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     The clangor of Chinatown, the morbidity of the Bowery long behind me, I spied the arch of Washington Square ahead of me, and not at all tired from the hours of walking I had done, quickened my pace.
     The map kindly informed me that Greenwich Avenue branched off of the northwest corner of the Square: I aimed myself in that direction, confident that here I would find the essence of that which WAS the Village. The Square was crossed by wide, looping walks, intersecting each other at intervals, leading approximately diagonally through it. The benches along the walks, even at 4AM on a cool Sunday morning, were crowded with Villagers. Two charcoal-suited collegiate young men were sitting directly under the lamp-post, conversing animatedly on matters---as I found when I walked past the bench---of sex. The sides of the Square were bounded by a two-railed iron fence, on which were sitting many people. These people seemed to have a strange addiction to dogs: over half the sitters and pedestrians had them---some more than one, one had four. I passed through the Square, coming out on what I judged to be the opposite side; however, Greenwich Avenue was nowhere in sight. Selecting an adjoining street at random, I chose the corner that seemed to have the greatest activity centered around it, and walked toward it. Basically, the Village was no different from many other sections of New York City: bordering on slums, they nevertheless managed to retain a certain air of cleanliness and respectability.
     I walked for some distance, my hands becoming cold in the rather chill morning breeze. The Village hadn't yet come forth with its secret; the streets were quiet, most of the local gathering places were closed for the night.
     With nothing strange forthcoming, my stomach took the center of my attention. Deciding that I was hungry, and hadn't eaten since four the previous afternoon, I stopped at the nearest place open: a tiny, white-tiled hamburger stand on the corner of two nameless streets. I didn't notice the name of the obscure place, but I remember the overwhelming amount of advertisements for "Nedick's Orange Drink." A dirty little unshaven attendant came up and made a perfunctory swipe at the catsupy counter with a greasy rag.
     "Yeah?" he said, as if to inquire at the same time what a twenty-year-old in a new rayon suit was doing out at this hour in this section of town. I definitely felt out of place.
     I ordered a hamburger and one of the widely advertised orange drinks. Before going any further, it would be best if I explained a particular habit I have picked up. I personally think that PEOPLE, rather than places, or events, or ideologies, are the most interesting things in the world. I find that everyone I meet, even casually, is more or less a "character." This is of course justified by the fact that everyone thinks of himself as a character, and that a rather large amount of a person must be seen before I can label him a "character."
     I have the somewhat unnerving habit of trying to see into a person, even if NOT acquainted with him. Frankly, I stare. Two boys came into the store, clothed identically alike in terrycloth T-shirts and Levi?s. They sat at the counter and ordered what they wanted while I looked at them with probably evident curiosity. They glanced in my direction, but I was surprised to find that with a great deal of ease, they out-stared me. For the first time in a long time, I looked away first. As the drippy hamburger was placed before me, I lifted it to my mouth and stole a glance again in the two boys' direction. Again they looked at me. The exchange of gazes lasted a few moments, and then again I was the one who broke it. I consoled myself with the fact that, even in the shortness of my observations, I found their chief trait: frankness, and all that that quality implied. I felt almost a satisfaction at this frankness; certainly I would not have wanted Greenwich Village to be any other way.
     The door in back of me swung open, and a movement out of the corner of my eye made me turn. A yellowish, old face peered at me from a disquietingly short distance. "Paper?" she said, with an odd grin that displayed her even gray teeth. "Wouldn't you like the evening paper?" She made no motion whatsoever, but continued her shortsighted regard of me. She wore a dusty brown beret, and an incongruous mud-colored trench coat. Her mouth fascinated me: her lips were thin, and when she smiled, they rolled inward rather than outward, making her teeth show forth like a pair of dentures protruding from a torn parchment.
     Her eyes were incredibly black, emphasized by sunken rings reaching to her prominent cheekbones. I shook my head to her second query, and as she stepped back, I saw she walked in nondescript brown suede shoes with no stockings on her dusty feet. I looked after her with interest, considering her a definite part of the Village.
     Turning back to the sandwich, I found that the stool next to mine was occupied by a man of about thirty, wearing an unpressed white sport jacket and blue cotton trousers. I spun in the stool and met the same fixed stare which seemed the characteristic of all Villagers: part of their unbelievable frankness. He was a large man, but his neck and head were small almost to the point of grotesqueness. His skull seemed almost paradoxically large, but the impression of smallness was given by the tightness of his skin. Tight everywhere but on the neck, where the unshaven skin seemed almost to flap in its looseness. His eyes were surrounded by islands of gray loose skin. His eyes, peering roundly from the interesting, rather than repulsive, head were quite watery, as if he had peeled the onions resting on my hamburger. We looked at each other a rather long time; he broke the silence by asking for the time. I smiled slightly, said, "Sure," and gave it to him.
