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April 1988

Locked Out

Jim is in his middle forties, bearded, dirty; he holds conversations with nobody that anyone else can see. Often I see him while I'm having brunch at a restaurant in my neighborhood. He walks a beat, sort of, between a flower stand and a fast food joint at the corner of Third Avenue just before it becomes the Bowery, back and forth all day long. His gait is somewhere between a shuffle and a lurch, depending a lot on how much vodka he's taken in. It's hard to believe that any liquor store would sell him booze directly if they cared about keeping their license. Often he sits on the stoop next to the restaurant drinking his vodka, talking to phantoms, moving his hands, shrugging, shaking his head or nodding in affirmation. Sometimes a wino who fancies himself a hustler will stop and chat Jim up; Jim will nod and shake his head and maybe shrug until finally the hustler asks for a taste and Jim will always oblige. Last summer somebody gave Jim a toy stuffed cat; for days Jim walked his beat with that cat under his arm; it seemed he had some real connection with something outside himself. Then one day the cat was gone; stolen, lost--who knows? A woman I know, who has also been watching Jim for several years, confessed to me that when the cat disappeared, she "just cried all day!"

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