Essays and rock & roll. Looking and listening. Nostalgia versus skepticism.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
The Drunkest Man I Ever Saw
The drunkest man I ever saw was on Meserole Avenue in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I was staying at the YMCA on Meserole below Manhattan Avenue. I left the building in the early afternoon and turned west; I got a block or so away when I heard a commotion, swearing, raised voices. Violence in the air. An apartment door opened and two men dragged another onto the street and dropped him like a canvas bag. He staggered to his feet and yelled after the men but they'd already retreated into the apartment. I watched as he swerved in place for several moments in a slow, demented twist-dance, and then tried to walk. He couldn't go three feet without falling to his knees. He'd haul himself up again, but he moved like a marionette puppet orchestrated by a cruel puppeteer; he'd stagger, thin arms reaching wildly in front and to the side, as if searching for walls in the middle of the sidewalk, and then fall to a crouch, steadying his wobbly knees; then drop; then bellow and lurch up again. He was tall—well over six feet—thin and bony, with a shock of white hair. He was undoubtedly Polish. I could leave the Y and walk three blocks in any direction and not hear a word of English. There was something in his relationship to the other two men: was this the dire result of an all-night card game? The brutal end of a three-day binge? On the sidewalk, he looked as if he might fall and die at any moment. I'd never seen a man so far away from his own body. He resembled a human being in outline, but in behavior and tone seemed wild, imported from another universe. The tensions between his body chaos and his vain attempts to remain standing wrote a kind of surreal playlet. He managed to get halfway down the block before he dropped for good, with an audible thud and groan. Not knowing what to do, absurdly and childishly fearing a reprisal of sorts from the men who kicked him out, I turned the other way onto Guernsey Street, heading toward the water. An hour or so later, I saw that he'd made it to a front stoop of a building a block or so down Meserole. He was rubbing his head, muttering something. I'd turned away from this staggering misfit of a drunk, wondering if I'd seen a human being in his final moments alive. A circle of instability and recklessness spread from him, and I'd turned the other direction so as not to get caught in it. What did I fear? The man attempting to reach out to me. The graphic, destructive melancholy of high-noon abasement for which I had—for which I have—no words.