Thursday, December 6, 2007

Maddening Genius

The sidewalk seems to shudder as she trudges towards the latest victim in her sight—quite a feat for a woman so frail. She hardly moves slowly by any means, but her whole left side is dragged behind her body, as if overcoming paralysis. Her right hand hangs limp at shoulder level, with her elbow dropped by her side, both somehow staying steady as she goes. The average passerby might fear the wind would carry her away or snap her brittle bones, but her burnt sienna skin has nearly turned to leather over these past fifteen years. On her right cheek sits a scar in the shape of the letter ‘N’ which has long been the topic of debate. She has heard it all from passers-by: “I heard she got mugged,” or “She was working at an AIDs clinic in Africa when some Hutu guy beat her with a shovel or something,” to, “It’s just a really unfortunate birthmark,” and, “Well, when you’ve used up all the tracks on your arms and feet, you gotta find a new place to stick the needles…”
None of this really bothered her, of course, for rumors, of any kind, at least meant that people were talking, and if people were talking, she knew that people were still interested in her, and as long as there was interest, there was hope. Hope that she would never be forced to sink to the level of those people, crowding the corners and the stoops downtown, and shaking their cups like tag sale maracas, broken and obnoxious in both sound and décor. Hope that she could still be a star. As long as she had her appeal, she still had integrity, and at the end of the day, that’s all that separates her from the dime-a-dozen beggars and their Listerine drunks.
Not that there was a real problem with Listerine drunks: sometimes, you’ve got to take what you can get, and after all these years, she’d accepted the fact that forty ounces never found her any form of freedom for more than a half an hour. But how many of these bums could say they had an MFA in Writing from one of the most prestigious schools in the country? “Bulldog, bulldog, Bow Wow Wow!” she would cry to the new students as they arrived each year. Most of them just called her a “crazy homeless woman.” The upper classmen would tell them, “That’s just Kathy. She’s almost like our unofficial second tier mascot, except she’s really just an annoying bum.”
At this point, she would usually reprimand them for disrespecting their elders, and remind them that she was not homeless per se: she had an apartment in The Jungle, and was probably the only person who would ever admit to living in that isolated concrete hole of gunshots, rats, and heroin, but she was damn proud to have a place to call her home. “I am not homeless, and I am not even a beggar,” she would tell them through her slurs and spit. “I am a artist and a performer, and this is my job.” She would then solicit them for money by offering to recite three ee cummings poems of their choice, complete with verbal punctuation. Unfortunately, her speech was often quite difficult to decipher, as her words would stutter and slur together as she mumbled them through her scattered teeth; furthermore, she was never quite pleased with the payments rendered for her services. “You would pay this twice to see Alec Baldwin!” she would yell, perhaps referencing another absurd celebrity in his place. “I am a artist, just like Alec Baldwin! Ain’t you got no respect for a artist?” She would carry on as such until she lost her audience, or was yet again arrested by the cops; whichever came first.
Kathy’s short temper was, just like her scar, the source of many rumors. Schizophrenia. Abused as a child. Commercial failure in her artistic endeavors. Just plain crazy. The most popular theory was that she had originally auditioned for the role of Mrs. Huxtable on “The Cosby Show,” but lost out on the role to Phylicia Rashad, and that the rejection sent her over the edge; no one bothered to point out that that “The Cosby Show” was a predominantly African-American sitcom on which Kathy would have been clearly out of place. She would often claim that her “N”-shaped scar and apparent brain damage were related, the tragic result of a gangbang and mugging to which she fell victim in the early 1990s; whether or not this is true is still up for debate.
All that is known for certain is that approximately fifteen years ago, she stormed the streets of New Haven, searching for anyone who would hear her poetry recitals and offer her food or cash. Although her repertoire has hardly changed in fifteen years, she has staked a claim on the intersection of Elm and Chapel Streets, often accosting any other beggars that would invade her territory. People often wondered how much money she made through her performance art, as she had become a local celebrity and tourist trap of sorts, albeit one that was more often avoided for comfort’s sake. As her notoriety has grown, however, so has her pushiness: she tries, with great adamancy, to “charge” even more for her artistic endeavors, and only finds herself growing increasingly frustrated and disappointed. And of course, the rumors surrounding her situation have only grow more wild and rampant over time, and as her mental health slips further and further away, the lines between fact and fiction become increasingly more difficult to distinguish.

Sep. '06

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