The crowd shoved around us, but Mike stopped and refused to be shoved along. He looked up at the abandoned porn theatre marquee and read the block letters aloud. “‘A Man Can’t Know What It’s Like To Be A Mother.'”
“Not technically, I suppose, no.”
“Why is this weird shit on all of the porn theatre marquees?,” Mike asked.
“Some kind of art project. Part of the revitalization of 42nd St. Weird words on abandoned porn theatres for us to ponder before the Disney shows move in. Maybe it was the first step in driving us all crazy as hell.”
“‘It takes a while before you can step over inert bodies and go ahead with what you were doing’,” Mike read. “Damnit, this is just blabbing for the sake of blabbing, this isn’t art. At least, I don’t think it’s art.” He stared pensively at the second marquee.
“Maybe we can ask Lynn if it’s art,” I suggested.
“Do you really think we are crazy?,” he asked.
“No, I don’t,” I said, and I tried to sound sure of myself. “I think that instant madness would be more…mad. I think it would be more destructive and wild. I think we would have turned on each other by now. I mean, more than we have. I think everybody in the city would have run into the streets to kill each other immediately.”
In that instant, something smacked Mike on top of his head and he went down on the sidewalk, hard. I fell to my knees beside him and desperately felt his head for a wound. My palms came away sticky and smelly and mainly… pure white. I started at them, blankly. I had no idea what I was looking at.
“Bird shit,” a nearby food vendor informed me from behind her cart. “Your friend got shat on. Last bird awake tonight got him. Supposed to be good luck, when a bird shits on you.”
“It’s better luck than being eaten, I guess,” Mike groaned and sat up. “That actually SMARTED. A LOT.”
“Boy, you smell bad,” I observed.
“You sure are observant,” the food vendor observed dryly.
“I don’t suppose you could sell us some bottled water? I’m not wild about being with him, in this condition.”
“Bottled water is a luxury item. I have three of them, tonight. One hundred dollars each,” she said.
“Whoa! He can stink,” I said.
Mike had never looked more pitiful. He rubbed his head, stared at his hand and rubbed it on his pants, then he tried to clean his pants with his other hand. He was covering himself in bird doo, but we didn’t have the money to do anything about it. The vendor looked at him sympathetically, but she didn’t offer up any water.
“What else do you sell,” I peered at her “Hello! My Name Is _____” button through the smoke coming out of her cart cooker, “Jaye?”
“Snacks,” Jaye answered.
“Snacks aren’t so easy to come by, these days. Especially roasted meat snacks,” I said. looking at the roasting skewers.
“Rat,” Jaye said.
“I sell rat snacks.”
“If bottled water is one hundred dollars a pop, how much is a rat snack?”
“Five dollars,” Jaye replied. “They weren’t so popular, at first. But I sold out last night at two fiddy a skewer. I predict they’ll be up to a tenner by tomorrow.”
“How do you get the rats?,” I had to ask.
“Got the world’s meanest cat. Take her in the alley on a leash before I pack it in for the night, and she goes to town. Used to hate her. Now I wouldn’t take a million dollars for her.”
“Give me five dollars,” I said to Mike.
“You know it’s all I have, five dollars,” he protested.
“You owe me three thousand dollars,” I reminded him. “I vowed when I came to New York City that I’d taste all of the food,” I declared.
“You go, girl,” said Jaye, and she grabbed a skewer out of the roaster.
The rat was actually pretty tasty, but most meat is pretty tasty, when it is roasted over a fire. Plus, it was the only fresh food I’d had in a few days. Mike sneered at me while I ate, but he was covered in bird shit, so it was hard to take his disgust seriously. He was by far the most disgusting person on the street, which was a hard position to obtain and maintain.
“It’s good, isn’t it?,” Jaye smiled. Jaye had really nice teeth. And hair. And a nice casual outfit like a woman of means would have worn to her kid’s private school soccer game. She wasn’t your normal food vendor, but I imagined that a lot of people had undergone recent career changes. “I’m going to Central Park in a couple of nights. I bet I can sell like crazy up there. They are having a big show at the Burning Pit, and everybody who can get there is going.”