Decided to spend this beautiful spring day lunching alone at Five Guys Burgers and Fries’ West Village location. (Repping Barrow Street, y’all.) I even made the bold move of eating at one of those loner stools facing the sidewalk, where patrons are welcome to slowly chew their cud while gazing longingly out the window, like some kind of sad sack from an Edward Hopper painting. (Chubby Nighthawks at the Diner) From this vantage point, I was able to spend my lunch observing a very large group of high school kids (about 30-35 by my count) and a handful of adult chaperones herded together on the corner, and the crazy homeless man who was terrorizing all of them.

The crazy homeless man was creating quite a spectacle, kind of a specialty among crazy people. He was directing traffic (thanks, citizen!) and panhandling with the help of a cardboard sign engineered with multiple flaps that can be lifted and lowered in order to create a kind of shifting, extended narrative with multiple punchlines. For example, the message might read: “Spare some change for peace…of PIZZA!…GOD BLESS (SMILEY FACE)…i’ll bite your face!” It’s like some kind of project from Real Simple Magazine, if Real Simple Magazine specialized in D.I.Y. projects to help improve your chances of raising scratch for heroin and Hostess Fruit Pies.

In between his two primary responsibilities, the crazy homeless man found time to yell at the pack of adolescent tourists. The tourists held their position, most likely because that corner was some kind of unfortunate rendez-vous point on their way to see “Gutenberg: The Musical.” So, instead, they responded to the crazy homeless man’s aggressive taunts and entreaties by tightening their herd and finding all sorts of ways to avoid eye contact. Have you ever seen 35 people in a pack, each looking in a completely different direction? I have, and it’s a pretty neat trick. In fact, I was probably enjoying it too much because I feel kind of pleased when New York demonstrates its capacity for lunacy. I don’t mean the TV-ready, self-promoting lunacy of the Naked Cowboy but, rather, the vaguely menacing lunacy of the Naked Guy Applying Spray Deodorant on the Uptown 6 Train. I didn’t want these people to be harmed in any way–I had one eye looking out for the police, and was surprised it took them as long as it did to show up–but I was sort of hoping the experience would at least cause a few of the high schoolers to return to their church youth group and share their harrowing experience. Maybe that way, in the future, the sidewalk around the East Village Cold Stone Creamery will be a little less crowded with tourists and I will be able to pass through on my way to the movies. That is my small, selfish wish.

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