Guest Writers

Lessons From A New York Vagrant

Creepy Rooster Gonna Get You!

This month’s guest blogger is Daniel Friedland, author of Down Aisle Ten, a fictional history of Universal Simultaneous Anxiety Collapse Disorder, an incapacitating disease that arises from the abundant fears that surround us in the modern world.

So what’s with the cock rooster on the front cover? Doesn’t he look like he wants to poke your eyes out? (It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye.)

But I digress.

Dan is offering a copy of his book to one lucky commenter. Read his piece here today, and check out what you need to do to win below.

Oh! And you can follow Daniel on Twitter at @djfriedland or via his Facebook page.

• • •

Click on the eyeball to see who else is contributing to this series! 


Lessons From a New York Vagrant by Daniel Friedland

Times Square wasn’t always Disneyland. There were no shrimp-themed restaurants or toy stores and it was nothing like the family friendly carnival scene it is today. In the Times Square of my youth, vagrants greeted you with alcohol breath, strip club promoters offered dirty flyers, and litter collected on the curbs. It was the heart of New York’s seedy side, a hub of ill repute, and when I was seventeen years old and wanted a fake I.D., Times Square was where I went.

I can’t recall how I ended up in that Wendy’s.

The man must have whispered something about fake I.D.s as I walked down the sidewalk. Now inside the restaurant, he leaned over the table and promised he could get me what I wanted. But there was one important question he needed to ask first.

Was I a cop?

This idea was ludicrous. I had fluffy hair, string bracelets around my wrist, and a telltale suburban naiveté. I was about to deny working at 21 Jump Street when the man extended his hand to my face and instructed me to sniff his fingers. It was an odd and unexpected development, but I was forced to agree with the stated proposition. Yes – his hand did smell like pot. This olfactory evidence, he explained, proved he wasn’t an undercover officer. I accepted this conclusion.

Now that his bona fides were established, my new acquaintance began asking me questions. Where did I go to school? Was I related to anyone in the police department? Did I have a recording device on me? Would I tell anyone about him? Withering under his interrogation, I discarded all sense entirely. He had me right where he wanted me.

When he said he needed to check the bills in my wallet to make sure the serial numbers weren’t traceable, I handed him all of my money.

Let me repeat that one more time – I handed him all of my money so he could check the serial numbers.

Give it a moment to waft over you. Feel the full breadth of my humiliation.

I feel compelled to note that I am not generally a stupid person. I sometimes make witty conversation, I can solve a Wednesday crossword puzzle in the New York Times, (I’m working toward Sunday!) and I have never mailed cash to help out a Nigerian prince. Yet on that fateful day, I fell prey to a classic trick of misdirection, duped by an unexpected turn and a narrative I could not control. My folly became clear to me when the door to Wendy’s closed and the man disappeared into the crowd.

It was a good lesson for a modest price – stay focused.

And if there’s a secondary moral to be gleaned, perhaps I shouldn’t have been looking for that fake I.D.

Of course, nowadays my wallet stays in my front pocket, and it has been years since I’ve stepped foot inside a Wendy’s. Yet no matter how much time passes, I’ll always be just another victim of the old Times Square. Long live its seedy memory.

To enter to win a copy of Down Aisle Ten, leave a comment about a time when you were absolutely humiliated by someone else. That’s right, spill your own #SoWrong moment. Either that or confess your favorite fast food restaurant and what you like to eat there.

Tweet us @rasjacobson & @djfriedland

55 thoughts on “Lessons From A New York Vagrant

  1. An attractive, eloquent young man sat down with my brother and me after purchasing a knick-knack from my mom’s garage sale. We chatted for a bit, until my brother had to go down and help another shopper. The phone rang-a rarity, since my mom was always changing our number-and it didn’t occur to me at all that I shouldn’t leave my friend’s borrowed laptop with him. I turned from the phone to see a hand snatching the power cord from just inside he door. By the time I made it out the door, he had sprinted much faster than I could run and I decided a that moment not to leave borrowed items with strangers, no matter how sweet-talking.

      1. Yep, but the good news was the guy to it to the McDonald’s where my friend worked a week later. My friend saw him, called the cops and reclaimed his laptop. All’s well that ended well, but my lesson remained learned. 🙂

        I can’t even picture the laptop at this point, but it can’t have been pretty back in the late 90s!

  2. I understood the cover picture immediately. Those pecky little beasts are terrifying!
    Embarrassing moments? There are so many.
    I did have a friend who chose to share my worst date secret with a table of dinner guests (most of whom I’d never met). Nothing like asking for someone to pass the bread while they hear about the time you got a couple’s massage and explosive diarrhea.

    1. Roosters are terrifying, right?

      I’m shuddering from just this teaser about the massage. I don’t want to know the full story. Wait… I do.

