I HATE BRICKY.
Park Slope, Brooklyn has the best bums! This is a "Best Of"
category that is often overlooked by city guides. (Along with "best
place to dump a prostitute's corpse") I think most residents
of Park Slope are reluctant to complain about this gross oversight.
That's because we like our neighborhood the way it is, and
once you begin attracting fancy Manhattan homeless people, the whole
character of a neighborhood becomes diluted. That's why I
wish someone would take Bricky back. He's taking all the fun
out of homelessness.
Most of the change-askers who station themselves around my apartment
are familiar, even friendly faces by now. There's "Tax"
- a man whose congeniality and near- permanence have made him something
of a local property tax in my neighborhood, which explains the nickname
neatly. And wait a minute - here comes "Sometimes Dirty",
whose ups and downs of drug dependency are depressingly easy to
follow (and smell). Then there's "Lyin' Ass Reggie", "Similac
Sue", "New Sneakers No Money Monty", "Cherry
Soda Pops", and "Covered With Invisible Snakes Charlie".
And no one can forget "William S. Dirtbag", the Beat writer
look-alike who lurks in doorways like a spider in a trench coat,
pulling deep strokes off hand-me-down cigarettes. Oh William, you
are a rake and a scoundrel, and I simply adore you!
I have always treated Park Slope panhandlers with the same respect
I reserve for any casual friend who has not yet tried to attack
me with a homemade shiv, and with a reasonably greater amount of
compassion. Whatever you think of a person who requires your loose
change to get through the day – maybe you believe that person
put himself in that position, and must answer to the choices he
or she has made, or maybe you think this is some kind of crazy scam
– the fact remains that you are enjoying a quality of life
superior to this person, unless you work in marketing. I give whenever
I can, and when I can't I at least make friendly eye contact
or compliment them on their clean fingernails. As a result, life
at home always seemed balanced, and even the more unusual elements
of the neighborhood at least remained predictable.
Then, without warning, a scourge descended upon the ranks of these
otherwise loveable Park Slope transients, muddying their good reputations.
When he arrived, before knowing anything else about him, I gave
him a nickname: "Yikes." I remember the day I saw Yikes
rise up from underground, out of the 7th Avenue subway station and
on to our streets. He had his head down and his eyes hooded as he
tried with great difficulty to avoid prolonged human contact. His
jacket - beige, and quilted for winter - was streaked with dirt
and oil. His hair was filled with sawdust and mites. From the looks
of it, his afro hadn't seen an Aveda product in weeks. And he had
a lot of luggage with him - shopping bags, assorted duffels, a tasteful
two-piece Coach carry-on set in cream alligator skin, each piece
stuffed tight with human fecal matter. Judging by his accessories
he was either moving in or fleeing somewhere else in a hurry, or
possibly both. I felt a stench lock itself inside my sinuses as
Yikes passed me on the sidewalk. He had the body language of a cornered
gorilla. I remember distinctly feeling there was something vaguely
familiar about him, something I chose not to entertain.
A few days after Yikes' arrival, I saw local news report on television,
about an arrest made right in my neighborhood. Apparently, the police
had apprehended the fugitive who had assaulted a young woman with
a brick a month prior. She had just moved to Manhattan from Texas,
where her family no doubt warned here that every New York resident
would be armed with bricks and ninja throwing stars. Then, a few
weeks after her arrival, her family's wish came true: a psychotic
homeless man randomly struck her in the head with a brick. If this
had happened to most people, it would be a small article buried
in the ass-end of the newspaper. However, this particular woman
was such an incredibly good sport about the whole thing that the
media really got behind the story, twisting it into an unlikely
argument for tourism. When asked about how this affected her feelings
toward New York, she had replied, "I still love this city and
I never want to leave!" Then she lapsed into a violent seizure,
and a miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty was shoved in her
mouth to prevent her from swallowing her tongue.
In the arrest story, the network cut to footage of Brooklyn cops
hauling a homeless man into a squad car. It was Yikes! Then I remembered
where I'd seen him before - on WANTED posters hanging up all over
the city. This revelation incited an internal monologue composed
of just a single word: oops. It also drew from me a new, more pointed
nickname for Park Slope's newest fugitive: Bricky. I was openly
pleased that justice had been served, and secretly pleased that
he was now removed from our neighborhood. I'm not a real estate
elitist. I completely support cultural integration, as long as those
various cultures are not armed with bricks and strong, convincing,
homicidal voices in their heads.
