Friday, March 28, 2008

The man with no socks

The well-dressed man with no socks seemed oblivious to the cold.

Odder, still, was how short his pants were -- that a man in a nice suit and well-shined dress shoes, would opt for pants that ended at his shins, exposing his bare ankles to the biting March wind, instead of longer pants, hiding his shortcomings.

One thing for sure. I wasn’t getting on the train with this guy.

He walked briskly, with purpose. His pace made it difficult for me to catch up, determined as I was to see what kind of face belonged to those exposed ankles.

He wore a three-quarter length trench coat (again, shorter than it should be), unbuttoned, flapping in the breeze. Light, russet hair in short, looping curls. The suit was grey, with light pinstripes. Neatly pressed.

Unaware of the closing pursuit, he plowed his way along 32nd Street, toward the train stop on Park Avenue. I dodged another pedestrian, stepping to the curb to avoid the parking sign pole, and came abreast of my quarry.

New Yorkers generally come to master the fine art of “apparent gaze”. There are, of course, all the unwritten urban rules of eye contact. Young women keep their eyes downcast, searching the sidewalk, in fear of catching the unwelcome glance of an uninteresting man. Train riders (we call it the train, you know – never the Subway) learn to feign interest in the multitude of ads rather than lock onto the eyes of another rider.

We see past what we’re looking at in order to gather in what we should not see.

Coming abreast of the man with no socks, I flipped on the switch for “apparent gaze”. My, that is an interesting shop window, isn’t it? Click – the shutter snapped. No tie, either. Glasses with dark rims. A poor attempt at a mustache. An unwavering stare into some unseen destination. He didn’t flinch as my “apparent gaze” passed over his countenance. Perhaps he didn’t see me. Perhaps his “apparent gaze” had developed the ability to see sideways.

He walked past the entrance for the 6 train, into the human flow of the Park Avenue sidewalk. His pink ankles disappeared last.

Losing my job of 11 years … no, better explained as losing my position, my title, my authority, my self-image … I felt much like the man with no socks.

Smartly dressed, with no place to go, and an urgency to get there.

Desperately clinging to the trappings of normalcy, dangerously close to tripping over the portal for lunacy.

I wouldn’t get on the train with me, either.

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