Stories from 1960s New York: Police chase naked man down 8th Avenue
This story starts in Brooklyn, but it finishes in Greenwich Village, which is almost Brooklyn.
Hang on, this is a hum-dinger.
I was on my way to a Volvo dealer in Manhattan who owed me $25 from a refundable deposit on a car I didn’t buy. I had plenty of time, so having alighted from the train, I popped into a candy cum tourist shop. It had a wall full of buttons all with sayings designed to say, “I was a goofball tourist in New York City.” I wasn’t, but what the heck, I wanted one.
Perusing them all, I chose #125. I’m too embarrassed to tell you what it said. The man behind the counter looked at me but didn’t seem to see me. It was an odd feeling, like one of us wasn’t there. Finally, I said, “Uh, excuse me, I’d like button #125.”
He turned mechanically, walked to a different wall full of boxes and quickly found it. Back he came to the counter and looked right through me again. The button cost a quarter. Fifteen cents was on the counter, which he picked up and said, “Thank you” to me. I thought I’d take a crack at honesty and thrust thirty cents toward him, the extra money for a candy I also just had to have. He then turned to the register, gave me change for a dollar, and thanked me once again. I started to question him but, although standing there, he was gone again. In a second, so was I.
At the Volvo dealership I failed to get my money and bought a different car, but that’s not this story. I decided to go see a cousin who was a doctor in the city. For that I needed the 8th Avenue bus. It wasn’t too long before it waddled up to the stop and I got on.
It wasn’t too much longer that it was stuck in traffic. Trying to pull away from the curb, it ended up stuck at a 45-degree angle. It looked like a beached whale. While frustrated at going nowhere, I quickly noticed that I had an amazing view down the avenue. Being a crowd watcher, I watched. My amazing view brought me an amazing sight. It was a naked man.
Loping through the crowd like an Olympic marathoner was this naked man, about 28 years old. He had nothing on at all — no socks, no bracelet, no nothing, just skin. One got the feeling that he might have gotten out of the bathtub, walked through the wrong door, and was now searching for the right one. That was speculation.
There was no speculating, however, about his nudity. He was a beautiful man, about 5 feet 8 inches tall, broad shoulders, muscled torso, slim waist. He had wavy long hair. As a matter of fact, he looked like Michelangelo’s David.
Trying to keep pace alongside of him was a patrol car, bubblegum red light blinking. The man reached the corner and was right next to the bus. The traffic light was red and among the crowd waiting to cross the street was a pretty, thin, blonde girl in her twenties. The naked man reached behind her, grabbed her by the chin, twisted her around and began kissing her. They fell to the pavement as she struggled. The two policemen, a very fat sergeant, and a thin, wiry patrolman, lunged from the car and grabbed at the naked body.
Four bodies rolled around. It was like watching a washing machine with bodies in it. Every so often the fat sergeant managed to smack the naked man in the head with a billy club. Was I watching one of those 42nd Street slot machine movies? At any moment I expected the bus window to black out and to have to hurriedly dig into my pocket for another quarter.
Suddenly, out of the washing machine popped the naked body. Off he rambled, still unhurried, unbowed but bloody. Until then the crowd was frozen. Then the man took off; the two policemen and the crowd galvanized into action. The portly sergeant gave chase for about thirty yards, turned purple, and gave up. A Black Panther and a hippie helped the young woman into the police car. She was stupefied. Suddenly, the whole scene, viewed now from the rear window of the bus, looked like the end of a Mack Sennett comedy or a Looney Tunes cartoon. Disappearing down 8th Avenue was a naked rear end that was followed by a blue uniform. Behind that was a crowd of no less than 85 people, splayed out in a large “V” form, all chasing this man.
Then it was over. The wiry policeman caught and subdued the man and at that moment the traffic broke, allowing my whale to unbeach itself and begin to move. The Village had once again proved it was the odd ball’s billiard table.
Meanwhile the people on the bus were in a buzz. Some proclaimed the man was sick. Some proclaimed the city was sick. Some said the world was at fault. Not unusual for New York, it was a little old Jewish man who summed it all up. He said to no one in particular, “Nu? Fun City.”
Columnist and author Bill Gralnick was born and raised in Brooklyn. His latest book, titled “The War of the Itchy Balls and Other Tales from Brooklyn,” offers more memories. His writings can be found at https://www.williamgralnickauthor.com/.
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