The streetlights on my block are ancient, relics of a bygone naphtha era. Electrified so many years ago, the community chose to preserve the cast-iron lamps that lamplighters lit with fiery poles, and their accompanying property values. They cast a diffuse orange light on the asphalt, oscillating dark and bright, Daniel Craig shining the flashlight at Stephen Rea’s back, I caught you. It is late; though the bars on Westcott one block west are trying desperately to convince the last stragglers to leave the patios, there is nobody on Allen as I walk north. The high, gusty winds of the afternoon (severe, in fact, as more than one sign on the QEW alerted) have all but subsided. The day before the same storm system had produced a tornado that flattened a town outside Chicago, killing two; by the time it reached Buffalo it had little anger left, and now it seemed to have nothing but a nightcap for us here.
In Manhattan or Brooklyn I never felt scared when alone on the streets after dark, not even on the dark part of Morgan; like the old factoid that you’re never more than six feet from a spider, it’s usually true that someone around you is awake, that someone would hear you if you wanted them to, that even if someone on the street looked menacing someone else would not. I am told I walk fast, but I don’t know if this comes from my life in Brooklyn or Syracuse.
About halfway between Harvard and Genesee, a stern meowing breaks the silence and my head pivots to its ten o’clock. In the middle of the street at the convergence of two light-shadows, as if in a spotlight, two well-fed tomcats are sitting on their haunches, facing each other. They are not yowling or fighting or even pacing around each other, like Simba and Scar; motionless, one appears to be lecturing the other. He gives a long, slow, deliberate mewl, there is a silence, and then another, with different inflection; not like a song as much as a sentence.
As I get closer, he stops. The two of them turn to stare at me. When I pass, the professor wordlessly rises, and alone he walks, not runs, to the other side of the street and disappears into some bushes. The student waits ten seconds or so before following. The night is as black as before.
Continuing north, a tall, black figure with wild hair appears at the end of the block and approaches me. “What’s up, man,” it says, offering a belly-height closed fist. I return the salute and together the two of us walk down the hill.