It’s seven o’clock on Wednesday night and I’m walking down down Central Park West. I’m scheduled to interview a guy at 7:30 for my new book. Since my bus made it in from Jersey quicker than I expected, I have half an hour to kill. I decide to use my time constructively and pass out my business card to the doormen and livery drivers shivering beneath the sparkling edifices of impossible wealth lining the avenue. The temperature is seventeen degrees. The wind chill makes it feel much worse.
“Hey buddy,” I say to a doorman struggling to light a cigarette in the wind. “You work at this building?”
“Yes, sir,” the man replies. He has an accent. Pakistani perhaps.
“Listen,” I say. “I’m a writer. I wrote a book about being a waiter. Now I’m writing a book about tipping.”
“You’re a writer?”
“Then what are you doing out in this cold?”
“I’m suffering for my art?”
“I’d like to talk to you about your job,” I continue. “What’s it like to be a doorman? How do the residents treat you? Do they tip well?”
“You want to talk to me?” the doorman says incredulously.
“I’ll buy you a drink, you stay completely anonymous – how about it?” In the back of my mind I wonder how I’m going to expense out all the alcoholic bribes I’ve been distributing. Oh well. I’ll let my accountant figure that one out.
“I don’t know,” the doormen says, looking at me like I’m from Mars. “You could be anybody. Why should I talk to you?” Time to do something I’m loathe to do – brag.
“Well my first book was a New York Times Bestseller. I was on Oprah, The Today Show. So I’m for real. I’m not a nut.”
“You were on Oprah?” the doorman asks.
“And The Today Show?”
“Yes, I talked to Matt Lauer.”
“Was Meredith Viera very pretty?”
“Just call the number on the card if you’re interested,” I say.
The doormen’s wind chapped face breaks into a smile. “This could be fun!”
“I hope you call me,” I say. “But in any case, try and stay warm.”
“I will, sir,” the doorman says, touching his right hand to his cap. “Have a nice evening, sir.”
I leave the doorman to his cigarette and head down Central Park West to Columbus Circle. All around me stylish but woefully under dressed people scurry along the pavement looking for cabs, limos or other forms of mobile shelter. I, on the other hand, am impervious to the cold. Before leaving for the city I prepared for Arctic Armageddon by donning a pair of long underwear, (What the marketing wags now euphemistically call a “base layer.”) heavy wool socks, jeans, a sweater, a heavy hooded sweatshirt, hat, and a pair of thick gloves. On the bus ride over I was so well insulated that I suffered a mild heat stroke and needed two cold bottles of water when I arrived at Port Authority to stave off brain damage. Outside in the polar chill, however, I feel invincible. So what if I look ridiculous? I’d rather look foolish and be warm than be stylish and hypothermic.
When I reach Columbus Circle I wait for the light to change so I can cross over to Central Park South. As I’m waiting a police car races up to the corner. A tiny female cop dressed in her winter uniform emerges from the driver’s side and walks around to the rear door on the passenger side. The officer opens the door and hauls a rather large man in an expensive suit out of the backseat. The man’s hands are manacled behind him. He’s dressed in an expensive blue suit. He’s not wearing a coat.
I watch as the brisk wind ruffles the collar points of the man’s open collared silk shirt. He has an immensely sad, “How did this happen to me?” look on his face. I notice the man’s not shivering in the extreme cold. Maybe his internal preoccupations are overriding the temperature sensors in his skin. I was handcuffed once, and, to be honest, I don’t remember registering the temperature either. I watch as the female cop moves the big man down the street to another patrol car. She’s not being rough. In fact she’s being gentle. I remember a cop once telling me that he felt sorry for every person he ever arrested. I wonder if this young cop feels the same way. When policewoman and her prisoner arrive at the second patrol car the young woman opens the door, puts her hand on the back of the big man’s head, and gingerly pushes him down inside the backseat. I idly wonder what that man did to deserve arrest. Did he try to beat a cab fare? Did he try to beat his wife? Maybe he’s one of the countless finance guys that got laid off and he had a nervous breakdown on the street. Maybe he tried to steal a car or buy drugs. Maybe he’s a murderer. Maybe he spat on the sidewalk. Who knows?
I turn to a fellow onlooker surveying the scene. “That guy,” I say, “Is having a very bad day.”
“The worst,” the onlooker replies.
“I hope he had fun doing what got him into so much trouble.”
“Yeah,” the onlooker says, laughing. “Be a shame if he didn’t.”
The young cop and the big man drive away. The light turns green and I cross over to Central Park. Shapely joggers dressed in black tights dart out of the park’s entrance, their bellowing lungs pushing clouds of vapor skyward. One of them, a beautiful girl wearing an orange hat, makes eye contact with me and smiles. I smile back. I notice a homeless man leaning against the Maine Monument, his possessions in a plastic bag at his feet and the the cup of coffee in his hands his only source of warmth. I turn around and look at the glamour and glitz of the Time Warner Center. A little less than six months ago my book came out and my identity was “revealed” in that very building. So much has changed since that night. I wonder how things are changing for that man being whisked to Central Booking. I wonder how life’s changing for that doorman, the homeless guy, and the girl with the orange hat who whisked past me like an athletic dream. Who knows?
I press on to my destination. Impervious to the cold.