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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 pedestrians.
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 borrowed.

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.


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