He walked down 7th Avenue, headed uptown to see his therapist. Hands in pockets, eyes to the sidewalk, peeking out occasionally for zooming taxis.
"Hey, mister, want a newspaper? Only fifty cents!"
It stung him like a bee, and he recoiled appropriately. Then he stopped, smiled apologetically and shook his head, and was off again. As he neared 38th Street, he knew to keep his eyes to the right, past the watchful eyes of the Doubletree Hotel. He took a soft swallow when he overheard two ladies discussing their chauffeurs. What's so bad about calling them drivers, anyway?
He stopped for a red light, waiting patiently in a crowd of businessmen, tourists, and a swelter of school children on their way to Radio City Music Hall.
"Did you catch the Yankees doubleheader last weekend?"
"I didn't really think Franzen was as prepostmodern as everyone made him out to be ..."
"Hey Jake, watch out, the pedestrians in this town stop for no man!"
They made him cringe, but he was slowly getting used to it. He had a mantra to put him to bed: "Invective, directive, overexpose; domicile, mercantile, superimpose. Intertwine, Valentine, department store; find whatchamacalits on the twenty-third floor!" It didn't really help, but it didn't hurt, either. The words just rolled about his head like lukewarm water - tepid, inert, dull.
He stopped again when he saw a small poster-sized sign lying on the ground. It read
WANT TO BE FREE?
Oh, very much so, said he. He bent over to pick up the placard when suddenly someone yelled out, "LOOK OUT BELOW!"...
"This is just awful, Sarge."
"Tell me about it."
As the swell of people got bigger and bigger, the two policemen just stood next to the stiff in disbelief. They had seen a lot of weird things, but this was just plain wrong.
"I never seen nothing like this before, Sarge."
"Tell me about it."
Suddenly a voice in the back of crowd began butting its way into the center, murmuring, "Let me through, let me through, I'm the man's doctor!"
The doctor eventually arrived at the scene, only to stop dead in his tracks at the sight. He let out a low defeated whistle and bent down on one knee, slipping his hand into the dead man's own. "I just received a call from his wife. He was supposed to visit with me right now. What happened, exactly?"
"Well, as you can see, the construction .. and one of the workers .. it just slipped, you know? The guy feels bad enough already - he'll probably be fired - but it was just one of those things. And then there's this poor guy. You said you were his doctor?"
"His psychiatrist, yes."
"Psychiatrist? This guy nuts or something?"
"Oh, no, no, nothing like that. We were just dealing with some irrational fears of his. One fear, actually. A rare but debilitating phobia."
"Oh yeah, what's that, doc?"
"The fear of long words."
"He was afraid of big words, huh?"
"Three syllables or more. It was all he could not to scream at the very sound of them."
The EMT team finally arrived, and with the help of the beat walker began the arduous process of lifting the 20-foot-wide Madison Square Garden sign that had crushed the unlucky fellow to death.
"Guess he wasn't so irrational after all, doc ..."