TOMPKINS SQ. MYRTLE

within the last month there has been a change on myrtle avenue. the population has opened up to a small eccentric minority: gutter punks. the first time i saw one i was approaching her from behind, walking faster and on my way to san remo, i thought she was a normal girl coming off a rough night, but then i saw her face and realized she was deadly serious in her tormented wanderings, she wore a ragged Germs t-shirt and i marveled at how truly filthy she looked. she was heading in no direction, moving slowly. it fascinated me. what in the world was she doing on myrtle avenue? she was definitely not shopping for an oscillating fan. was she lost?

the last thing i expected would be for her to stay, but she has. in fact she has a friend, a man who sits with her. the two of them have a cat, a very small and loyal kitten. the cat cleans himself while the gutter punks stare out into oblivion, their cardboard request for money in front of them. the good people of myrtle avenue gazing in disbelief at the three of them. sometimes the girl reads newspapers, right there on the sidewalk outside the mandee store.

one time i saw the guy walking down myrtle opposite me. he was wearing a back pack. a police car pulled up next to him and the cop said, "where's your girl?" and he replied laughing, "she ain't my girl. she's up that way" and pointed towards queens. the cops smiled, waived, and pulled away in the opposite direction. it was as if they were old friends. the gutter punk proceeded to stop a man who had just left a store and asked him if he could spare a cigarette. the man didn't think twice, he gave him a cigarette.

i believe everyone on myrtle is secretly fascinated by, and gently obsessed with, these gutter punks. what does their presence imply about our neighborhood strip? punk culture aside, i've also noticed standard grade deadbeats high as a kite on heroin, barely capable of holding themselves up. one guy was sitting outside the carvel ice cream shop with his face completely euphoric and tilted to the sky, he was only there in body. yesterday i saw a man slumped over outside mcdonalds somehow suspending an unlit cigarette between his lips, and another time i watched some derelict puke his guts out into the garbage can on the corner outside deli catering. these kinds of things simply never happened on myrtle until about a month ago.

there are an inordinate number of closed down shops on myrtle, but people are still shopping and the rent in the area is going up. brooklyn transplants have taken notice of myrtle's proximity to manhattan and people from all over the country are winding up here. all of us, the hispanics, the blacks, the polish, and the white college grads... we all share the experience of this phenomenon. the gutter punks are iconic, newly arrived. the rest of us have shared this avenue for years in relative anonymity and perhaps there is some jealousy there.

we are familiar with crime and we know how to protect ourselves from danger, but these junkies and gutter punks seem to be harmless to everyone except themselves. what are we to do with them? do our thugs rob them? do our police harass them? do we shun them and pity their little cat friend? no. if anything they are a testament to our recent success. they are here to ask for our change. we are a demographic worth mooching off. we are a prosperous and inviting community.