Linguist, lexicographer, radio host, public speaker


It can still happen. Susan’s friend Caryn was found dead on the third floor of the Bowery Hotel after two days in the city, her body sweating from steam heat and an overdose of heroin. Three cops threw a rug over her head. At 17, her internship represented a precociousness also marked by graduation from high school a year early and advanced placement at Michigan State based on college prep classwork. It was clear that her the time in the city held higher rank than the hastily acquired internship at a weekly magazine. One week she applied for the internship, the next she was in the East Village, Alphabet City, sharing a studio with Susan, a copy editor in her mid-twenties. Caryn packed two bags, one of them completely filled with compact disks, the other filled with clothes and camera equipment. She looked 17. She wore her straight hair to her shoulders and added red tint every other month. Her fashion choices were based on what her pocket book would let her get away with, whatever scraps a scholarship education left. No Gap, but men’s dress slacks cut to suit and hitched up with a spangled belt, no socks, black leather shoes beaten about the toe and heel by years of wear, no bra, and t-shirts marked with band names and call letters. Her build called into question any claim to adulthood, predicting hips and breasts to come, and she still walked like a freshman in the senior’s hallway. She watched the world not at all, but partook of events marked by groups of people and excitement. It was in this way that as the city slowed during her first evening she found herself sitting on the curb at Houston watching a pair of men pull a third man from the middle of the street. One with mustache and pear torso, the other in sweats top and bottom, the men dragged the body arms first and feet skidding to the dirt under a struggling tree, leaving a shoe behind. A van honked and swerved and the shoe flew from beneath its tire with a thump and lay motionless on the inside lane and nobody paid any attention. Unhurt, its owner lay covered in blackness, public and private, and belched. Whatever persons that remained moved away, headed for other pursuits, some disappointed by the lack of anything more gruesome than a homeless drunk, others disgusted by the idea that a man would crawl into the street on his own, no worse than an animal, like a snake or an opossum that might seek the warmth of the pavement. Caryn sat on the curb and watched as one of the rescuers wiped clean his hands on the grass and the other nudged the awakening body with his foot. It rolled over in an exaggerated motion, and spoke, and the black man’s chin now hung over the edge of the curb, both his arms at his sides, palms up, and his socks baggy on his feet. “Mah-huh?” he said finishing the roll of his body, now on his back, his eyes trying to focus on the flat orange sky. His jeans were rust and unraveling at the cuffs, his sleeveless shirt unbuttoned, his face marked by ancient acne pits and recent whiskers.

author avatar
Grant Barrett