International Writers' Magazine - From Our Archives
Walking in Brooklyn
Picture by Arthur Robbins
AM - Windy, thirty-two degrees. Boss anxious for his walk. A new
homeless person is sleeping on the Gill Hodges Memorial bench
outside Prospect Park. The previous guy was always smiling, rather
genial. The new guy has a sleeping bag, pink, with a hole in the
bottom. A dirty toe is sticking out. His tiny radio is on, set
to an all-news station. I stop to listen while Boss sniffs his
toe. A Fordham co-ed has gone missing. A beautiful girl, someone
says, brilliant, studying to be an economist. We move on. I re-write
the news from a bad guy perspective. Miss No Name is outstandingly
ugly and has bad breath. A newspaper truck has same station on.
Now there is a deadly disease infecting birds in Thailand.
Tuesday 6:18 AM - Very cold. More stars than usual and they look
cold too. I wear my heavy-duty parka and my wool cap, pulled down
over my ears. I imagine I must look like Nanook of the North;
also realize that I dont know who he is. Boss is anxious
to get out. He likes the cold. A big guy is outside the lobby
door, beating his arms against his legs. Cant make out much;
hes all in black too. He sees me coming and lights up a
big smile. Looks OK or are these are the last moments of my little
life? I open the door and he bounds in. Thanks! Oh, God, its
freezing out there! Boss wags his tail. Hey, brave dog you going
out? he says. That scores a point. Wouldnt happen to know
what apartment Maurice Tasker is in? He points to the street.
Hes got a car waiting. That shit, I think. Yeah, 4-B I tell
him. He thanks me again. Tasker, I think outside. Four years ago
there was a fire in his apartment. The story I heard is that the
fireman found Tasker buck naked and dead drunk on a burning couch.
Hes a lawyer too, but acts superior to me because he goes
to work in a private car at six in the morning. Deena says I judge
too harshly. My partners say Im too soft. Orange clouds,
moving real fast. Its damned cold but Boss is still eager.
Meet fellow dog walker; sex undetermined because he/she is all
bundled up; carrying a small white dog who immediately yips at
Boss who ignores him. Good boy! What the hell kind of dog is it
that you have to carry to take a poop? Boss decides its
his time. I clean up, dump everything in the garbage and both
of us are raring to go home, Boss to his breakfast, me to coffee
with Deena. Remember to pick up The
Times for Deena at the newsstand by the subway.
Wed 6:20 AM - Bit warmer, light rain, a spooky fog in Prospect
Park. Boss is restless; keeps stopping to look at nothing in particular.
Homeless guy is in his cocoon, same toe sticking out, his radio
on. Boss sniffs his toe again. Monitoring his condition, I suppose.
Todays news: A woodpecker, thought to be extinct, has been
found in a London park. And: fat children are not as successful
in later life as thin ones. How about kids who are just a little
chubby? Someone standing in the doorway of a brownstone startles
me. The streetlight flashes on his face and he looks mean. Boss
gives off a low growl. I wonder if I should carry a gun or a knife.
One of our partners, Parsons McLaren, carries a derringer that
belonged to his grandfather. When Deena walks Boss she has a small
boat horn that would wake Carlos the Zombie. Crossing Flatbush,
I hear a siren. Something is coming along like a rocket. I wait,
expecting to see a speeding police car, but its an ambulance,
traveling about twenty-five miles an hour, stopping and then creeping
through the intersection. Why does a lot of noise make something
sound fast? Oh nice, a womans stocking hanging on a bush
in front of our building. I pick it up and, holding it between
my fingernails, walk it to the trashcan. What the hell! They couldnt
wait and did it in the street? Someone tossed it from a window?
A one legged woman clearing out a drawer? Wait, I have it! Its
like jet planes taking off at JFK. Stuff falls off. Few screws
here, a couple of bolts there. Im too cynical. There is
hope in the world. I meet Drake Harry, the psychologist, in the
lobby. Did I feel the earthquake? she asks. Earthquake? Oh, yes!
a point two something, centered up state. My bureau shook. Bambi
was terrified. She burrowed under the covers. She smiled.
My cat, not my girl friend. Deena is excited too. There was a
rumble, she said; pictures danced on the wall. I shake my head
and look at Boss. Hey, what happened? Youre supposed to
be sensitive to this stuff. Breakfast is fun, we go into detail
about the horror of an earthquake in New York.
Thursday - 6:00 AM sharp. Windy and cold. Today, Boss puts his
tail between his legs and looks miserable. A sure sign we will
be out here forever. If I take him home, Deena will just have
to walk him in half an hour. The blinds are open in the window
of a basement apartment. In the soft pink light, I can see a bookcase,
a rug, a TV facing a fat, green chair piled with papers and cardboard
boxes. Something exciting is about to happen, I know it. Boss
fidgets, whimpering a little. Come on, Boss, I let you smell stuff,
let me look. A young woman appears, wearing green army fatigues,
a white helmet and what looks like a small parachute on her chest.
