The Public Be Damned
Someone tapped my shoulder as I waited for the light to change on the
corner of 23rd and Park. “Excuse me,” said a blonde-haired,
blue-eyed woman from today’s Political Science class at Manhattan
University. “Your name is Kevin, right?”
“Why are you wearing that shirt?”
I glanced down at the image of Shannon Kistler on the front. “Oh–I
“Why?” She winced.
“Adam liked Eve, Romeo liked Juliet, Anthony liked Cleopatra…it’s
a tradition, I guess.”
“But her music is juvenile.”
“So I’ve heard.”
The streetlight changed, but my classmate stared at me as we crossed
Park Avenue. I walked up 23rd Street to the bus stop at the Flatiron
Building, my backpack full of newly purchased textbooks. Halfway up the
block, a guy in a three-piece suit who talked on a cell phone glanced at
my shirt as he walked toward me. “Wait a second,” he muttered.
“Man,” he snarled at me, “I can’t believe someone like you put
on that shirt.”
“And I can’t believe someone like you got off your phone to tell me
He frowned and walked away as I continued toward Broadway. At the
Flatiron Building I stood in my usual nook, watching for my express bus
home. The sidewalk was practically empty, but I caught the attention of
a curly-haired guy, maybe a year or two older than me, strolling toward
Union Square with a friend. The guy tapped his friend’s shoulder and
pointed at me, but I waved him off before he yelled at me.
The traffic on Broadway was as thin as the pedestrians on the sidewalk.
The other Staten Island-bound express buses stopped by the building
regularly, but my wait for the X12 was always longer for one stupid
reason or another. I already spent a whole year waiting for many things,
including the bus, and I knew that wouldn’t change any time soon,
especially with everything I still had to learn about accounting before
I got my BBA.
An early September breeze blew through my hair as a black limo stopped
at the light on 22nd Street. I couldn’t guess who was inside–a
bridal party, a foreign dignitary, or a corporate big shot. But I was
hypnotized by the long car, watching it roll down Broadway and onto 21st
Street after the light changed.
“Excuse me,” a black man in a parka and a wool hat said, “you got
any change to spare?”
“No, I don’t. I’m sorry.”
“Hey, you don’t gotta be sorry, okay? You don’t got it, you
don’t got it. That’s all. You don’t gotta be sorry for nothin’.
People always gettin’ into trouble ‘cause they sorry for stuff they
can’t control, and we got all these world problems because people do a
lotta shit they sorry about later. And that uses up a lotta energy, you
know? They can use that energy to do other stuff.”
He clamped a hand on my shoulder, to my horror. “Look, man,” he
continued, pointing, “you a young guy. You don’t need none of that
shit, okay? You don’t gotta worry about nothin’ but the rest of your
life. You got lotsa time to do whatever you please, and bein’ sorry
ain’t gonna help you. So you don’t got the change, you don’t got
the change, and that’s the way it goes. You don’t gotta be sorry
about it, okay? Don’t be sorry. You got it, don’t you?”
Yeah. I’m sorry I apologized. I nodded slightly, trying not to roll my
“Yeah, you get it.” He smiled, showing off his yellow teeth. “You
get it. You a good guy. Go get yourself some nice pussy.” He slapped
my shoulder and marched off.
Oh, no, you did NOT use the P-word on me…
“Hey, mister,” a girl’s voice yelled, “you got a nice shirt
“Thank–YOU!! HOLY SHIT!!” It was Shannon Kistler herself, calling
to me from the limousine sitting at the light a few moments ago. She
laughed, ducked inside and rolled up the window. I snatched my backpack
and chased after her, but the heavy textbooks slowed me down, and she
made a swift getaway.
Two minutes later an X12 finally pulled up. “How you doin’?” asked
the driver after he opened the doors.
“Hanging in there, thanks,” I fumbled, paying the fare.
“School started again?” he asked, pulling away from the curb.
“Yeah,” I muttered.
“You don’t seem happy about it.”
“I had a long day.” I would’ve said why I really didn’t seem
happy, but he’d never buy it.
“Well, pick a seat and take a snooze,” he said. “You look like you
could use it.”
“I’m way ahead of you.”
He chuckled as I grabbed a window seat and followed his advice.
Excerpted from "A Song Apart" by Jeffrey H. Baer. Copyright © 2011 by Jeffrey H. Baer. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.