     "Thank you." He smiled with a kind of grin that made the stubble on his chin stand out. He ordered the orange drink, and pulled out a long cigarette holder that gave me the distinct impression of being a hollow tube, about four inches long and of the diameter of a cigar, stuck into a cigar holder of the same ebony color. He lit his cigarette and stuck it into the holder. I finished my hamburger, fished out the last bit of the orange drink from between the ice chips with my straw, pocketed my change, and left the store.
     The street was again cold, in comparison to the shop, and I pushed my hands into my pockets; I had ceased trying to make a sophisticate out of myself. The street down which I had chosen to walk after leaving the hamburger stand was lined with shops and stores of various sorts; however, all the window displays were monotonously common. They advertised the same products with the same amount of show that thousands of other stores in thousands of other cities used. In fact, they were dishearteningly normal. I was almost despairing in finding anything new or quaint about the Village, when a bookstore on the other side of the street attracted my attention. Bookstores always having a great fascination for me, I thought that here was finally the place to discover the heart of the city. I looked both ways before crossing the deserted street against the light: still the quietness was destroying my ideas of the gaiety of the Village.
     The bookstore was worth crossing the street for, but there was still something lacking, I could tell the second I looked into the window. The window was jammed with a random selection of books on diverse subjects. There were bestsellers, collections of assorted types, anthologies of poetry, biographies---in short, exactly what any well-stocked large-city bookstore would have, including the dull Akron. There were no exotic items as I had expected---no volumes of fine arts, no first editions, no rare antiques, no outstanding works on mysticism, communism, alchemy, archaeology, individualism, spiritualism, religion, or even pornography. I was looking through the window immediately in front of me to the display on the other street when I noticed that the man who had been sitting next to me at the hamburger counter had just passed the window on the intersection street. I felt the strange coincidence, but turned back to the book display in front of me, hoping yet to find something unique about it.
     The man had rounded the corner, passed me, then, as if on an afterthought, he strolled to look in the window too. He stood for a moment, while I kept my eyes fixed on the display, and then turned to me.
     "Pardon me, but weren't you sitting next to me at Nedick's just a while ago." I felt suddenly embarrassed and excited, both at the same time.
     "Um? Yes, yes I was." There was an awkward pause---something about him gave me the feeling I was blushing---perhaps I foresaw the outcome of this meeting. I hoped nothing showed outwardly.
     "I thought so." Another pause, shorter this time, when he blurted: "I was wondering what I would have to do to pick you up." He gave a slight, red smile, and this time my feelings were a combination of excitement and fright.
     I drew my head back in shock, frowned a bit, and grunted a kind of "What?"
     "I wish you'd come with me; it isn't very far, I live just around the corner---" the words were coming in a rush now, as he tried to convince me.
     "It's not a very fancy place, but I like it; it's clean, you don't have to worry about that. Won't you come home with me?" He paused, trying to think of something more to say. I could just stand there, waiting for him to speak again, fearing to say anything myself.
     "Well, what do I have to DO," his voice rose plaintively. "Do you want me to take you by the ear and---"
     He didn't have a chance to finish the sentence---I finally found my voice. "I don't know exactly what to say---you see, this is the first time I've been picked up." I decided to state things frankly, hoping that the unqualified candor of Greenwich Village would help me.
     "Well, that's fine, I'm just new at his sort of thing myself. Oh, COME with me." I felt myself going along with him.
     "Do you live in New York?"
     "No, I'm just visiting here."
     "Just visiting?" The tone of his question was almost funny to hear.
     "Yes, I'm on vacation, and thought I'd see Greenwich Village."
     "Oh, what better way would there be to see it but this way. Where are you staying? Do you have a room yet?"
     "No. I mean I didn't intend to waste my time sleeping---I have only two days, yesterday and today, in town, and sleeping is such a waste of time in New York, there's so much to see---" Conversation was getting easier, considering the circumstances. We had turned down the side street he had come up to the bookstore on. This street looked the same as many others but because of my companion, it took on air of mystery and intrigue.
     "You mean you don't have anyplace to stay. Why, this is perfect. You can sleep at my place, and then in the morning I might show you some of the Village. Excellent."
