Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Things That Go Bump in the (Very Early) Morning

Now that I’m juggling two jobs – both of which pretty much require me to compress a full work day into four hours or less – it’s often 7 or later by the time I manage to dislodge my Incredible Spreading Ass from whichever chair I happen to occupy at the time. And by then I can forget about hauling my bleary self all the way crosstown to my gym on the West Side Highway – ‘cause the hour is ripe for a martini or seven.

The irony of this problem, of course, is that the more I work, the more I need to go to the gym, to prevent my likely decline into an obese, alcoholic, Raisinette-snarfing clinical depression case who can’t even haul herself up a 5.4 anymore and thus uses her climbing harness for more nefarious, suicidal purposes. But the later I work, the less likely I am to put myself through rigorous hour-long torture sessions on the treadmill. So, I’ve started getting up BEFORE the butt crack of dawn and let me tell you, things are weird at that hour of the day in our fair city.

This morning I rolled out of bed at 4:58 a.m. (occasionally I exaggerate for effect, but this time, I am not), pulled on my smelly sneakers, put my ugly backpack over my shoulders and went ISO coffee before I got on the train. It was still pitch black in Carroll Gardens. The tai chi ladies weren’t in the park, the nannies weren’t dropping the brats off at school, and shit, my normal coffee place wasn’t even open.

It’s spooky being on a New York City street alone, and it’s probably why I get the heebie jeebies whenever I go back to South Dakota in winter. You get used to being around people, all the time, in New York. But should you venture out into the barren South Dakota tundra, it’s like being in the opening scene of “28 Days Later” when all the zombies are hiding out in the local church, just waiting for some fresh meat to amble in.

But I forged ahead anyway. The coffee was worth a potential zombie attack. Going to the gym in the morning is hard enough, but going uncaffienated is simply unthinkable. So I altered from my usual route to the closed coffee place and turned the corner to go to Frank’s Luncheonette, which apparently opens in time for the garbagemen, or something.

This is where everything began to get all Mulholland Drive-y on me, and I felt as though I had tripped into some alternate Brooklyn universe where everything was scary and weird instead of sunny and full of hipster goodwill.

Even though “28 Days Later” is a very scary movie, I’m not actually scared of zombies. I am, however, scared of crackheads, and 5:30 in the morning is prime time to be on the lookout for crazy crackheads. The highs are wearing off. The bitches in the living room are no longer getting it on. And they’ll take their guns and shoot you if they think it’ll help get them a couple dollars for more rock. (At least in my mind, that is. Fine. If they had a gun, they’d probably just sell it for more drugs, but that’s beside the point. This is my paranoid fantasy, people.)

The point is, I was having visions of getting gunned down by a toothless crackhead when I mindlessly wandered right into a flock of about 300 pigeons who were nestled down sleeping and absolutely still, totally invisible in the dark. Apparently they were taking their daily 20-minute break from pecking at feet and pooping on pedestrians (who knew!).

Suddenly, I was surrounded by the rapid-fire “crack crack CRACK!” of 600 startled wings flapping ferociously, engulfing me in a nasty, feathery bird volcano. It was enough to spook the bejeezus out of a gore-hardened veteran horror-film reviewer, and the blood-curdling scream I involuntarily released could surely be heard all the way to Red Hook.

Heart pounding and head spinning, I continued on my quest for burned Folger’s. A block later, I got to the bodega. Outside stood an oily Italian man, dressed to the nines in a three-piece suit (at 5:30 a.m.? What gives?) hawking repeated loogies onto the sidewalk in front of the store. Was it some kind of sign? Did it mean I was going to die of lung cancer?

But I continued on and made my way to the counter, gingerly dodging spit puddles! Once inside, another customer with the visage of T-Bag, the child molester from “Prison Break,” and the drawl of Sawyer from “Lost” (fine, I’ve been watching too much damn TiVo!) turned to me and inquired – slowly, for a more intensely creepy effect -- “Are y’all havin’ cawfee?”

Ummmm, no, it’s 5:30 in the morning, I thought I’d have a Tylenol PM and a nice cup of hot cocoa. Of course I’m having coffee. “Uh, yeah, I’m having coffee.”

So T-Bag drawls to the man behind the counter: “I have to buy her coffee! I just have to do it. I’m going to bed, but she’s just getting up. I can’t have the coffee. But she can. So I have to buy it.”

By this logic, maybe I should have bought him a nice soothing cup of chamomile tea and read him a bedtime story. But I was too flummoxed to make sense of any of this bizarre situation and instead just took the cup of joe and went on my way, thoroughly expecting to see a grotesque miniature version of my grinning grandparents on an escalator somewhere or wake up and realize I was having some hot erotic dream about my nonexistent lesbian girlfriend.

Instead, I went to the gym. And if you live in New York, you’ll be happy to know that by the time I got out, all had turned right in the city. The nightmare was over and all was normal again. The sun was shining! The birds were shitting! An immigrant thrust a copy of AM New York at my nose! The man who obviously forgot to beat off this morning gave me unsolicited feedback on my looks and my bootie! The coffee vendor who, despite serving me a large coffee light with no sugar every day for the last month, still thought I wanted tea!

But wait, what’s this? Why, it's a man doing push-ups in the middle of the sidewalk on 40th and Madison.

Well, if it were too normal, it just wouldn’t be New York, now, would it?

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