Notes from the Gutter

Last night I went to sleep in the gutter in front of my house. After a while, the cars died down and people stopped gawking, and it was very peaceful. Very cold, but very peaceful. A light snow began to fall and covered me thinly, like a negligee. Next to my head, keeping me company, there were plastic bread bags blown to and fro by the February wind.

I like those bags. When my sister and I were little, we invented this game we called "Catching the Tiger," in which we'd blow up one of those bread bags, tie it to a string or stick, and then take turns running down the hallway screaming at the tops of our lungs, waving the bag. When we got back to the bedroom, we'd collapse against the closed door and say breathlessly, "I caught one."

Anyway, so there I was in the gutter, my eyes shutting against the bitter night, my arms crossed against my chest like a mummy. I muttered to myself a little too, just about this and that.

Then, when I was probably right on the verge of freezing to death, angels or aliens descended upon me and abducted me from the sewer, carrying me off like swag to their ship. I made it so easy for them. I didn't even put up a fight.

Once on the ship, they laid me on a table and gathered about me, letting me thaw out a bit, like a piece of chicken. They even used a hairdryer to hurry it along and massaged the blue tips of my fingers and toes, so life would start coursing through them again. I thought, in my cold, hazy delirium, that they were trying to save me, resuscitate me. I thought a whole new life was starting. One in which I could surf the Web all day aboard the ship, wear a unitard. Belong to a community of like-minded individuals...

But then the aliens started to chatter excitedly over me in an arcane language I couldn't understand, and when two of them moved in to chew on the fat around my ribs, I knew I had been sorely mistaken.

Listen, I said, finally gathering up the courage. Don't do this.

They stopped for a second.

I went on without being prompted. When talking a kidnapper out of his plan, you have to provide a compelling reason or argument, and quickly, before they have a second to process what you're really saying. I learned this from a Ewan McGregor movie I saw once. I'm working on a screenplay, and it's not finished yet, I said.

The one alien who spoke a little English asked me what it was about.

I had to think fast, I had to think sensational and juicy, something to keep their interest. It's about this very unhappy couple, and when they make love, the man calls the woman a hot fucking bitch and sometimes he also says things like, Did you learn how to fuck from watching those filthy whores? And whenever he says this, it makes the woman cry and she doesn't know what to say, since she was the one who asked him to start talking dirty in the first place.

I was talking very fast, so as not to lose my nerve, but as soon as I stopped, I didn't feel so good. I was able to tell that it had gone over very poorly. The one alien furrowed his brow. Then he translated for the others, and they too furrowed their brows. He turned to me. Why would you write something like that?

I shrugged. I don't know. I'm a writer.

There was a pause. Oh? His enormous alien eyes lit up. What kind of animal do you ride?

It took me a second.

No, a writer, I said.

Oh. He nodded. Then he pointed to the alien standing next to him. First commander's a writer, he said.

By now, the pain along my sides from the missing flesh was unbearable. I began to think about how I would never get this flesh back and how, for the rest of my life—if I lived, that is—I would remember the feeling of the aliens' teeth digging into me, scraping along my ribs, eating me alive. How would I get past this? How would I forgive them? All I had wanted was to lie in the cold sewer, where every person, at some point in his or her life invariably, has wanted to lie.

I bit my lip and ran my fingers along my sides. I looked out the ship's window into actual space, trying not to cry.

Then, one of the older aliens, taking pity on me, left the room and came back with the alien equivalent of a ham sandwich and a glass of milk. He gestured for me to sit up and try to eat it, even though, no fewer than a few minutes ago, he had been perfectly content to eat me.

The sandwich got me thinking about this movie theatre I used to go to on the Upper West Side where they sell Polish ham sandwiches under the glass at the concession stand instead of popcorn or candy. Every time I used to go there, I would say out loud to whomever I happened to be with, "Ooooo, I really want a Polish ham sandwich," but then I wouldn't buy one. I never bought one, in fact, even though I always wanted one.

This should tell you a lot about the kind of person I am.

*Published in Opium