Friday, April 20, 2012

Naked Man on Main Street!!! (Story at Eleven ;-)

I wanted to give you a little preview of my soon-to-be released collection of essays, titled NAKED MAN ON MAIN STREET. Hoping I'll have it available on Amazon and and iBookstore within the next week or so so please look for it!

Years ago when I worked as a publicist on Capitol Hill, my overlords were always blathering on about how, as an assistant press secretary to a United States Senator, I was one of an elite group of only one hundred such people in the world — as if to impress upon me the gravity of my position (when in fact I think it was more like they were rationalizing why the pay sucked so much, as in: “There are a lot of people in line for your job, sister, so stop bugging us for a living wage!”).

This is how I’m choosing to view my experience witnessing a stark naked dude quite literally on Main Street, bent over nonchalantly trying to tie his beat-up Converse chucks: I’m among the elite few ever to have been granted such a unique opportunity. I mean how many people have actually found themselves in this bizarre position (shy of someone living on an obscure island in the South Pacific where everyone might wander around naked)?

As a writer I’m an obsessive observer. Some might just chalk this up to ADD, as I’m perpetually distracted from the probably-more-important by whatever far-more-irrelevant is happening around me: quirky behavior, peculiar mode of dress, and other generally weird stuff. My family mantra as it refers to me is: Look! A butterfly! Usually said in my direction accompanied by a pronounced eye roll. No one thinks I’m paying attention; I am, just maybe not to what I should be. So perhaps I’m just more likely to notice the naked man while I’m driving, rather then the car in front of me (though in my defense, the bus blocking my way inevitably led me to gaze off to my right just in time for that perfect epiphanic moment), but I seem to encounter this sort of weirdness in my life more often than others, and frankly I can’t help but write about them. Material, as they say.

So…Naked man on Main Street. Really? This really happened?, you ask. Yep, it did. One of those strange but true things I’ve stumbled upon over the years, something so bizarrely unexpected, I couldn’t help but write about it. Because that’s what I do. I write about stuff. I don’t write epic narratives about great men. I don’t write compendiums of literary discourse that will issue Pen-Faulkner awards my way. I write about nothing. And why not? It worked for Jerry Seinfeld.

I’ve always found that nothing makes the most interesting subject matter. The stuff we all deal with, the day-to-day experiences that have a universality to them that make them fun to share and to empathize with and to just feel better knowing others have dealt with that same nonsense as well. Not that you’ve all encountered a naked man bent over tying his sneakers at ten in the morning while tooling along a city road as I was so lucky to have done, but still.

Once at a writers’ conference I shared a panel with two illustrious literary fiction writers. Their books had received rave reviews from the New York Times, the Washington Post, and a host of other highbrow vetters of all things important in the world of letters. My novel was titled Sleeping with Ward Cleaver. You can imagine how many such publications chose not to review my book. A reader in the audience asked a question about our choosing to write on the panel’s particular subject matter, marriage. I responded that I like to write on themes of universality and like to share this with others, thus I presume (hopefully not wrongly) that others like to share their experiences and impressions as well. One of my fellow panelists, an MFA professor at an elite private university, scoffed at writing to the universal, making a point of saying that he teaches his students not to do this.
Meh…whatever. It works for me.

So about that nude dude. I’d left a morning meeting and was headed home. The little local university bus was virtually parked smack in front of me on the main road. I couldn’t drive around him illegally to the left without risking powering into oncoming cars. I’d hoped to slip to his right but a parked car blocked my egress. So instead I sat in the road cooling my heels, wanting to get home and not wanting to suck in exhaust from the idling bus before me. Out of boredom I glanced over to the sidewalk. It was then that I saw him: pasty white beer gut and other appendages just out there for all to not admire. I wrestled with whether or not to continue seeing him: it’s sort of creepy to stare at a person without any clothes under such circumstances (then again, when isn’t it creepy to stare at a naked person, really?!). But stare I did. While wrestling with whether to whip out my iPhone and snap a picture and immediately upload it to Twitter and Facebook. I didn’t. But I chose, however, lock my car doors, stuck as I was right there, a mere ten feet away from the guy. I sort of regretted not having captured the image for posterity (his posterior! For posterity!); it would’ve been great for a laugh over drinks with friends. But out of respect for the mentally ill, which I presumed he was (because who else would drop trou like that? Granted I live in a college town, and maybe at three in the morning after a wild weekend you might see a thoroughly snookered frat boy doing something so stupid, but aside from that, nada). But oh, the amusing conversations I didn’t get to capitalize on via Twitter and Facebook with that one.

But I did sorta stare. Well, more like peek. How could you not? If you think I might stare a little longer at a dreadlocked guy at the gym contorting himself into bizarre bodily poses dressed in street clothes covered with paint (yes, he’s a regular), or at a woman whose entire visible part of her body is tattooed right up to her chin, well, you can rest assured I couldn’t easily remove my eyes from naked man, if only for the shock factor. Besides, the bus driver hadn’t taken it upon himself to get a move on either; likely he and his passengers were equally transfixed. But I looked around me and realized that only the riders of that bus and me were witnesses to this event, so I figured I might just wanna keep an eye on things, just in case…

Nudey stood tall, a middle-aged man with straggly mouse-brown curly hair (and here you thought my gaze was fixed downward!). He sort of wandered in a circle as if doing the hokey pokey, right in front of a closed restaurant. It was like he didn’t know what to do now that he’d denuded himself of his exterior layer. But then it came to him — his aha! moment: tie your shoes. So he bent down to do just that, mooning me to my chagrin, while he better affixed his ratty black hightops to his feet. As if at that point adorning any part of his body with protection and/or adornment mattered. Once securely fastened to his feet, he stood and paced like an expectant father waiting for the verdict on the sex of his child.

I wondered if I should call the police. But assumed surely the bus driver must’ve already done so — why else would he be stuck in park right there? I wanted to share my weird experience with someone, but how do you do that without actually videotaping it? I wanted to be sure he didn’t have a gun (and felt relief in realizing he had nowhere to hide it under the circumstances). But then I wanted to leave. Because there is only so much you can do when an unstable middle-aged man decides that the best thing to do on a Tuesday morning is to be unclothed in public. So when the bus finally started moving onward, I had no choice but to follow suit. By then someone who’d come out of a nearby bakery was coercing the guy to don his garb.

I tried to imagine how the arresting police officer would handle this: being particularly careful of where he grabbed the guy as he tried to cuff him. Did he line the back seat of the police car with a blanket, protecting the sanitary integrity of the thing? Or did he have to actually dress the guy, down on this knees, front and center, zipping him up like you would a small child? It made me especially glad I wasn’t a cop. Or someone tasked with talking a naked man off the ledge, figuratively. Life’s complicated enough without adding that into the mix.

I hope as you read these selected essays you’ll get a few laughs, find something interesting, maybe even something that reminds you of your own life experiences. Enjoy!

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emaginette said...

THEY always say write what you know. I guess the next thing to do is run with it. Good luck, it sounds great. :-)

Mary Preston said...

I did enjoy thank you!!