My post-Bricky glee didn't last long. In New York City, the scales
of justice often have a beefy thumb pressing down on them when no
one is looking and, after a short vacation in the Tombs, Bricky
was free, outfitted with a one-month's supply of generic Thorazine
and a hand-knit cozy for his brick. Bricky was soon back in my neighborhood,
appearing on a bench in front of one of the more popular coffee
shops or floating three feet above my darkest nightmares on bloody
dragon wings. I soon developed a creeping sense of danger every
time I spotted him. It was as if I was the only one aware of his
brick crimes, and he was aware of my awareness. I felt like every
time I passed him I was inadvertently sending him a colorful stream
of nervous energy that lodged its way into his psyche, convincing
him that I fancied a taste of brick.
I was sure I would be his next victim. When he made the transition
from filthy fixture to active panhandler (for the first month or
two Bricky was satisfied with quietly standing still, moving occasionally
to scratch himself when the moment seemed right.) I developed a
habit of crossing the street specifically to avoid him.
I wasn't alone, either. He didn't mix well with Tax or Similac
Sue or any the others. His presence bummed out all of our bums.
Sometimes Dirty was getting dangerously close to being renamed "Never
Clean". Covered With Invisible Snakes Charlie wasn't
his usual twitchy self. When I inquired about his snakes, and why
they weren't biting his face, he stared across the street
at Bricky, shook his head woefully, and replied, "Hey man,
I don't know. Maybe they's just sleeping." Even
Lyin' Ass Reggie seemed genuinely displeased with Bricky.
"I love that man," he once told me. Then he asked me for
fifty dollars to buy a falafel.
After a series of nervous stares and clearly elusive behavior that
amounted to practically placing the brick in Bricky's hand and painting
a "HIT THIS SPOT AND WIN YOUR WEIGHT IN GOLD AND CIGARETTES"
sign on my temple, I decided I would change my destiny. I would
be the one to chat with Bricky, and restore balance in the neighborhood.
I got along with every other Park Slope panhandler, and I could
use that Karma to gain kinship with Bricky. I would become his best
friend and hopefully use the leverage of friendship as a means of
deflecting the direction of his madness toward other, more deserving
Soon, I found myself leaving my apartment hoping to find Bricky.
And when I did find him I'd embrace him, offer him a spare dollar
or, lacking a dollar, at least a handful of corn whiskey. I would
often inquire about his health, asking genuinely sincere-sounding
questions about methods for removing urine stains from socks or
the like. For his birthday I presented him with a pair of pliers
to expedite the removal of all the radio transmitters hidden in
his molars. I had the pliers engraved with a special message: "Friends
don't kill each other." After that, we were tight.
Too tight, actually. When neighbors saw me at the co-op they began
to ask after Bricky. And, more often than not, my answer was, "at
my apartment, unplugging all of my appliances." Shop owners
even took to calling me "Little Bricky".
It became too much. None of the other homeless people or homeowners
were getting any closer to Bricky, and I suddenly felt responsible.
People would leave post-its on my door with passive-aggressive messages
like "Today Bricky insisted my child has a radio in her face"
or "Bricky demanded to inspect my stool for copper wires."
Finally, in an effort to loosen Bricky's grip on my life, I decided
to confront him while we were at my place, making s'mores.
I told him he was no longer welcome to stay at my apartment, that
it was time for him to grow little Bricky wings and take flight.
And I told him that he's going to have to try and get along
with the other members of our community if he expects to continue
hitting them up for change and examining their excrement. I felt
such an incredible sense of relief from our conversation that I
didn't even bother asking him to return the pajamas he'd
To further create necessary distance, I tried to keep a little
cooler the next time I saw him panhandling outside the neighborhood
Key Food. When Bricky saw me he smiled, and asked for some change,
but I held my ground. I shook my head, making sure to avoid eye
contact at all costs, and mumbled, "I don't have any tonight.
I'm sorry." As I shuffled along, hoping to avoid a scene, I
heard him break his "springtime" patter to hiss, "You
better be sorry." My blood froze. All my chummy efforts had
been smashed in like the head of a Texan woman. Bricky truly was
a wildcard, just like his horoscope stated.
In the wake of that incident and a few others I have returned to
my original, largely effective system of expert avoidance and cowardice
- changing locks, growing a moustache, replacing my regular kitchen
knives with Nerf knives in case of attack. I've also started getting
involved in the community to take my mind off my fear. In fact,
I'm currently involved in a project of which I'm very proud: I'm
trying to pass a referendum that would make masonry illegal in Brooklyn.