Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Manhattan Creeps

It was late in the evening when we realized how hungry we
were. By then, we had been wandering the city for hours
only to end up on the stretch of Broadway south of Union
Square. In those days, this was one of the few patches of
Greenwich Village where finding a cheap, interesting rest-
aurant wasn’t so easy. It was a quiet area of churches,
millionaire’s lofts, and bookshops. This was a weekday and
maybe the weather wasn’t that good, because for a little
while New York was every bit as peaceful as I remember-
ed St. Paul being.

“We gotta eat,” Eric said as we strolled along.

“What kind of food should we get?” I asked.

Eric just shrugged and said, “Who cares?”

Greg pointed down Broadway to a restaurant on the next
corner. “How about that place?” he asked. It had walls
that were really just windows and the lights inside were
so bright they splashed all over the dim, quiet street. It
looked pretty inviting, I guess, because we quickened our
steps on the way to it.

As we got closer, however, we saw something that gave
us pause. The restaurant was completely empty, except
for at least ten waiters and waitresses dressed in snappy
1950s-style get-ups. These people were halfway through
an elaborate dance routine that involved hopping up onto
the tables, shimmying back and forth, and then jumping
down again. As they gave their best jazz-hands to each
other, we could faintly hear the bouncy show-tune they
must have been singing at the top of their lungs. After
all, we were still a half-block away.

“Maybe let’s not go there,” Eric suggested. Greg and I
murmured our agreement and we began walking briskly
back the way we had come.

It wasn’t long before we came upon a burger place. From
the menu posted on the door, we could tell it wasn’t too
expensive, so we went in there. It was, if I recall correctly,
decorated with futuristic, stainless-steel sculptures of cow
skulls. The staff was tattooed and surly, which implied that
they were unlikely to break into song at any time during our
meal. This would be a meal which our party would take in
solitude, since this restaurant was also without any other
customers. We sat down by the window, gave our orders,
and then proceeded to drift off into our own separate worlds
of fatigue.

I was resting my head against the window, staring out at
Broadway. In my sleepy, famished way, I was unnerved
by how hollowed-out the city seemed. This was New York,
why wasn’t it acting like it? One expects New York always
to be New York. New York never gets to rest, I assumed,
but I guess I was wrong. I was lost in these thoughts until
I saw a young couple hurry past my window. The woman
was black, tall, and beautiful. The man I recognized.

“That was Doogie Houser!” I exclaimed. These were the
first words that had passed between us in awhile, so they
were sort of surprising. Greg and Eric might have jumped
a little. I didn’t care. I was quite excited. “I just saw Doogie

Greg took a desultory sip of his Diet Coke and said, “You
didn’t see Doogie Houser.”

“I totally did,” I said. “Just now. Out there.”

“Doogie Houser, M.D. Huh.” Eric said.

“You couldn’t have seen Doogie Houser,” Greg said.

I was adamant, though. “But I did. Just now.”

“Doogie Houser is a fictional character,” Greg explained, “You
probably saw Neil Patrick Harris.”

“Well, then I saw Neil Patrick Harris,” I said just as the wait-
ress came over with our food.

“You saw Neil Patrick Harris?” she asked as she distributed
our disturbingly-large burgers. I nodded proudly. “Doogie
Houser. You saw Doogie Houser. That’s kind of cool.”

“Doogie Houser. Totally,” I said.

“Huh,” Eric was saying, “Huh. Doogie Houser. Who would
have thought?”

This conversation exhausted, the waitress wandered away
and left us to our food. As I salted my fries, I heard a soft
rapping on the window. I turned to look, assuming–for
some reason–that Doogie Houser was trying to get my atten-
tion. It wasn’t Doogie Houser out there, though. It wasn’t
even Neil Patrick Harris. Standing on the other side of the
glass were two boys, probably around 12-13 years old, and
they were dressed in bright red capes. The shorter one had
his hair slicked back into a widows-peak while the taller had
what looked to be a woman’s black nylon stretched over his
face. I should probably point out here that it was not even
remotely close to Halloween.

While I was trying to get my mind around this new sight, the
taller boy carefully unrolled a sheet of paper and held it
against the window. It was a standard piece of looseleaf,
but it was covered with bizarre scrawls and evil-looking
symbols. Still clutching the salt-shaker, I squinted at it, but
it was quickly pulled away, rolled back up, and stuffed into
the nylon-faced kid’s cape pocket. The widows-peak kid’s
mouth was moving now, making the same shapes over and
over again, as though he was chanting something. When he
finished, both of them gave me the devil’s-horn hand sign a
couple of times before trotting away.

“Did you guys see that just now?” I asked, turning back to
my companions. Both of them were staring at the window
gape-mouthed, so I had my answer right there.

Greg wiped Diet Coke from his upper lip and said, “They
cursed you.”

“Yeah,” Eric said, “Totally. You just got cursed.”

“That was weird, though, wasn’t it?”

“Pretty weird, yeah.” Greg said.

“You’re cursed. That’s it for you. You’re cursed now,” said

“Man. I don’t want to be cursed,” I said and, with that, we
all began to eat our burgers in pensive silence.