She spreads her legs and throws open her arms, like shes
jumping from a plane; then, backs out of the room, moving her
hands as though pulling something. Boss takes the occasion to
complete his mission. A two-fer! Thank you!
Friday 6:02 AM - Purple sky, no wind. As I step out of the building,
I almost run into two cops. Pleasant guys, they say good-morning
to me and Boss. Meet the Little White Dog walker. Can see plainly
that it is a woman: big glasses, fire truck lipstick, eyebrows
so drawn over you think you have double vision. Dog yips again,
Boss ignores him again. On Plaza Street West, people are gathered
around a parked car. I hurry to see what is going on. The dome
light is on, a flushed looking guy slumped over the wheel. Wow!
A murder? A guy in a peaked cap, holding an unlighted pipe in
his mouth, thinks the same thing. Looks like mob, he announces.
But theres no blood, I say. Behind the ear, its clean,
the guy says. A biker stops. Hes wearing one of these futuristic
helmets that make him like a space cadet. Last summer, on a tour
in Dublin, I saw a dead guy with flies on his face. Any details
from the autopsy? I think. A woman with a baguette of bread under
her arm (fresh from Paris) says maybe its a reality show.
I look at my watch. Its getting late but I want to see what
is happening. A woman rushes up. She has short reddish hair. Shes
looks cold in baggy gray pants and a thin white jacket. She pushes
everyone aside and knocks on the window with a key. Poss! she
calls. Poss, wake up! The guy doesnt stir. She turns to
the spectator gallery. Please, help me rock the car. He has narcolepsy.
I slide Bosss leash up onto my wrist. We all pitch in. We
rock the car and Poss goes with it, like hes on a boat in
choppy water. The Parisian has an idea. Does he have a cell phone?
Yes! the woman says. Oh God, I forgot mine! Miss Parisian slides
one out from the sleeve of her jacket. The woman taps in a number
and we all wait breathlessly. Poss jumps as though he has gotten
a shock. He pulls a cell phone from his pocket, listens, looks
shocked again and stares out the window at us. We laugh and cheer.
He opens the door. The woman jumps in and starts berating him.
We all hurry off. Adventure over.
Saturday 6:35 AM - Light snow, breezy but a certain softness,
like spring is coming - which it is. Boss loves the snow. We walk
over to the park so he can run around a bit. Nice leisurely weekend
feeling. Lots of runners; people on bikes. On the official dog
run, I play bandit, take him off his leash and let him go. As
usual, he runs off like he is thinking of never coming home. After
ten minutes or so, I call him and he comes trotting back looking
hungry. Must stop at newsstand for paper. A guy wearing a flashy
warm up suit and a wool cap with a NY Yankee logo on it, walks
in at the same time. He starts taking magazines and piling them,
one atop the other, on the floor. The guy at the counter gets
nervous. What you want? I help you. Another worker comes out from
the back. He doesnt look nervous, just mean. He takes the
magazines and starts putting them back on the rack. Hey, Im
buying them! the guy says. Which ones, the guy at the counter
says. I help you. A guy comes in with a baby hanging off his chest
like a papoose. The kid immediately begins screaming. I walk to
the corner with my paper and the guy follows. We stand waiting
for the street light. That was dispiriting, he says. What? I think.
Did you notice? My dress and behavior deviated from the norm.
I upset their expectations. They were unable to adjust and went
into an attack mode. He smiled, noticing my surprise. Im
a sociology major at Long Island University. This is part of my
senior thesis. I laughed. You got me too, I confessed. As I get
off the elevator, I catch the wonderful smell of fresh coffee.
Sunday my day off. Do you have your horn? I say to Deena. I try
to go back to sleep but keep smelling smoke. What could be burning
and, if theres a fire, why doesnt the smoke alarm
go off? I reflect that I seem to be smelling smoke a lot lately
and remember hearing somewhere that it could be the sign of a
brain tumor. I hear a loud shout in the street. Then nothing.
Next, what sounds like a mourning dove. I never can find where
its coming from. Its pretty in a way. Someone is standing
by the side of the bed looking at me. I hear a key in the door
and realize I was asleep. I can smell the rolls and coffee Deena
has bought at Bread and Stuff. Boss comes running up and sticks
his cold nose against mine. I grab him and plant a big kiss on
his head. You love that dog more than me, Deena says. Come over
here, if your nose is cold, I say. We fool around and have some
fun. Hell, its Sunday.
Monday - 6:15 AM in the forties; much more light. March is here.