      1. Tori: If you haven’t ever written about this at your place, for the love of massage therapists everywhere, will you share it here? Not now. But as a guest post? I’ll tweet you. Because THAT m’dear. That little teaser has me so excited. And guess where I’m going at 10:30 am? You guessed it. I pray I don’t have an Ooops-I-Crapped-My-Wait-I’m-Not-Wearing-Any-Pants moments!

  3. Well, you know I’m waiting to share my most embarrassing moment when it is finally my turn in May. I’m still not sure which one to share, as there are many. This one, though. This is a good one. I imagine it would have taught him a fine lesson about ne’er do wells in NYC. Keep your eye on the ball, indeed.

    1. I think I’ve learned a lesson. It’s tough to tell. At least turning 21 obviated the need to get any more fake IDs.

  4. Can I just applaud your honesty? This made me squirmy, mostly because this is the sort of thing that might have happened to me, save dumb luck.

    I dated a drug dealer once. I had no idea. Seriously. I was 18, but had never dabbled past cigarettes and alcohol. One day, I came around the corner to my boyfriend handing back a joint to one of his friends. Wanting to appear nonchalant and cool, i merely quirked my eyebrow, but inside I was all jelly and rapid heartbeats. As I moved closer to him, I realized that pot had a VERY distinctive smell. I recognized it.

    It was the smell I had grown to associate with the this man, older than I and new to town. I had assumed that the sickly-sweet scent that clung to his hair and clothing was just part of “him” or incense or something.

    Incense, my ass. Dude was fried all day long. All. day. long.

    Nowadays, I just groan when I think about how naive I was. No wonder people called us “Molly and Judd”

    1. Hi Daniel! I’m really glad you are here with us this morning! And I hope you enjoy reading and responding to everyone’s stories. They are delicious, and I am refraining from commenting, so you can have the fun! But omigosh! These are some serious stories! And more to come, no doubt!

      Congratulations on your book. I hope your day here might convince you to start a blog. I mean, you’ve already got a book and maybe even a few new followers! 😉

    2. I dated a drug dealer, too. And I had no idea. Except I totally did. Because I’m a total idiot and because I loved the dude. But seriously, the man loved his baggies more than he loved me. It took much too long to figure that out. #Duh.

      Beautifully written as always!

  5. The time I was so humiliated was when i drove home into my driveway after an appointment with my therapist, after just driving 120 miles commuting from my job in Austin to my home in Pipe Creek, TX. A strange man was standing by his car in our driveway. I wondered why my husband did not come out to see what he wanted. When I got out of the car, he came over to me. He asked my name and I told me. He handed me a subpoena and told me my husband had filed for divorce. Then I looked over to see my husband standing on the front porch, watching. I was so humiliated. The man explained I had 2 weeks to respond; did I understand. I nodded yes through my tears. I have never felt so helpless and utterly humiliated and blind-sided by anything in my life. That is my humiliation moment.

  6. There are embarrassing moments which we can later laugh at, but you mentioned being humiliated by someone. I was humiliated twice by the same person, my ex-husband. First at our wedding, he got incredibly drunk with his fraternity brothers and danced with all his girl friends from college and not me, his new wife – the bride.

    Second, involves another wedding… I was pregnant with our third child, I had a strong belief he was having an affair with a young girl at work. We were at another co-worker’s wedding. The young girl asked him to dance, he did and I saw the undeniable sparks between them. When I asked him to dance he said no. I, the pregnant wife, sat at the table alone… humiliated.

    But I stayed strong, tried to keep dignity intact and divorced him several months after third child was born. Shit happens. We live and learn.

  7. You set a high bar, Dan! This is a fabulous, frightening story. Well told! I was right there with you, smelling that guy’s fingers. Ugh. I can see myself as a young person blindly doing something degrading just because this guy told me to. Ugh. Good lessons to learn at an early age – finger smelling leads to poverty and Wendy’s is no place for kids (unless the lure of french fries dipped in a Frostie is too hard to resist). Great storytelling!

  8. Thanks! I’m almost too traumatized to go back to Wendy’s, but who could disagree with something as pure and perfect as dipping french fries into a milkshake?

  9. Aw, Daniel. Thanks for your honesty. Ah, youth. We did some dumbass shit back then, didn’t we? I feel really bad about how you must associate this memory with a Wendy’s every time you pass one. At least a good takeaway from this is that at least it wasn’t a McDonald’s? I mean, they are on every corner and have the best bathrooms of all the fast food chains. That would have sucked.

    Not that I am evaluating them or anything. Just saying.

    I have to save my most embarrassing moments for when I am the guest poster in November. But since there is no dearth of them, I can share one.

