Tuesday, August 03, 2004

David Hollander's Piece...NY Times August 1,2004

August 1, 2004
Tender Prey

The night I met the Black Buzzard, I was easy game for scavengers. I had just turned 27 and had moved to Brooklyn after ending a six-year relationship with the first woman I'd ever loved. I was a graduate student in writing at the time, working -- mostly unsuccessfully -- on the first draft of a novel. I lived like a vampire, rising at dusk and lying down at dawn. It was after 2 a.m. when I decided to take a break from my work and walk to the corner to clear my head and smoke a cigarette. My new housemates thought I didn't smoke, and I didn't want to ruin things. It was mid-January, and my fingers instantly went numb as I locked the gate to my ground-floor apartment.

Walking to the corner, I passed a young man who was sitting on a nearby porch. I didn't see him at first. It was a moonless night, and he was dressed entirely in black: black hat, black coat, black sneakers. I caught his eye and nodded. ''Hey, what's up,'' I said. He didn't respond. I felt slightly afraid, as I juggled possibilities: he's waiting for someone; he lives here; he's looking to mug somebody, and it might be me. But then again, maybe he's just sitting there, thinking, without a menacing or malicious thought in his head. Maybe he's doing the same thing I am -- taking a break from writing his middling novel.

I walked past him and lit a cigarette under the greenish streetlight. He followed a moment later. He crossed the street, looked in all directions and then made a beeline for me. Although I was new to the city, I was aware this was not good. He had checked for witnesses. Approaching me, he nearly shouted, ''What's up, kinko?'' I had no idea what this meant; a moment later, he repeated it. I thought he must be talking to someone behind me, that I'd stumbled upon a well-planned ambush. But it was just the two of us out there in the cold. He stepped up to me, stood very close and jabbed two fingers into my chest. I was taken aback -- it wasn't the gesture I'd expected.

''Whatcha doing out here?'' he asked me.

I felt my heart fill with sadness. I lowered my eyes and said, ''I'm thinking of going back to my room and swallowing a bottle of sleeping pills.'' Immediately, my body quivered, and I felt that what I'd said was true. I felt tears welling up. I took on, unexpectedly and convincingly, the demeanor of the terminal man.

''Suicide, huh?'' he said and then laughed, and with his laughter, everything changed. I'm almost certain he intended to mug me, but now he wanted to know my story. He began a strange, desultory interrogation. He asked if I'd ever done acid (not whether I wanted to buy acid -- he was offended when I assumed he was selling). He asked if I owned a car and how fast it went. He asked if I lived around here and was angry to hear that I did. Didn't I know not to hang out on street corners late at night? Didn't I know to mind my own business? And what was the most acid I'd ever done?

At some point, I asked his name. He tapped my chest again with his gloved hand and said, ''The Black Buzzard.'' I smiled and hesitated, suspecting a joke, but he was intensely serious about this moniker. And really, it was no surprise that I'd attracted a buzzard. Didn't they circle the moribund, the condemned? I extended my hand and told him my name was David. He seemed skeptical. He didn't believe my actual identity, but he had no problem with the suicidal persona I'd created. Even I wasn't sure I was lying. Was I going to go back to my room and swallow a bottle of sleeping pills?

Finally, noticing my skimpy leather jacket, he asked, ''Ain't it a little cold to be going out for some air?''

''It's not so bad,'' I mumbled, and smiled like a man without a future, a man for whom the weather held no dominion. He laughed out loud. ''What the hell are you laughing at me for?'' I demanded, angry now. He told me that it wasn't me he was laughing at; it was my attitude. And with that, he stepped away and faded back into the darkness.

I hurried back to my apartment and locked myself in my bedroom. I sat on the bed with my coat still on and lit another cigarette. I had somehow talked my way out of a mugging -- or at least I thought that's what I'd done -- but I'd inadvertently discovered that I was deeply unhappy. I thought about my ex-girlfriend and imagined her in bed with another man. The image was torture. I stared at the blank pages of my black bound notebook. And then the bell rang.

I sat up, paralyzed. It was after 3 in the morning, and I knew it was him. He was making his carrion spiral. There was a knock at my window. I held my breath. And then I realized, with a sudden flood of tears, that my fear was unwarranted. He was not there to rob or harass me. My windows were barred; my gate was dead-bolted; I was officially safe from predation. No, the Black Buzzard was no vulture after all. He had followed me back to my apartment, hoping simply to save my life.

David Hollander is the author of a novel, ''L.I.E.''


Blogger Paul said...

pretty good, I must say.


11:14 am  

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