     "That's very nice of you, but---"
     "And you're nice to come along with me. I saw you when I was passing Nedick's, then decided to go in and sit next to you. I thought you were such a nice boy."
     His remark was too embarrassingly frank to get an answer from me. I walked beside him in silence, not quite believing this was happening to me.
     "Isn't that wonderful, your first night in the Village, and you've been picked up. How lucky you are."
     A first glimmering of the possibility that I might not be so lucky struck me. What a singular way to get someone's money. What a strange prelude to robbery. I cursed myself for telling him I was a complete stranger in town. We turned down many corners, zigzagging across streets I didn't bother to find the names of until I couldn't possibly find my way out of the maze of the village. The surroundings were essentially the same, except that perhaps the buildings were a bit older, the sidewalk more cracked, with more grass growing in the chinks between street and sidewalk, and sidewalk and street. Out of a kind of modesty I kept my eyes turned downward, so I really didn't see much of where I was going. Again frankness seemed the policy.
     "I just hope this isn't some kind of trick to get my money from me," I said, apropos of nothing that had been said before.
     "What did you say about money?" He slowed his step and half turned to me. There was puzzlement, and I thought I detected a slight trace of anger in his voice.
     "No, I mean, this could be some kind of trick to steal my money."
     He seemed almost hurt that I could say such a thing. Very quietly he said, "No, you don't have to worry about that. You don't have to worry at all."
     His complete frankness, and the pained tone in his voice made me feel sorry that I had had the nerve to offend him in this way. "That's good," was about the only reply I could think of at the time.
     The walk continued, down strange streets lined with brick tenements, moldy with age and use. I don't have the slightest idea how long we walked, talking about irrelevant, unremembered trivialities most of the way. It was certainly longer than five minutes, but not longer than fifteen, when he steered me down a street somewhat narrower and darker than the others.
     "Here it is," he said, stopping in front of a darkly varnished wooden door to fish for the key.
     "I told you it wasn't very fancy, but it's pretty nice inside." A row of mailbox slots on either side of the door attracted my attention, and I tried to select a name which would fit my host. "By the way, what's your name?"
     "Bob." I believed, after such displays of frankness, that I couldn't lie about anything.
     "Mine's Joe; glad to meet you." We both laughed slightly; both knew the laughs were forced. He had unlocked the door and stepped inside first, then moved aside to let me in. The hall was dimly lit; one dusty light bulb hung from a webbed chain from the ceiling. A couple of plain doors extended along the hall to the right; on the left stood a narrowly carpeted stairway which had been varnished, if at all, not less than twenty years ago. There were no windows anywhere in sight, and the hallway had a very slight, indefinite odor, more of age than of dirt. He led the way up the stairs to the second floor, then along the corridor to the right along the banister to the second door, which looked no different from the five or six surrounding the stairwell. The door was open just a crack, and he reached in and turned on the lights. Stepping back into the hall, he motioned me in.
     I was surprised to find such a neat, tidy room. The walls were a neutral yellow, and the floor was covered with scattered throw rugs. In one corner stood a small, modern television set. On the wall opposite the door were two venetian-blind-covered windows, with a plain, polished table-desk between, and a comfortable-looking chair under it. An obscure cabinet was in the corner, then came a small icebox, and a smaller cabinet filled with unseen contents. On the other wall were shelves filled neatly with books, small figurines between some of them. In front of these shelves were book-covered pieces of furniture, the only rather untidy section of the room. To the right of the door was a small bed, over which was one shelf of books, further on was a wooden chair, then a rather spacious closet. The only item in the center of the room was a low, blond, glass-covered table, under which were displayed postcards, photographs, engravings, and sundry bits of paper. The only unusual thing was a large moth, which he insisted on calling an "exotic butterfly from one of the foreign ships at the docks---they're not too far from here."
     The walls were tastefully covered with pictures and paintings, some framed and glassed, some just tacked to the wall. I hadn't expected so NICE a room, and I told him so.
     "Why, thank you, I'm glad you like it." He seemed very pleased with himself, and with the fact that his room was acceptable to me. Conversation lagged momentarily, but was then picked up again by my host.
     "Would you like something to drink? I have some pineapple juice, I think I have some beer left, and I can make some coffee in just a minute." He was childishly eager to please.
     "Anything you want, I don't care."
     "What DO you want---I can make some coffee in a few minutes; you can have whatever you want." I made some remark about his hospitality, and for want of anything else (I didn't want pineapple juice) I decided on the beer. He opened the tiny refrigerator and pulled out a label-less green quart bottle with about five inches of liquid in the bottom.
