Friday afternoon, West Village, too early for liquor. Across the street from a bar with not enough windows, we stand on a corner, deciding which way to go next. A man with glassy eyes in a polo shirt sidles up to Wood and points down at the ground.
"I like your," (wobble) "how do you say... "
"Sandals?" I offer.
"No, ehhhhh..." (wobble) "TOE NAILS."
He explains that he is from Spain, then (wobble) proceeds to insult Jim's shoes and Mexicans in the same whiskey-infused breath. We look at our, how do you say, toenails and make up an excuse to leave.
A block later, at the corner of West 10th Street and 7th Avenue, an older lady flags us down and asks us to help her up the gradient of the curb. "I can't go uphill!" she screams down my ear, scraping my arm with a loose used tissue. Jim takes her cart and starts pulling it south on 7th, she shouts "no no NO!" behind him, then sees he's stopped, clutches my arm and shouts "God bless you!" wide-eyed and waving.
"You guys attract all the fun ones." Our own New York version of "cue the deer."
We wander northwest.
"I'm thinking he was more in movies than TV?"
Wood and I had just spotted a celebrity in my favorite bookstore. A celebrity whose name we could not remember, nor could we name a single movie he'd been in. How do you describe a vaguely-known face?
"I just can't place him."
"He was in a movie with Tina Fey, maybe?"
"I keep picturing him with a blazer on."
"He's always the best friend, or the brother-in-law."
"I'm picturing him arms akimbo."
"Always a button-down shirt, never a t-shirt."
"Hair with texture."
"You guys are the worst celebrity spotters ever."
"Oh look, see the woman with the sparkly wedge heels in Barbuto? That's Kelly Cutrone."
It's strange what New York turns into when seen from the vantage point of tour guide. Celebrities creep out of the woodwork. Older ladies approach you more aggressively. Here, stranger: here is your New York flavor! Suddenly I'm in the middle of the Highline, walking just feet from girls tanning in bikinis, happening across $2 lemonade stands, unable to shake the feeling that I'm living in the middle of a diorama, an architectural model. Suddenly The Gories and ? & the Mysterians are playing a free outdoor show. Would we have noticed that billing if visitors had never come to town? Is this city - the parts we don't see on a daily basis - an illusion, placed here for the entertainment of people passing through?
When the visitors have all gone, are these buildings nothing more than cardboard, are these trees made of plastic, these people just projections of a computer program? Do little old ladies still need help overcoming the rise of the curb? Do my toenails attract all sorts of attention?
Are you sure?
(Wow, Zan. Sounds like somebody's seen Inception.)
* Mr. Thomas McCarthy, yours is an elusive face. But that night, post-2012-remembering eureka moment, I watched The Visitor and I'll not forget your name again.
© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.