As soon as I step outside, I dont feel good. I surprise
myself and Boss by vomiting. Rather mildly, even politely. A woman
unlocking her car gives me a hard look. You could have kept them
at home, she says. That pisses me off. Oh, Im so sorry,
I say. It just so happens I have a terminal illness. That startles
her. But she says nothing and gets into her car. Im immediately
sorry. Im sure Ive jinxed myself and how about people
who are really sick? But why did she have to be so snotty? I feel
better and we walk down to Eighth Avenue. The cops have a car
pulled over. Theyre sitting in their cruiser, the dome light
on, doing a license check, I bet. But the guy in the car is going
crazy, jumping around, slapping the seats, tossing papers and
coffee cups, taking roundhouse swings at the air. He rolls down
the window as we walk by. Im an investigator! Im working
on a financial fraud involving millions of dollars. Every minute
lost is big bucks and what are we doing here? Nothing! Two dumb
cops just sitting there! You better not say that to them, I say.
He looks surprised. Theyll run you in. Ruin your whole day.
You know what Im saying? He chuckles. Ah, shit, he says.
It just feels so good to vent, doesnt it? Oh, I think, if
I didnt have a dog look what I would miss. And theres
more! When I pass the basement apartment where I saw the woman
wearing a parachute, theres a big plastic garbage bag in
front of the metal gate over the door. It seems to be moving.
Boss freezes and looks nervous. I feel a chill run down my neck.
I wait. No, its not moving. It was an illusion in the dim
light. Were ready to go when it moves again. Yes, definitely.
Oh, yikes! What should I do? Boss strains at his leash. Lets
go! But I have to see. I walk down the two steps, Boss dragging
along with all the enthusiasm of a hooked fish. I kick the bag
gently. It feels soft, but not like a body. It moves again, like
its breathing. Stay, I tell Boss, hooking his leash to the
gate. The bag is sealed by what looks a piece of electrical cord.
I untie it. Something white leaps out and I jump up. Boss starts
barking. The thing hangs half in, half out of the bag and I realize
it is an old comforter that had been rolled up. I try to shove
it back in but every time I try to tie the cord, it pops out again.
To hell with it! Whoever threw it out it will think the cord came
loose. We hurry home, Boss bounding and playful. I guess Im
disappointed. Dog walkers are supposed to find bodies.
Tuesday 6:07 AM - Windy and icy blue sky. Damn cold. A girl gets
off bus on the corner of Flatbush. Very young and thin, looking
cold in a dirty jacket. She also looks lost and scared I ask her
if she needs help. Her mouth opens as though she is about to scream.
Instead, she hurries off down the street, turning once to look
back at us. Thank you, Mr. Boy Scout! Homeless guy is in his cocoon,
radio on. A guy walking his dog in the East Village has made a
grisly discovery: a human head in a cake box. Exactly! Dog walkers
should get a stipend for performing such civic duties. On Lincoln
Place, an elderly man with wispy gray hair that seems to be levitating
off his head is standing in the lobby of an apartment building
wearing a bathrobe. He cracks the door open as we walk by. You
didnt see the Times lady, by any chance? I shake my head.
He smiles. I get it delivered every day. Its a gift from
my sister. Whats the weather like? I give him the latest
forecast, throwing in the five-day outlook. He puts two fingers
to the bridge of his nose, looking ready to cry. Fifty years ago
today, this very hour, on a morning exactly like this, I was drafted.
Really? I say. I thought I was going to Korea but they sent me
to Germany. I was so happy. I thought, I wont have to die
a senseless death. On my very first pass in Schweinfurt, the boy
I was with - Ill never forget his name - Carson Colyer III,
he takes out a knife and puts it to the neck of this German taxi
driver. Why? Im still thinking after all these years. We
just got paid. The man panics. He starts driving like a crazy
man. He sees two MPs in a jeep and starts blowing his horn.
In all the confusion, doesnt Carson stab him in the neck.
We collide with the jeep and one of the MPs is thrown onto the
road and killed. Carson was sentenced to twenty-five years. I
was convicted as his accomplice. I got a dishonorable discharge
and did three years in the stockade at Stuttgart. Every year,
especially a morning like this, I have to fight off dark thoughts.
But youve been brave. What did you do when you got out?
