It is 3 AM on a rainy night and I’m walking down the deserted, darker stretch of 42nd between 6th and 7th avenues. The wet pavement reflects the neon lights from the two porn stores still open. As I approach one of these, I see a man exiting while clutching to his chest a paper bag filled with photos of female flesh. I immediately detect something odd about his gate. It isn’t the usual overly-casual yet dartingly-furtive walk of men as they enter and exit dirty bookstores and movies. No. This man’s body seems permanently shaped into a posture of “shying away” as if he is flinching before a punch is thrown.
As I get closer to him, I see that he is wearing a plastic medical mask in a pitifully unsuccessful attempt to conceal that he has no face. The mask is the color of Pepto Bismol to suggest flesh tone with features crudely painted on. The lips are much too large and much too red. The eyebrows are even worse. I follow him at a distance and note the practiced, heartbreaking way he avoids the gaze of passing strangers and finds shadows and darkened doorways by which to pick his way down the street and home.