     "Just enough for two glasses," he announced. He got two aluminum glasses from one of the cabinets, filled one half-full, the other three-quarters, then split the difference methodically. He gave me a glass, sat down on a soft chair while I sat on the bed, and looked at me quite a while in silence. I definitely couldn't stand the ominous silence, so conversation staggered on for a few moments more, with my asking question after question, frankly curious about this denizen of the Village. It was the first person I had ever talked to who openly told everyone what he was.
     He had spent his high-school years abroad, traveling quite a bit. He had returned to the United States (he spoke no word of his family or source of income, both of which I was curious about; he didn't work at all) to get a Bachelor's Degree in French at Columbia. Then had returned abroad to study for his Master's in French at the Sorbonne. The next thing he divulged, everything with reluctance, was that he had been in the Navy in the Pacific. He had returned to the Continent, traveled quite a bit, then returned to New York. This was about the extent of the knowledge I could pry from him. He, on the contrary, refrained from asking me any personal questions; and I was glad of it.
     An oil painting on the wall (I thought of a cat, it was meant to be a clown---I could see both, he saw Hitler) concerned us for moments, only long enough for him to brag that it was worth quite a bit of money, and that it had been given to him by the painter in return for some books the painter had openly stolen from him. Silence descended on the room for about the tenth time; both our glasses were empty.
     "What now," I blurted out. His next remark, though it was quite welcome, came as quite a bit of a surprise.
     "Do you want to go to the bathroom?" He asked it in perfect simplicity. In perfect simplicity, I went.
     It wasn't too clean, very cluttered, as a matter of fact, with a head of lettuce soaking under a steady stream of cold water in the dirty sink. The top of the toilet was cluttered with odds and ends, the most unusual---aside from cigarettes, matches, combs, etc.---was a statuette of a baby boy in a pose most impossible for a baby boy.
     On the wall opposite was a framed certificate, for Joseph Beers May, written in French, from the University of Paris, saying he was qualified to teach in grade or lycĂ©e schools in France. This was not a stupid man who had picked me up. I returned to the room to find him sitting in the same chair, still looking at me. I sat back down, and there was another silence. I decided to try again.
     "Now what?"
     "Why do you keep asking that?" His voice was more joking than demanding. He had put the empty aluminum glass on the floor beside his chair, reached over for mine, then took them both back to the cupboard from which they had been taken.
     "I told you I'd never been picked up before; I'm quite curious." I think I tried to sound sophisticated, but I imagine a little of the fear that had begun inside me was beginning to show.
     "It's really quite simple," he said, as he slowly lifted himself off his chair. "Just give me your coat, and I'll hang it up so it won't get creased." He walked to the closet, reached in and pulled out a hanger with a piece of cardboard bent over the bottom part. As he walked toward me, I decided that I had seen about as much as I wanted to see of Greenwich Village.
     For some unknown reason (I am not usually given to handshaking) I extended my right hand to him, saying: "I've really enjoyed this evening, I hope you won't get the wrong idea, but I have to get going."
     The expression on his face changed from one of gentle hospitality as he held out the hanger to me, to perplexity, as he threw the hanger onto the bed I had risen from. "Have I done anything wrong?" The question was almost pathetic in its disappointment.
     "No, it's not you, it's me, I---I've enjoyed the time I've spent with you, but I have to leave now." I suddenly felt sorry for this man who was undoubtedly reviled by his neighbors, laughed at by people who knew his reputation, snubbed by both sexes. He took my hand, and held it very gently for a moment. He stepped forward and opened his mouth as if to say something, then his hand left mine, dropped to his side as he turned around. I went to the door in complete silence, looked back, wanting very much to say something to him, then descended the dingy stairway to the street. I walked in the opposite direction from which I had reached the apartment, and at last found a street that was noted on my map of Metropolitan New York. For the twenty or so blocks as I walked uptown toward the Empire State Building looming in the morning haze, I could think of nothing but Joseph Beers May, feeling very sorry for him, wishing I could do something for him, but still knowing that it would be utterly impossible. As the eventful day wore on, the happenings of the morning faded back into mists of unreality, until I doubted that they had actually occurred.
     I shall probably remember the shadow of the event all my life; it has been one of the most striking experiences. In order to keep the shadow from fading completely, or becoming confused and false, I set down all the details I can remember, only indicating the items I can't remember in just this short space of time. In years to come I can refer back to this sketch, as it were, of Greenwich Village, and relive the strange experience once again.