The Public Be Damned
Someone tapped my shoulder as I waited for the light to change on the corner of 23rdand Park. "Excuse me, said a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman from today's Political Science class at Manhattan University. "Your name is Kevin, right?"
"Why are you wearing that shirt?"
I glanced down at the image of Shannon Kistler on the front. "Oh-I like her."
"Why?" She winced.
"Adam liked Eve, Romeo liked Juliet, Anthony liked Cleopatra .. .it's a tradition, I guess."
"But her music is juvenile."
"So I've heard."
The streetlight changed, but my classmate stared at me as we crossed Park Avenue. I walked up 23rd Street to the bus stop at the Flatiron Building, my backpack full of newly purchased textbooks. Halfway up the block, a guy in a three-piece suit who talked on a cell phone glanced at my shirt as he walked toward me. "Wait a second," he muttered. "Man," he snarled at me, "I can't believe someone like you put on that shirt."
"And I can't believe someone like you got off your phone to tell me so."
He frowned and walked away as I continued toward Broadway. At the Flatiron Building 1 stood in my usual nook, watching for my express bus home. The sidewalk was practically empty, but I caught the attention of a curly-haired guy, maybe a year or two older than me, strolling toward Union Square with a friend. The guy tapped his friend's shoulder and pointed at me, but I waved him off before he yelled at me.
The traffic on Broadway was as thin as the pedestrians on the sidewalk. The other Staten Island-bound express buses stopped by the building regularly, but my wait for the X12 was always longer for one stupid reason or another. I already spent a whole year waiting for many things, including the bus, and I knew that wouldn't change any time soon, especially with everything I still had to learn about accounting before I got my BBA
An early September breeze blew through my hair as a black limo stopped at the light on 22nd Street. I couldn't guess who was inside-a bridal party, a foreign dignitary, or a corporate big shot. But I was hypnotized by the long car, watching it roll down Broadway and onto 21st Street after the light changed.
"Excuse me," a black man in a parka and a wool hat said, "you got any change to spare?"
"No, I don't. I'm sorry."
"Hey, you don't gotta be sorry, okay? You don't got it, you don't got it. That's all. You don't gotta be sorry for nothin'. People always gettin' into trouble 'cause they sorry for stuff they can't control, and we got all these world problems because people do a lotta shit they sorry about later. And that uses up a lotta energy, you know? They can use that energy to do other stuff."
He clamped a hand on my shoulder, to my horror. "Look, man," he continued, pointing, "you a young guy. You don't need none ofthat shit, okay? You don't gotta worry about nothin' but the rest of your life. You got lotsa time to do whatever you please, and bein' sorry ain't gonna help you. So you don't got the change, you don't got the change, and that's the way it goes. You don't gotta be sorry about it, okay? Don't be sorry. You got it, don't you?"
Yeah. I'm sorry I apologized. I nodded slightly, trying not to roll my eyes.
"Yeah, you get it." He smiled, showing off his yellow teeth. "You get it. You a good guy. Go get yourself some nice pussy." He slapped my shoulder and marched off.
Oh, no, you did NOT use the P-word on me...
"Hey, mister," a girl's voice yelled, "you got a nice shirt on!"
"Thank-YOU!! HOLY SHIT!!" It was Shannon Kistler herself, calling to me from the limousine sitting at the light a few moments ago. She laughed, ducked inside and rolled up the window. I snatched my backpack and chased after her, but the heavy textbooks slowed me down, and she made a swift getaway.
Two minutes later an X12 finally pulled up. "How you doin'?" asked the driver after he opened the doors.
"Hanging in there, thanks," I fumbled, paying the fare.
"School started again?" he asked, pulling away from the curb.
"Yeah," I muttered.
"You don't seem happy about it."
"I had a long day." 1 would've said why 1 really didn't seem happy, but he'd never buy it.
"Well, pick a seat and take a snooze," he said. "You look like you could use it."
''I'm way ahead of you."
He chuckled as I grabbed a window seat and followed his advice.
"Hello, everyone," I said, entering and dropping my backpack on the stairs. "Hi, Kevin," my sixteen-year-old brother Russell and fourteen-year-old sister Stacy sang while they watched television. "Hi, Kevin," Mom said from the kitchen. "How did the first day go?" "Like the last day of last semester." I hung up my sweatshirt, hearing Dad yell on the phone upstairs. "Dinner will be ready soon," Mom announced. "You can take a quick shower." "I did-this morning," 1 said, walking toward the basement door with my backpack. "Another one will make you feel better after today," she said, stirring the tomato sauce.
Isn't she blunt.
In my bedroom a poster of Shannon hung on the wall above my bed, but I still had no idea why I was smitten with her. Last summer's hit "Dream World" was so cheesy, my stomach spun whenever I heard it on the radio. The lyrics contained no creative thought, and I decided it sounded like a rush job. As the hits came off her first CD, though, I became impressed when I found out she not only wrote songs, but she also had a recording studio in her basement.
Although I was surrounded by thousands of other fans at her concert at the Garden State Arts Center this past July, I never felt so isolated in my life. But when Shannon hit the stage, singing with passion and dancing with enthusiasm, I felt like 1 got my money's worth. Some company would've cheered me up about seeing the show, but my friends weren't interested.
I was drawn to a career in the recording industry, so I took a guitar class as a high school freshman and spent the next summer teaching myself more than I already learned in the class. I believed I could hit it big despite the stories I heard of recording artists busting their asses for success. But 9/ 11 reminded me my head belonged on my shoulders instead of in the clouds, so I chose to crunch numbers without giving it much thought.
I still had a flicker of hope for a musical career, but I was astounded by Shannon's confidence and determination, two qualities I sorely lacked if I wanted anyone to respect me as a performer. Of course, being cute as hell didn't hurt her either.
But those qualities I saw in Shannon didn't matter to some Jewish Society members at school. Avi Cohen and Yaakov Friedman, for example, wouldn't shut up about my shirt when they laid eyes on it. Whenever someone entered the office while the three of us were there during the day, Avi and Yaakov pointed me out. They didn't welcome any other members back or ask them about their summers or their classes. The first words out of their mouths were about my clothes. When I left the office in the afternoon for my Political Science class, they were deep into a conversation about Shannon because 1 saluted her.
Whatever their gripes were, I figured they were disappointed because I didn't want to roll in the hay with Shannon. Back in high school I enjoyed talking about girls with my friends during lunch. But when some explicit details crept into the discussion, I was reminded those views of girls would be useless to me in winning someone over. 1 didn't care if the next man let his libido control him, as long as he didn't expect me to behave the same way. After today, though, I was sure Avi and Yaakov wouldn't be the only ones to hold those values against me.
Nor was it the first time anyone instantly disliked me because I followed my heart. When my family and I moved into the condominium in 1991, Russell and I made friends with the other kids while Stacy was still discovering the world around her. Our arrival inspired the other parents to gather the kids together for activities we might do in summer camp: sing-a-longs, arts and crafts, and games like Duck Duck Goose and Red Rover. I ate it up.