It’s Washington Square Park, a damp and cloudy Sunday–
noon, but no one’s around.
I open my lunch, the remains of last night’s
Indian dinner, wrapped in rumpled foil—
a scrap of flatbread and a half-eaten hunk
of tandoori chicken.
Two neatly dressed people come by
on their church’s mission to feed the homeless.
They see me—in my old jeans and windbreaker,
with food that looks retrieved from the trash—
and offer me a sandwich, bottle of water, an orange. . . .
Instead of telling them, It’s not what you think,
I accept an orange, and it makes them happy.
That was recent. It was a while ago that this happened:
I was a student and sort of good-looking.
(I didn’t know it, though. No one told me.)
Every Wednesday at 7 p.m.,
I went to a high-class apartment hotel on Central Park South.
A nearly blind, middle-aged businessman
paid me to read to him—legal contracts,
novels, a book about finance.
One night he paid me at the elevator, just as it opened.
I’ll see you next week, he said,
as I stepped inside, pocketing the bills.
The elevator man gave me a knowing smirk and a slow nod.
I could have said It’s not what you think,
but that would have meant admitting I understood
what it was that it wasn’t.
And what if he saw that my pay for the session
was only four dollars? (Two dollars an hour for reading aloud
wasn’t a bad rate of pay in 1962.)
He didn’t offer to find me more clients.
A year ago, we’re in an office building’s unoccupied foor,
filming a satanic ritual for a music video—
it’s dark, there are lit candles in a circle on the floor,
monks in hooded robes, and me
rising from my knees in a posture of inspired power.
The music playing is the style known as “progressive death metal,”
which is popular among anti-social teenage boys.
The Chinese-restaurant delivery guy
is reluctant to enter the space.
We should tell him it isn’t what he thinks.
(The video has been viewed more than 2 million times.)
Someone who has my name goes to the same dentist,
who luckily realized this before drilling.
Excuse me, a woman says, after stopping me,
I thought you were someone else.
I am!, I inform her.
We’re about to shoot a true-crime scene for cable TV—
the suspect will fake a savage attack on me.
The director jokes: Do you really want to beat up
this nice old man?
Wait a minute, I say to myself.
I never thought I was either old or nice!
There’s a video on YouTube called “Do You Know Who I Am?”
and that is me, although I’m acting and not being me.
I think I have it straight now, who or what I may be.
It could be it’s not what you think.
Though what you think, or I do, maybe isn’t.
I hope that’s clear.