Saturday, May 25, 2013

Stella in the demi-monde

I'm in Times Square for the first time in years at a  semi-swank hotel I booked off of priceline .It's on 40th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues.Almost 25 years ago I worked in a church ministry in this neighborhood three nights a week .We helped drug addicts get clean.It was the beginning of the crack epidemic.
Working in teams of three or four,sometimes with the help of The Guardian Angels, we gathered whatever the streets offered up; prostitutes,hangers on,the deranged,the mentally ill,the hungry,the needy,the hopeless and the naked defiant.Sinners of every stripe came through our church doors to sing Psalms , Hymns and spiritual songs, side by side with Broadway's recovering best. Our music was electric, infused with that kind of hope which is born solely out of utter desperation.I saw lives change,and sorrow turned into joy.

In 1988 I got married and moved to Florida.

A few years later I heard that Times Square had been sprung from the bowels of the demi-monde into a glittering tourist hub for families with kids.There was a memorial service for a dear old friend in the city so with my sister-in-law Ellen and  my 6 yr old son Ryan we trekked south to Times Square.We were looking forward to seeing Cinderella,Wicked and The Lion King.

It's pouring rain. We just saw Star Trek 3D in Times Square- not bad but for the annoying distraction of Chris Pine's (Captain Kirk) restalyne lip job and frosted hair.Things were so much simpler in the 70's. In that future,everything happened in slow motion. Now's future lives at light speed- already over just a moment or two after it begins. Mid stream on board Starship Enterprise and I was jonesing for the sequel.

We stop at Duane Reade Drugs on the way back to the hotel to get some Cokes and reading material. There is a long line.Behind the counter stands Hari Das,"trainee" who is counting out in real time slow motion  every one of the thirty something one dollar bills from an elderly lady carting a beat up suitcase on wheels. He pays equal time to the items of the next five customers. My turn finally.Two cokes,one Vogue, The New York Times,and the latest edition of Wired magazine .Hari Das can't find the price for Wired with his scanner so he asks me repeatedly in a thick Indian (I think) accent how much, I know how much. I respond,"How about three bucks?" He's not convinced."Ok," I say,"charge me for two Vogues then I'll be overpaying ". "No,no,this no Vogue:",he insists pointing at the cover which reads: "AWAKE: when the objects around us can talk to one another,the elements of our physical universe will converge and spring to life.In time,this network will grow to fulfill our needs,understand our desires,and enable our dreams. Welcome to the programmable world.It's closer than you think"..
Ok.I sport my granny glasses and scan the front page of Wired for a price."4.99-right here",it's in tiny black print in the lower corner. Hari Das inputs the numbers at record slow motion. I can feel the  pounding wrath of some Germans behind me.Hari Das is immune.

Out Duane Reade and I make a sharp right turn on 8th Ave. "It must be garbage night",I whisper to myself as I navigate around the piled high plastic bags lining the sidewalk in clusters.Grasping Ryan's hand I hurry past the two seedy sex shops we must pass in order to reach our warm dry beds 12 stories up. From the corner of my eye I see a young black woman in red shorts and platform boots standing under an umbrella. I know what she is. My heart skips but I don't stop..I've got my son to think about.When we get to our room, I ask Ellen to watch Ryan so that I can go back to the drug store. The elevator is so damn slow but I want to catch the girl before she gets hired. Out the sliding glass door and I see her coming,umbrella in hand,hiding her face.She is following a John a few paces behind him."Hey"I said."Can I talk to you?" "No" she says as she lifts the umbrella and looks at me nervously.She is actually very pretty with big almond shaped eyes that betray intelligence.She moves steadily along in those platform boots with an athletic stride.

Then,suddenly she's gone and I'm dumbstruck on the street  in the rain  like an idiot next to a wet pile of recyclable  cardboard boxes. Should I go after them,tell her I'll give her double whatever she's getting from that sleazy John just so she won't have to....,to do that thing? I've got cash in my pocket that I could easily replace. I wait. I watch. I ask the guy hangin' around the sex shop door if he knows her. Has he seen her? He "know nothin'" and demands to know if I'm undercover Port Authority police. I look down at my polished white Nikes and I feel ashamed. In my heart I know she's not coming back,that I'll never see her again. In the quiet of my bowed head I  say a prayer for her and name her "Stella" because something deep within tells me she's a falling star.