His Only Nose
A few weeks ago I passed a guy on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. He was saying in a loud, aggrieved tone of voice to the woman he was with, “I ONLY GOT THIS ONE NOSE.” And though I’ve lived in Manhattan for a long time and heard lots of great mad street cries and wonderful twisted passer-by talk, I still paid enough attention to wonder what led him to mention this.
When I told people about the incident a writer friend suggested that the woman had bopped him in the nose. An interesting premise, but in my quick glance I’d seen no evidence that his nose (a serviceable but common enough medium sized specimen- not a pug, not a wild honker) was bleeding or was in any way “a virgin”.
That’s how unbroken noses were described in the South Boston of my childhood, a time and place where it was said that anyone who reached the age of twelve without a broken nose was either a newcomer or a girl.
My friend, Liz, who has known me for decades, was inclined to believe that he came from an alternate world where any individual could have a variety of noses and other body parts. At first I thought this was a nice piece of whimsy on her part and was amused. Then she reminded me of certain experiences we had shared.
The first involved a man with whom the sister of a mutual friend went out, a guy who was fascinated but terrified by electricity. One night, drunk and stoned, he claimed to be from a reality where Con Edison had never moved from very crude Direct Current to Alternating Current. Thus the New York City of his birth was dangerously lighted and electrical fires were commonplace. The sister soon dropped him and we learned no more.
Another was a bartender with what sounded like a French Canadian accent who worked at a place on Sullivan Street some years ago. He would claim once he’d had a few in him that he came from a world where Napoleon had conquered North America and Noveau York was French speaking.
“You know,” my friend said, “that every time there’s calamity anywhere in the world: war, poverty, pestilence, man-made or natural disaster, refugees from that location appear in this neighborhood and open ethnic restaurants. It’s a law of nature.
“We’ve got all the old and new trouble spots from Italy to Ethiopia, Vietnam to Afghanistan. I’ll bet Libya is next. If all of them end up here why not people from Alternate Realities.
When I mentioned this jokingly to a guy I know slightly, Frankie who’s an administrator the University, he told me in a condescending manner that everyone used to say Alternate Reality. But the label is now considered insensitive. The correct term is Diverse Origin Worlds or DOW. And that this was a situation which was just beginning to be better understood.
I mentioned that troubles in places with less fortunate histories than ours always translate into refugees in the neighborhood. Frankie said, “Once you get used to tailors from Xingjian/Uyghur and Italian restaurants with waiters from Bangladesh there should be no surprise at some couple arguing about what nose to wear.”
“Why would anyone from a place where people had life sciences so advanced that they could exchange body parts at will, come to live here?” I asked.
“Why did so many people flee Europe when it was the center of culture and technology to come here?” he asked. “Stuff back home forced them to. Everyone keeps quiet about it but I’m told there are DOW support groups to help refugees over the rough passages in their transitions to this world. I think it’s kind of interesting!”
Reconsidering the incident that had started all this speculation, I recalled the woman with whom the “one nose” guy was walking. The one she wore was casual but cute and slightly upturned. A fine piece of retrousse nosery if that’s what it was – far more stylish than his.
I wondered if she had made some disparaging remark about the one he wore. A thoughtless person might do this, little considering that the nose someone else wears is the only one he owns and thus force him into an embarrassing confession.
Other things happened over the next couple of weeks: a long ago lover came back and visited the city; I got some unexpected freelance work, found a new yoga teacher and a fine gelato shop. I pretty much forgot the man and his nose.
Then one morning, stuck in traffic on Canal Street, I looked out of the taxi and noticed a sign in a third story window. It offered DOW counseling along with assistance on visas and immigration status. Later on that very same day I again passed the man and the woman on Bleecker Street.
I’m 99% positive it was them. But the nose is an important part of one’s face and their noses were not the ones I’d previously seen. His was somewhat larger and more commanding. Hers was curved and a bit sensuous. I thought of Anthony and Cleopatra. They looked like satisfied and confident New Yorkers striding down the center of the sidewalk and forcing everyone else to walk around them.
On a nice summer day a bit after that, I sat on a bench in Washington Square Park telling my friend Liz all that I’d found out about noses and Diverse Origins Worlds.
Two extremely thin thirty-something women carrying nicely up-scale shopping bags passed by close enough for us to hear them.
“For June it’s clothes for work, weddings and hauntings,” said the one.
“Hauntings,” said the second one, “You mean at that abandoned place upstate?”
“Uh-huh,” said the first.
“But not enough of us are here for a real haunting!”
“Not yet,” said the first woman. “But others are trying to get permanent visas.”
“The easiest way is to marry a citizen,” said the second. At this they both laughed a bit and looked towards the fountain. Liz and I followed their gaze. Frankie, who first told me about Diverse Origin Worlds, wore a crisp jacket and a bow tie. He grinned and opened his arms to what would surely be his bride.