By Claudine Wright
They came toward me as I hurried to catch the late bus home to New Jersey at the Port Authority on 40th Street. It was way past11:00 pm, and if I didn’t make the11:45 bus, I’d have to wait an hour for the very last bus that would take me back to my safe suburban escape fromNew York. They clung together, walking somewhat unsteadily on stiletto heels and tight-fitting skirts they kept tugging at with their free hands.
After 11:30 pm, Port Authority can easily revert to its old seediness, the glitz of 42nd street and the mayor’s faux “family friendly” rap notwithstanding.
The more solidly built one approaches me. “Can you give me five dollars?”
I try to hurry past, more to make my bus than to avoid them, but something in his voice and their manner is compelling enough to make me stop. The voice was deep and guttural, a man’s voice. I look at them more closely. The one who spoke, his eyes sharp hardened, glances about. The thick pancake makeup applied to his face is several shades lighter than his own, and at that hour, did little to cover the thick stubble forcing its way through.
Men in drag are not a remarkable. Not inNew York, and certainly not in Port Authority at close to midnight. I was more intrigued by the amount the request than by their appearance or their outfits.
“Why do you need five dollars?” I ask.
He brushed back several strands of wavy black and auburn hair weaved inexpertly into his own that had fallen over one eye. His low cut blouse revealed an Adam’s apple, smooth, dark, completely hairless skin and an impressive pair of breasts. His partner doesn’t speak but seems to hang on his every word, clutching his arm tightly either out of devotion or desperation. I can’t tell which. At that hour of night and in that neighborhood, all things are possible. He is smaller, less stridently masculine. and modestly dressed in comparison to his more bulky counterpart. Just a open-necked shirt, a scarf, and a tight black leather skirt with a slit up the side. Even though it is a muggy August night, he is wearing stockings. His breasts are smaller, and he had the decency to wear a bra. His eyes are pleading, not calculating like his friend.
“I just need five dollars.”
I don’t know why, but I am stop to talk.
“If I had five dollars, I would give it you, but I only have a $20 bill and my bus ticket and I have to run; otherwise, I’ll miss my bus”, I tell them-- or rather, him—the big one.
I immediately question the wisdom of telling two strange men dressed as women that I had $20. At that hour. In the South End building in Port Authority.
I glance around for a policeman. There are a few clustered together near one of the double glass doors. They seem to be discussisng something, but I'm too far away to hear. I make a quick calculation. If these guys attempt to take my wallet could I get away? It was too far to the doors for me to make a run for it, but I was close enough to the policemen for them to run to my aid if I were to scream.
“Damn!” the big guy exclaims. He scratches his head, as if wondering what to do next. Then to me he says, “Thanks, I believe you sister. I appreciate it.”
Sister. I don’t know if he said this as acknowledgement of our mutual blackness, or the sisterhood of women. Either way, I feel accepted. Somehow my sincerity had carried through. I would have given him the money if I had it.
The two look at each other. The smaller one looks as if he is about to cry. I wonder if they are hungry.
The older one sighs, looks off into the distance, and then says more to himself than to either of us, “Shoot, I’m gonna have to hit up one of them white boys.” He sounded tired, as if this was the last thing he wanted to do, but had little choice.
The younger one nods. He still doesn’t speak, but seems resigned to the conclusion his partner has made. I quickly figure out that they intend to rob someone. Maybe by propositioning him.
“Are you going to rob someone?” I ask somewhat naively. “Don’t do that!” I say in alarm. I am strangely concerned about his well being. I don’t like the desperation in his voice. I decide to miss my bus.
“Come with me. I’ll get change. You don’t need to rob anyone.”
“It’s okay, don’t worry about it,” he says. He is already gazing off; his eyes scanning the almost empty vestibule. He is looking, I assume, for a likely candidate.
“Here, I tell you what”, I say. “I can get the later bus. Let me go to the newsstand and get some change and I’ll give you the five dollars.”
The big one snorted. “What’re you worrying about them for honey? Don’t worry about them.” His voice dripped with disdain. “They deserve it. They should be going home to their wives instead of . . .” His voice trailed off. He looks beyond the doors on to 42nd Street.
He intertwines his arm with his friend.
The small one gives me one last desperate look. They hurry through the double doors and rush on to Eighth Avenue against the light to an angry chorus of taxi horns. Men in tight skirts and stiletto heels, and who knows what on their minds.
I think about the hapless man they’ll relieve of his wallet. How would the encounter begin? Would it be a “date” or a robbery? Would it be a date, then a robbery? What would the mark tell the cops after it was all over and he realized that his wallet was missing, he had no money or credit cards and no way to get home? What would he tell his wife? Would it be the same story?
I run up the escalator and dash down the corridor to catch my bus. Each clock I rush past reads11:45. I get to the automatic exit door to my bus lane just as the driver is closing the doors. I tap urgently on the doors, the desperation now on my face. The driver turns the steering wheel back to the left, smiles and re-opens them to let me get on. I am panting as I hand him my ticket.
“Just made it,” he says to me.
“Yes, I’m lucky,” I reply. “Just made it.”
Author's Note: As I recalled this incident, I don't think these men were actually homeless, but they were certainly marginal.
They seemed like they were a couple and I remember that my conclusion at the time was that they were trying to get together enough money to pay for a motel room for the night.
According the to Ali Forney Center, a resource center for LGBTQ youth in New York, many as 25 percent of LBGTQ teens are rejected by their families, with nowhere to go, end up homeless on the streets.
The Center's stated aim is to promote "awareness of the plight of homeless LGBTQ youth in the United States with the goal of generating responses on local and national levels from government funders, foundations, and the LGBTQ community."