New York Tales from Curious Borough Dwellers

025 : Robb Todd in Times Square, Manhattan
Born 1971 in California, but grew up in Durham, NC. Robb Todd currently works as a writer and editor. Why New York? It’s his heart. He digs the following Gotham bits: The cultures, the rumble of the subway, street musicians, Central Park, and the possibilities. He is, however, a bit miffed by gum on the sidewalks, people who don't let you off the subway car when the doors open, rent in Manhattan, double-wide baby strollers, and people who don't pick up their dog's doo-doo. For more info on Robb Todd you should send an email or visit www.robbtodd.com.

image: Flavio Dessandre

“I save my spit for the next block so they don't mistake a cold for an insult.”

I walk up the avenue toward the lights of Times Square, stopping to spit in the gutter, fighting a summer cold on a warm night with a breeze. I wrote five headlines that will be in tomorrow’s newspaper. Nothing happy. Now I’m meeting my girlfriend in a place I usually avoid, the part of New York that is the least like New York, the part of New York that is hardest for me to love, the part of New York that is the most like the rest of America. I sip a cold beer in a paper bag, and weave between wandering tourists, their eyes toward the sky. Glowing lights ahead, cabbies honking their horns, brakes squealing, random laughter echoing off skyscraper walls, rising above the grinding city noise. I toss an empty can into the trash, and survey the corners for another deli to buy another beer, $2, $2.10, $1.60. Beats bar prices. Shouldn’t be sick still—it’s been a week. Feeling old. Or like a baby. But each sip refreshes. Music, like a marching band, but it’s coming from a bar. A young woman with a purse slung over her shoulder, flip-flops flipping and flopping, glances in every trash can, finally stopping to pluck a large half-eaten pretzel before continuing up the avenue. She doesn’t look homeless or strung out, but she scans the garbage. I walk under scaffolding, through a group of guys wearing cleaning crew uniforms, talking about women, loudly evaluating them as they pass, including the girl with the pretzel. They take up half the sidewalk, bottlenecking the spot. I save my spit for the next block so they don’t mistake a cold for an insult. My girlfriend calls. I tell her to meet me catty-corner from a restaurant with a giant, glowing lobster over its door. I explain what catty-corner means[1]. Then I wait for her in the light of ads beaming suggestions into the outskirts of Times Square. A Coke does sound nice, shimmering red and white Pavlovian lights. There are ads for booze, drugs, clothes, video games, music, all being sold with sex. There are chain restaurants that promise the very same meal here that you can eat in Topeka and L.A. There are signs for businesses that claim to take care of your money, and places to spend your money to take care of your business. No gimmicks like sex needed. Cash is cash, and this is the neon fruit supermarket. I spit in the gutter, and my lungs have new space for air, and I feel better, because it’s the opposite of more is less, and the opposite of subtraction by addition. A mosquito bites me. My girlfriend calls. She’s on the corner waving. She runs toward me, kisses me, hugs me, and I forget about the ads, finish my beer, ride the subway home. But in bed, next to her in the dark, all I see are the lights, and the lights, and the lights.

referenced works

  1. Catty corner (or kitty corner) means diagonally opposite. At an intersection, you'd say catty corner to mean the corner diagonally opposite another corner, as in the south-west corner if you're standing on the north-east corner. Also, the term is said to be derived from the French word for four -- quatre -- as in four corners. Et voila.

location information


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016The guns, we tell the police later, were black like ice.— Tara Deal

015...my own talisman against the folly of my youth.— Andrea Jarrell

014Y'all in a band'r somethin'?— Abraham

013Perhaps it was the lanky teenager with the bright red book-bag that made me think I saw Adam.— Carrie Teicher

012I remember flattening myself against the streaky windows of the PATH train like an insect.— Erin Fisher

011I glanced up to see another shape hit the sand.— Ken H. Judy

010Vibrating almost imperceptibly in the breeze like a woody tuning fork.— Rob Giampietro

009Then the jazz stopped and the radio said the war had started in the Middle East. — Roland Kelts

008Shirtless Boris Yeltsin’s skin reddens as he reads a book.— Michael Maiello

007Port Authority was there with open, non-judging arms.— Khoi Vinh

006His almost-loss was my almost- nonexistence.— Matthew Rand

005On the cold hard floor of the orphanage, I sang, longing for the day that they would come and rescue me.— Jen Egan

004He was a lawyer, after all.— Kristin Gardner

003The parking lot gate was open, and we ran in with the skateboard.— Lorraine Martindale

002We arrived on completely Russian streets, with Russian signs and a familiar rudeness.— Kseniya Melnik

001...the hourly clicking of Oxfords and high heels across the parking lot.— Tam Nomgum


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