Lenny steered the conversation toward the more general topics of depression and desperation, and then we all noticed the cool breeze, and thankful for the break in the heat, moved on to lighter, if no less animated, conversation. We covered Vietnam, the Merchant Marine, retirement planning, rent control, public housing waiting lists, John’s homes in Cancun and upstate New York…

A real estate agent, with an NYU student and his dad in tow, walked by, "this is a great street, there's a police station right over there. (I thought I saw the look of pride on John's face as they passed.)

…the conversation briefly returned to John’s installation of Plexiglas barriers to keep distraught students from jumping into the atrium of a nearby NYU building.

A woman folding her clothes and overhearing our confab, stepped through the open door to tell us that we would "hate this filthy city...it smells like rotten food...it's not like London or Sao Paulo!" She ducked back inside. Lenny said, "She's OK, she just has her opinions..."

At this point we notice a somewhat frantic guy trying to catch what he claimed was an injured pigeon, crawling under cars and diving around trees and garbage cans. His bike, festooned with bulging plastic bags was double-parked. Lenny and John claimed they'd never seen that before, yet there was a calm acceptance of the situation. "I think he wants to eat it," says John. "Hey, waddaya gonna do with that bird if you catch it?" From the street: "I'm going to train it..."

A few minutes later the woman rolled her finished laundry out on to the sidewalk still ranting about the city’s stench. “The problem is men don’t see the garbage, they don’t smell the rot, they just walk by…they only have one thing on there mind!”

"Have you seen this guy trying to catch the pigeon?", someone asks.

She says, “Yeah, I told him there’s nothing wrong with that bird…they are just rats. Don’t worry, he’ll never catch it, the bird’s smarter than he is…” Off she went.

Moments later the guy had his bird, stuffed it into a grocery bag, fashioned a temporary shelf across his handlebars with a piece of styrofoam he found in the trash and rode off.

I was inside folding when talk turned to baseball. Never a subject that proceeds linearly, John eventually insisted we see a Yankee game, giving me the (Yankees T) shirt off his back for emphasis. Bare-chested, he wandered down the street and returned buttoning up a fresh shirt.

I think John would have kept talking if Lenny didn’t suggest that maybe we had other things to do. John gave us each a kiss goodbye on the cheek, and Lenny led him off in search of a late afternoon beer.

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