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In two weeks, I will be starting a new job. I will not attempt to hide my excitement about it; itís always important to capture and bottle initial enthusiasm for a new job, because eventually, no matter how much you love it, youíll find plenty of stuff to whine and bitch about. Nothing against my current job Ė the people are nice, itís been surprisingly stable, and, uh, they let me download shit from KaZaA all day Ė but I suspect I wonít miss it all that much. What I will miss: the neighborhood.

Ever since I moved to New York, people from home have asked me if itís dangerous here, if I feel uncomfortable walking the streets late at night. You can tell theyíre just begging me for sordid tales of back-alley raping and pillaging to justify all their established notions. Iím inevitably a disappointment to them. Allotting for my status as a post-Guiliani, cops-everywhere NYC immigrant, I havenít noticed a single area of town, including outer boroughs, thatís any scarier than, say, East St. Louis, or Gary, Indiana. New York has a distinct safety advantage; there are people everywhere. True, they might not actually help you if youíre being attacked, but it at least feels better knowing theyíre there.

Sure, Bushwick, Brooklyn is shadier than the Upper East Side of Manhattan, but on the whole, I donít really know of a "bad" part of town. Except for maybe the block on which I work.

Our offices are on 36th Street and Eighth Avenue in Manhattan. This is about six, seven blocks south and a block west of Times Square. The closest landmark is the Empire State Building, just over a bit east, off Sixth Avenue. But in Midtown, the dividing line is Eighth Avenue. East of there, you have Macyís, and Fashion Avenue, and Bryant Park, and Broadway. West of there, you have New Jersey, the Port Authority Ö and my block.

You see, there are two methadone clinics in my building. Two. There are no other methadone clinics in the general vicinity. In fact, I might accurately say that our building is the place for all your methadone needs. Your one-stop shop. We will not be undersold.

Now. I am not trying to trivialize drug addiction. Itís a disease, not a choice, itís a horrible affliction for those gripped in its clutches. I have genuine sympathy for these poor souls, and I hope that methadone helps them escape the horrors of heroin. Itís awful. It is. Really. But it still sucks that every smoke break I take turns into a journey into the heart of darkness.

Over the last few months here, while I was just trying to have a cigarette, I have seen things on the street below that you cannot unsee.

A shirtless man walked up to where I was smoking. He had been looking directly in front of him, intent on some point in the distance, moving swiftly. He stepped to where I was, stopped, pivoted 90 degrees, and faced me, eye to eye. He then burped, and smiled. He then pivoted back, focused again on the spot in the distance, and continued onward. I resisted the urge to salute him.

A man a few feet away, leaning on an invisible stepladder. I can only assume it was a stepladder; he had the silhouette of a high school senior posing for a class picture, elbow resting comfortably on one of the steps. I watched him try to stay awake. Occasionally he would close his eyes and slip. His arm would hit an imaginary step below the one on which he had been resting, and he would imagine to catch himself and readjust. It was fascinating. After three minutes of this, repeated, I was fairly certain that, if he wanted to, he could actually climb this imaginary stepladder. It was lunchtime, so I scurried past him to grab a hot dog. He saw me, stopped, and moved the imaginary stepladder, so I wouldnít bump into it. Which I thought was quite considerate.

A drag queen (I hope), struggling with her own smoke break. She asked me for a match, and, having "accidentally" swiped a lighter from my roommates that morning, I gave her a whole book. She thanked me, honey, and then lit the wrong end of the cigarette. It took her about 20 seconds to realize this. She muttered "Shit!" threw the cigarette to the ground, and lit another one. From the wrong end. I watched, riveted, as she did this three times.

Three ashen, shivering gentlemen huddled in a corner, desperate to keep warm, even though it was mid-August and I wasnít even wearing a jacket. They looked gaunt and sickly. They looked kind of like that guy in RoboCop after he falls in the vat of toxic waste. Baseball was the topic of discussion, specifically Texas Rangers shortstop Alex Rodriguez. From there, the conversation segued to former Texas Rangers owner George W. Bush, and then a weirdly lucid discussion of a possible war with Iraq. Well, two of the men were discussing Iraq. The other one had his finger so far up his nose I thought Iíd be able to see it poking out the top of his head. He was also looking away from the conversation, staring at a wall display for a store that sells zippers, and only zippers. He was wearing jeans, though I lacked the intestinal fortitude to check and see if the zipper was functional.

A man in a full suit and tie, but betrayed by a face ghastly pale and lined with scars, sprinting up Eighth Avenue, screaming, "I HAVE A BIG DICK! LISTEN TO ME! I HAVE AN ENORMOUS DICK! MY DICK IS SO LARGE!" I heard his voice trailing off as he approached 40th Street, but he must have turned around when he hit the crowd of Port Authority, because I heard the voice coming closer before he passed by street again. "I HAVE AN ENORMOUS DICK! IT IS HUGE!"

My new job is further downtown, about halfway between Chelsea and Greenwich Village. This is a fine area, with trendy bars and a prep school nearby. When I went on my interviews there, I noticed three different sushi restaurants. It is clean and nice. Iím sure I will love it.

But it wonít be the same. I mean, after all, his dick is so large. Listen to him. It is huge.

I miss this place already.



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