I first met him that August. He sat in a park at One Liberty Plaza, New York, New York, tucked in a corner, glancing into his briefcase. He lived in harmony with the workers and tourists meandering through the area; he paid them no mind, nor they him.
At that time, autumn was creeping up on me like it always did, promising cooler air and brighter colors. Autumn was always good to me. I met my girlfriend at the time in the autumn. And years before, I’d met the woman I would eventually marry, also in the autumn.
This fall was especially welcome, especially after a summer of unemployment and unhappiness. I’d finally been granted temporary work throughout the file vaults of various banks in the financial district. I spent my lunch breaks in the park at One Liberty Plaza, smoking cigarettes and trying to draw; the latter was particularly galling, inasmuch as I seemed to have forgotten how.
One day I glanced around the park, looking for inspiration that wasn’t in this anatomy book that seemed to be the source of my frustration, and there he was, sitting on a marble step in the shade. I wondered who he was. I wondered what he was thinking. Was he relaxing, or was he about to stand up? And what was in his briefcase? Was it his lunch?
As the days of tedious filing stretched into weeks, I crept ever-so-closer and peeked over his shoulder—subtly, so as not to offend him. I remember seeing an adding machine, and a few other items. But for the life of me, I don’t recall what these other items were, only that they were archaic.
The last time I saw him, I stood up from the bench, tossed my sketchbook (weakened from the stress of erasers and my dissatisfaction) into my satchel, and dropped a quarter into a payphone. My girlfriend’s thirtieth birthday was that Thursday, and I was trying to arrange something fun; she hadn’t been my biggest fan over the past several months, and I needed to do something to fix that.
The last time I saw him was on a Monday, because on Tuesday, this happened:
I’d originally wanted to write an essay about how much this country has changed in the past ten years—about how we’ve lost our way; about the silly phrases I used to love (i.e. “Bring ’em on” and “Dodged a bullet”) but no longer feel comfortable employing, as they have been soiled by those who have no concept of the value of a human life; about the collective, parasitic rage from that day that has turned us against cultures we don’t understand, against our own freedom, against our government, and against ourselves; about lost hope; about fear …
And then I began running across never-before-seen photos from that day, begging the question: has somebody been sitting on them for ten years so they could release them for a big anniversary? And TV specials and stories and interviews on NPR and essays about what we’ve been up to over the past ten years … and stories from celebrities about what they were doing that morning. And I know that by noon on Sunday, we will have moved on to whatever it is we’re going to be saturating the media with this next cycle. It’s like the anti-Christmas.
So I wasn’t going to participate. Regardless of everything I went through that day, I wasn’t going to participate. And then I remembered him.
He’s since been moved around to museums and other parks. Now he’s been returned to where he once was, but in a prominent spot. I could go see him again, but it wouldn’t be the same. Nothing has been the same.
I prefer to remember him from that late summer, when he and I were both alone, and we liked it that way.