I cant resist asking. Oh, nothing, he says. First, I lived
with my mother and now Im living with my sister and her
husband. You see, it takes all I have just to get through the
day. A car pulls up to the curb and he smiles. Oh, here comes
my Times. What would I do without it? Another story to tell Deena,
I think walking home. But its a morning for adventure. People
are collecting at the subway entrance, seemingly afraid to go
down. I hear loud, angry voices and, peering down, see two girls,
circling each other, yelling at the top of their lungs. One of
them is holding a cell phone like a weapon. Just then, a police
car pulls up. Two cops get out, a man and a woman. They look apprehensive
and check their gun holsters. The little group gives way and they
start down the stairs. Not for anything! a woman holding a brief
Wednesday 6:32 AM. (Written ten days after the fact.) In
the forties. First light of the spring. My day to get hit by a
car! We were crossing Grand Army Plaza. Had the light, looked
both ways, just doing what my mother told me. Im half way
across, when a car runs the light, cutting off a cab making a
turn. The cabbie loses control and starts spinning. Its
all so fast! I run, dropping the leash to give Boss a better chance.
I see a yellow blur, someone in the window of the cab screaming.
Please! I hear myself shout. The next moment, Im lying on
the pavement, wrapped in a blanket that smells of cat piss. A
cop is kneeling over me. Stay awake! he commands. Stay awake,
youre going to be OK. Boss, I whisper but he doesnt
hear me. A man and a woman wearing gray jackets lift me gently
onto a stretcher. My back and leg start to hurt. I dont
want to go to the hospital. Im OK, I say. The woman gently
restrains me. The ambulance smells like pizza. Im just about
to ask for Deena when she appears. Shes crying and I start
to cry too. She takes my hand. Am I going to die? No, no, of course
not! she says. Hey, get over it, honey, the woman medic says,
popping a slice of gum into her mouth. Youre going to be
Friday, Methodist Hospital (Written in bed) - Hows Boss,
I say to Deena. Hes home, she says. Hes fine. I have
bad bruises, a sprained back, a simple fracture of my right leg.
The poor guy in the cab needed thirty stitches, Deena says. The
driver was treated for trauma. I hate being in the hospital. The
guy in the next bed says nothing, watches television all day.
When his wife comes to visit, she watches with him. After two
days, Im moving around with a walker. Deena brings me ice
cream and the paper. Shes very quiet. Boss ran away, she
says. Hell be back. Hes just upset. The accident and
everything. I turn away. I dont want to cry.
Thursday - 6:17 AM Sunny, mild. Trees coming into bud,
lots of light. Have been home six days. Feel reborn. My back is
stiff and sore every morning and again at night. I walk with a
cane; only temporary, doc says. People in the building treat me
like a war hero. My mission now is to get the paper and search
for Boss. Deena thinks its hopeless though she doesnt
say so. I visit all our routes. Other dog walkers are wary.
A dog walker without a dog is like a cowboy without a horse. Now
that its bright, the homeless guy is reading a newspaper
as well as listening to the radio. Today someone has been eating
people in Germany. Id like to ask him about Boss but he
seems hostile; mouth turned down, a belligerent scowl. I hear
a dog barking near where we had the adventure with the garbage
bag. It stops before I can tell where its coming from. Theres
a new guy behind the counter of the newsstand, young, with a red
baseball cap. He has his girlfriend with him. I can see them kissing
as I approach. He is unusually solicitous. Would I like the Times
in a bag? I turn at the corner and they are kissing again.
Friday - 6:12 AM. - Light drizzle, but warm and humid, almost
summery, making me feel a little giddy. Im planning to go
over to the park. Its been two weeks. If I dont find
Boss soon I suspect the game is up. Deena says Im getting
obsessed. At the corner of Prospect Park West, I hear a dog barking,
muffled somehow. Then I see him: Boss! in a car parked at the
corner. He sees me too and is jumping against the window. I cant
believe it! There is no one in the car. Its not locked.
I open the back door and Boss comes running out. He tries to jump
into my arms, almost knocking me over.
Im so happy I start crying. He looks fine, maybe a little
thin. Should I wait for the car owner? No, to hell with it! Hes
my dog! We walk home, Boss jumping up and down like a puppy. I
kneel down and hug him some more. This is a miracle! The last
Deena hears us in the hall and throws open the door, already in
tears. We have a ridiculous and noisy reunion. More calmly, over
coffee, we conclude that someone found him and wanted to adopt
him. We would like to thank whoever it was, yet know it might
get complicated. On my way to work, I look for the car but it
Friday 6:18 AM. - Humid, lightning over Manhattan, feeling of
an impending storm. Im alert to anyone driving a car slowly.
Outside the Prospect Senior Residence, a large woman in a flowing
green robe and sunglasses stands singing. She has this big, operatic
voice. The early-to-workers pay her no attention but Boss and
I stop. She ends in a crescendo of vibrato, throwing out her arms
dramatically. She pulls a handkerchief from out of her robe and
delicately wipes her mouth. I find two dollars and offer them
to her. She swells up, taking off her sunglasses and showing her
huge eyes, black and burning. Sir, I am not a beggar! Im
rehearsing my audition at the City Opera. Oh, shit! Onward, Boss!
© John Lowry 2005
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