“I need to be home by two a.m.,” I said to my drinking companions.
“It’s past two,” they replied.
“Three, then.” I said.
Three a.m. is an hour I know well. Nine a.m. on a Sunday is not an time I often see. But I was up at this hour the very next day to capitalize on a rare earning opportunity for the mid-priced New York City SAT tutor. Mid-priced New York City SAT tutor is a form I take when in need of money with which to buy drinks and fancy sandwiches. If I pound the pavement and overbook my schedule, the autumn can yield just enough funds to pay my way to foreign shores and untold adventures while ensuring that if I’m broke when I return, at least I’m not in horrible debt. If I stick to a reasonable curfew of two a.m., nine the next day is not quite so disagreeable. But as anyone who’s taken the SATs–or for that matter, gone out drinking–knows all too well, keeping track of time is hard.
“Why,” I moaned to my favorite counterman, “Why do we do the things we do?” “Awwwwwww,” he chuckled. “You’ll be all right. Here.” He put two extra lumps of sugar in my espresso and stirred vigorously. I hoped against hope that two lumps of sugar were a miraculous Italian hangover cure.
Unfortunately, they were not. The two lumps of sugar were just two lumps of sugar. With a sweet coffee taste in my mouth, I walked toward the subway, unable to pinpoint the symptoms of my horrible malaise except to say that every aspect of being alive was more painful than I remembered it being the day before.
I emerged in the West Village to quiet and sunshine and visibly richer people beginning their Sunday. Realizing I was early, I wondered what people do when they are early. (I am never early, even when not violently hungover or inebriated in any way. As it becomes increasingly evident to me that I can’t bend time, a growing pool of ridiculous excuses becomes necessary to justify my chronic half-hour of lateness. “L train,” (followed by eye roll and nod) is one of my favorites. “I had to take an international phone call,” is another, though I’m not sure exactly what that’s supposed to mean. So far I’ve held back on what is often the truth, which is, “I injured myself with surprising severity in my own kitchen.”)
When people are early, I decided, they probably go to the nearest park and take a nap. And so began my day of vagrancy, interspersed with posing as a not-violently hungover mid-priced SAT tutor.
There is a lovely park on the corner of 13th Street and Eighth Avenue where I took my first nap. It is often filled with vagrants and this Sunday morning was no exception. Everyone else who was sleeping on the park benches had clearly been there all night. I found an empty bench in the shade and curled up on it. Using my satchel and the Sunday Times as a pillow, I slept for fifteen blissful minutes before the alarm I had set on my cell phone started vibrating and ringing in my jacket pocket. The nearest vagrant stirred, but didn’t wake. I struggled to my feet and encouraged myself in the third person, which I always do when faced with insurmountable tasks. “Steady, Weinstein,” I mumbled. “Just stay upright and the trigonometry will take care of itself.”
I made it through the first two and a half hours of tutoring without vomiting in the well-appointed house of my first client, preserving my spotless record in that area. Then it was uptown to Upper West Side, where I also did not vomit in the townhouse of my second client. Feeling good about myself and my ability to not vomit on expensive New York real estate, and also slightly better in my physical body, since apparently time heals even the wounds of excessive drinking, I treated myself to a quick lunch of comforting dim sum before the final, dreaded step in my day, the Metro-North train to Westchester.
The Metro-North train to Westchester turned out to be a great place to be a vagrant. The seats are chushy and the view is fantastic. I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep all the way up the Hudson, and was once again surprised by the piercing alarm in my jacket pocket when it awakened me in an idyllic suburban hamlet. I got off the train and found myself in a beautiful park right on the river, filled with the most inviting and delightful benches. Realizing I was once again early, I remembered that early people fill their extra time with naps. Assuming my now well-practiced posture, I fell unconscious once again, this time to the sound of the Hudson river lapping at the shores of suburbia.
I awoke to my insistent alarm and considered throwing my cell phone into the Hudson so I could finally nap in peace. But then I remembered that my trigonometric services were required in this idyllic suburban hamlet, and if I could just stand up from this bench, get in the Mercedes-Benz that was coming to pick me up at the train station and not vomit on this kid’s antique dining room furniture, I could go call it a day and not be broke. I weighed “not be broke” against “throw cell phone in river and nap on bench for rest of life.” Sure, it was lovely now, but the sun was going down and soon it would probably be cold on that bench. I still had most of the Sunday Times, but thick and inviting as it was, it wasn’t the 600 thread-count sheets I treated myself to the last time I wasn’t broke. Though I may be too weak to be a teetotaler, I’m also too weak to be a vagrant. This left me exactly in between those two poles as a violently hungover mid-priced SAT tutor with competing but not incompatible tastes for expensive bedding and gin cocktails.
I stood, stretched and made for the Mercedes and the high-strung high-school senior inside it. The hour of difficult math passed without incident and the high-strung high-school senior dropped me back at the train station. With another half-hour until the next train, I went back to my bench and drifted in and out of sleep while the sun slipped below the cliffs of Rockland County. I caught more than one look of disgust and disapproval from the joggers, dogwalkers, couples and old folk along the waterfront. Why is it that sitting and standing in public places is so accepted and lying down is not? Westchester, I sniffed, is a very judgmental place. In a small town in Peru I lay down in the street and slept for two whole hours and no one looked askance–just one more reason I hope to one day give up my citizenship in this backward nation. Even if I am only a sometime vagrant, I cannot live in a society in which public narcolepsy is so actively discouraged.
The sky darkened, the train came and I returned to the city. For the second week running, I went to the home of my personal physicians, who once again fed me chicken and got me stoned. Every vagrant needs a hot meal now and then, especially one that stands up to a nice pinot noir.