Suffering from a nicotine deficiency early New Year’s morning, I slithered across Bed-Stuy with teeth unbrushed and my coat unbuttoned. It had been six hours since my last smoke and I felt like my hair was on fire.
A resolution to stop smoking lasted six hours. Never had I seen the streets of New York so empty as on New Year’s morning. Sub-zero temperatures kept those with hangovers in their beds. I headed to a nearby Hamood Deli before the sun was up over Nostrand Avenue, knowing the Muslims would be open for business.
A man dressed in a beige parka stood at the payphone on the corner of Bedford and DeKalb. His breath in the cold morning air rose like the release of smoke from the lungs. I scurried by, quickly fastening my jacket, but the stranger stopped me–
“Excuse me,” the Latino with pretty eyes, but rotting teeth interrupted, “Do you happen to know anyone who would be interested in buying a baby boa constrictor?”
“No, I’m sorry. Snakes frighten me,” I said. The Puerto Rican must have been standing outside at the payphone for hours. The economy is ruining all our lives, I realized.
Perhaps he had been there all night, trying to find a home for his snake in 2009. He trembled as he spoke and it occurred to me that he was likely on crystal meth. Unlike crack-heads who sift through rubble on the sidewalk, looking for dropped fixes, the stranger was acting high, but appeared to be on something different. Crack heads are often spotted on my block in the early morning, but he was the first Meth user I ever saw in this part of the hood. He wasn’t rushing around like a chicken with his head cut off, like crack heads do. His speech, somewhat slurred, was not scattered, although he spoke with a slight touch of fantasy. Such a pity, I thought, so young and fucked- up so soon.
“What do you feed a baby pet snake?” I asked.
“Mice. Mice from Petco,” he explained.
“Interesting,” I replied. “How big is it?”
He stretched his numb hands to show me the approximate length of his snake, apparently, the little thing is not much longer than a foot. Perhaps this was a pick-up, I realized. If I were single and lived alone I would have asked to see the snake. I was suffering from delusions caused by a lack of nicotine, I realized, and quickly excused myself from the beautiful stranger.
“Good luck in finding it a home,” I said.
He followed me to Hamood deli and watched as I placed a Red Bull on the counter and purchased a pack of Newport cigarettes.
“Oh my God! Red Bull,” he said. “I don’t fuck with that stuff.”
I felt like such an addict and ran home before I changed my mind about the snake.