It was a very cold day November, 1994, in New York City. I was walking north on Fifth Av in midtown. The broad sidewalks were crowded with people as usual on a weekday, and wisps of snow blew around on the concrete. I had the impression that it was one of those days when it was too cold for snow to fall heavily.
As I crossed an intersection I saw a young man on the other side, facing toward me, facing south, standing still and so standing out from all the people who'd begun to move when we got the green light. He was probably in his 20's, had fair thinning hair which was cut short, was just a little bit on the pudgy side. He stood out for other reasons too: He was wearing a winter jacket, but it wasn't zipped up. There was no hood on his jacket, and he wasn't wearing a hat, or gloves. Or shoes or socks. His toes hung over the edge of the curb. His arms hung at his sides with his palms turned forward. His eyes were rolled up into his head. But what really made him stand apart from the crowd was that his fly was open and he was peeing into the street in a thick stream. The real "New York" aspect of the situation was, with all the big crowds around, no one was paying any attention to him.
A block or two further, between 47th and 48th on the east side of 5th, I came to Brentano's bookstore, a great bookstore. That 5th Av location has since closed. As I entered the store Allen Ginsberg came rushing out, so hastily that we very nearly crashed into one another, his face came within inches of my face. I didn't have time to turn around and say "I'm sorry" before he was gone. At the time I had the impression that either he was late for an appointment and rushing to get there, or repulsed by something or someone in the store and rushing to get away before he lost his temper or something. This was long before I had been diagnosed as autistic. Since that diagnosis a third explanation for me and Allen Ginsberg so nearly colliding has occurred to me. Because I am autistic, my perceptions of events often differ radically from those of others, and because I know that now, I wonder whether possibly Ginsberg had not been rushing along at all, but rather that I had been lumbering along like a big half-blind moose (I'm rather large), abstracted, in my head and not watching where I was going, and so that perhaps the near-collision was entirely my fault. I am not good in crowded situations and that is putting it mildly. I've taken to making extra conscious efforts to get out of other people's way in crowded places.
A forth possibility has also occurred to me: perhaps Ginsberg was in a terrible rush, but not because he was late to be somewhere else nor very anxious not to be there anymore, but because he knew the young barefoot urinating gentleman, and had just been alerted as to his current behavior, and was rushing to the young man's aid and hoping he got there before the guy got into trouble. This forth possibility jibes more with my image of Ginsberg as consistently compassionate and concerned for the welfare of people in trouble. I have no idea whether or not this image is accurate because I never met Ginsburg apart from that near-collision.
Once I was inside the store, I asked an employee, "Was that Allen Ginsberg?" The employee said yes, he had just given a reading. I was disappointed that I had missed that. I asked if I could fill out a job application. Brentano's never hired me -- within a few days I was working at another bookstore on the west side of 5th Av a few blocks farther north -- and a few years later they went out of business. A complete coincidence? You tell me.