    When I was fresh out of college and had started working for a boutique consulting firm, one of the first company events I went to was a dinner cruise on the potomac. I hadn’t eaten that much that day, had gone for a long run and started drinking on an empty stomach.

    Dude, I got wasted.

    So wasted that at one point, one of the managing partners tried to catch me as I fell and I told him to “Get his meaty little hands off of me.” Oh yes, I DID. My boyfriend at the time could not get me home. Heck, we were on a boat in the middle of a river. Apparently during this prolific night of idiocy I fell down on the dance floor, tried to do the “shag” (the dance, not the act) with my CEO’s husband, during which time he fell and hurt his back. I also took my shoe off at the end of the night and threw it at my roommate’s head because she said I wasn’t acting very nice. Bitch.

    For years afterwards, I never lived it down at the company. It was brought up every year at the company christmas party. Suffice to say, I did NOT drink at any more corporate events.

    At that company, anyway 😉

  10. I confess! I am a lover of the MacDonald’s Big Mac. Whenever, I am near those Golden Arches, I hear: “Come on in and eat me.”

  11. Wow! What a post! Flashback to when Times Square, and NYC in general, was totally skeezy. Your book sounds very interesting, and while I’m fairly certain my comment is way, waaay, too mild, bland and generally unexciting to warrant winning a copy, it would be fabulous if I did get that free copy. Just saying.

    As for fast food, I have a thing for mozzarella sticks from Tov’s Pizza (Tov as is Mazel Tov as in Good, and, yes, it’s good pizza, and no it’s not a national chain, but it’s the closest I get to fast food what with keeping kosher and all). Even though they are deep fried and in no conceivable way good for me, I still order them religiously. Also, I now have a craving for fries dipped in shake. Thanks for that, Mr. Friedland!

  12. I have far to many embarrassing moments in my life, far to many really. I loved this revelation though, this was a con played out in every big city across the land. Terrible, but very well told.

    1. I have been emailed by a bunch of people who said this was an old scam as well! Who knew? I just don’t think I would sniffed a stranger’s fingers. That would have killed the deal. I’m pretty sure. Probably. 😉

  13. Hi Daniel,

    I was a teenager, living in NYC, during the time you describe. The rule-following was so lax at the discos that I went to that they never asked for ID, so I never tried to get a fake one. The over-priced bars inside of them never turned anyone away. But you’re right, the seediness of Times Square was like a magnet (and easily accessible thanks to the subway) to a curious teen.

    My younger brother suffered a fate similar to yours. I don’t remember what type of transaction he was trying to make, but I do remember how it ended. Rather than handing over his money, he was asked to show it — to prove that he had it, I guess. As soon as he stretched his hand out, the cash was snatched and the guy was gone. Whoosh! My brother should have just chalked it up to experience, but he compounded his error in judgement by telling his four brothers about it — ensuring that he will be forced to relive that fateful day for all time.

  14. I think I would have preferred the con pulled on your brother. Somehow it seems less shameful to have the money snatched from hand than to just hand it over.

  15. Ha! This was fantastic – wonderfully written and, whew, cringe-worthy. It might be time to give Wendy’s another chance, though. Those new sea salted fries are no joke.

    *loosens collar* Pressure’s on for this gal next month (for my guest post)!

  16. How did I miss this? Excellent writing. I’m saving my most embarrassing moment for my turn at bat in March. Like Jules said…the pressure is ON.

  17. Dan, I read your story of humiliation when it was posted. I was flooded with memories so humiliating that I ran away from renee’s blog for awhile. I am a very shy person–yes, renee, I AM–and as such my life is filled with humiliation…just because that’s the way we introverted, shy people make our way through our lives. Now that I’m in my seventh decade, I am humiliated less often…and less shy. Life is short and who cares about humiliation as long as it moves me forward and not backward?! I still ache for others when they are scammed and humiliated. It happened to my step-son this past year; he lost a lot of money as a result. It happens to my older granddaughter–the daughter of my son–regularly because she wants life to be so much better than it is. I hurt for them and regret that they suffer humiliation and embarrassment, especially when it’s caused by others’ actions. And despite intellectual knowing why others choose to humiliate strangers and good friends, my gut still asks why??

    1. D’Alta:

      Your responses are always so heartfelt. I don’t know why people set out to hurt or humiliate others, but it takes a special person to be able to get up and laugh at oneself after being so badly embarrassed. That’s why I love this series so much. People are willing to share their most awful experiences, but they do not stay stuck there. They turn around and stick their tongues out at their history, thumb their noses.

      We’ve all been there.

  18. I really was going to write about the cinnamon doughnuts
    I used to love…hot out of the grease
    an early morning treat at the restaurant where
    I waitressed…not served
    because we were waitresses and waiters then
    not servers

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