Every day after two p.m. but no later than two-fifteen the man
approaches the bench from the west and sits down. His uniform daily is
the same: a pair of brown oxfords, scuffed at the toes; a pair of boxer
shorts in a small print, which upon closer inspection reveals itself to
be tiny monkeys eating bananas; a white undershirt; and a suede jacket
with sleeves of faux, Yeti-like fur. He sits on the bench, waits for
exactly forty-two minutes, says "Fuck you, Terrence" out loud to no one
and then gets up and leaves.
Kevin notices him. It's his job to notice things – well, not
his actual job,
for which he receives a paycheck. That comes from a cloying coffee shop
franchise that markets itself as the anti-really BIG coffee shop
franchise, in a desperate attempt to claim a small fraction of the
bigger guy's market share. That is Kevin's job; his vocation is music.
To Kevin, noticing – along with being, embracing and a host
of other unmodified gerunds – is what separates the craftsman
from the tradesman, the diamonds from the coal, the Arcade Fire from
As an artist Kevin is obliged only to notice things that pertain to
Humanity and its Discontents. Things that do not fall into this
category include: his mother's birthday; his roommate's name Sharpied
on the box of Special K he finished that morning; his girlfriend's
voice mails, text messages and eventual silence when a jam session with
his band, the Finger Prisons, runs right through the dinner he
Kevin had been working at the shop five days a week for four weeks when
he first noticed Boxers, as he later christened him; and though by that
time Boxers had appeared at that window exactly sixteen times in the
course of Kevin's employment (Sundays he worked nights) to Kevin it was
as though the man was born in his window. When Boxers appeared the next
time (actually the fourth time since Kevin first saw him, but whatever)
he felt a pleasant twinge of familiarity, and when it happened a third
time Kevin took the notebook he kept in his pocket for lyrics and with
the pen he used for customers' names on cups wrote in block letters
"COAT – COLD – ALONE/NO HOME?? NO PANTS/ENTRANCE."
Kevin's notebooks were filled with such jottings, the loose hairs of
genius. Soon he came to look forward to Boxers' visits to the bench and
their comforting rhythms. More pages of notebooks filled. He came to
think of Boxers as his muse, the inspiration of an artist who drew on
the energy of this city and its characters. It was this spark, this
connection, that was the tenuous barrier between the dead-inside
employees of corporate America and the people like him, who just had to
dress that way sometimes.
"He's gotta go," the manager says.
Kevin looks up from his Blender. "Who?"
"Him. Captain Underpants," she says, nodding at the window toward
Boxers. "He's freaking people out. Kids are getting out of school right
now, they're walking by. This isn't the only place in the city to
freeze your dick on a bench. I need you to go take care of it, okay?"
The aluminum door swings behind her; back she goes to her inventory.
This is not okay, Kevin thinks. I am not a guy who tells harmless crazy
homeless guys to go somewhere else. Boxers has as much of a right to be
on that bench as anyone, he thinks, righteousness welling in his heart.
He opens the aluminum door to the manager's office.
"Take care of it," she says, without looking up from the order sheet.
"Unless you want Saturday nights," she says.
For a moment, staring at the top of her head, he allows himself to hate
her completely. Then he lets the aluminum door swing shut.
Outside, Boxers is watching the street, expectant.
"Hey," Kevin says. Boxers looks up, nods politely, returns gaze to
This feels worse than he thought. "Hey. Sir. I need . . . um . . . do
you think you could find another place to go?" He sighs. "I need you to
go. Somewhere else. I'm sorry."
Boxers looks alarmed.
"I can't go," he says. "What about Terrence? He said he'd be here
today. I've got to wait for him. You don't understand."
"I'll tell him you were here," Kevin says gently.
"I don't need to talk to him! He's got my stuff! Can't you see I need
my stuff?" Boxers pleads. Kevin averts his eyes, both out of shame and
out of a desire to avoid the slightly widening gap in the monkey-banana
"I'm sorry," Kevin says. He means it. "You just have to go. I need you
to go. If you don't go she's going to make me call someone," he says,
wincing at how weak that sounds. "Please. Just find somewhere else to
go, okay, man?"
Boxers is near tears. He rises to his feet, the imprint of the wooden
slats pink and stripey on the backs of his thighs. He adjusts the coat
with its matted, hoary sleeves, which to Kevin smells musty even from a
few feet away.
"The hell with you," he says.
When he turns the corner Kevin slumps in the seat still warm from
Boxers' doughy body. He looks down at the embroidered, smiling coffee
cup on his apron, and for a moment he hates himself.
Sometimes it hurts to care, Kevin thinks.
Later that night the evening manager locks up the shop and leaves,
nodding to the bum who settles gruffly each night onto Boxers' bench.
As the man stows his collection of newspapers and bottle caps, his hand
brushes something tucked under the bench. He pulls it out to
investigate. Stuffed into a Duane Reade bag is a pair of tan slacks, a
pressed button-down shirt, and a note scrawled on the back of a receipt
that reads, "Oscar – Where are you? Sorry these so late. Need
my coat back.
Corinne Purtill is a writer and journalist working on a non-fiction book set in Cambodia. She lives in New York.
To link to this story directly: http://wigleaf.com/200903boxers.htm
Detail of photo on main page courtesy
Read CP's story, "Union Station," from the archive.
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