My friend still hadn’t arrived, so I set up shop on the rainy corner of Chinatown, a few blocks from the Manhattan Bridge: my backpack leaned against the wall, my tote between my feet, I pulled out my glasses and the new hard-cover I’m devouring. My clothes were sweat-through and nearly dripping all over again when two college age young men cycled right up to me. They were cute and hip Anglo’s just as out-of-place as me, and the one with the great glasses began to ask me detailed questions—it took me a moment to realize he was asking me for directions!
“Wait a minute! You’re telling me I don’t look utterly disoriented and like a probable victim for tourist-mugging? I have no idea where I am! It’s not written all over me?”
The two guys looked at each other, then back at me in apparent admiration. The one with the curls spoke next, “No—no, not at all. You look exactly like you own this block.”
We’re suddenly co-conspirators, guards let down as we realized we are equally clueless in a city and neighborhood where cluelessness could be dangerous. “Tell me, so I can know: it’s the skirt, isn’t it?”
“No,” said the curly-haired one, “it’s the book. But then, it’s everything. You look quite comfortable.”
“Definitely the book,” the first one laughed. He whispered, in a congratulatory tone “You project complete confidence.”
“It’s whistling in the dark, you know, false courage when you’ve run out of options.”
“It works. A wall of courage. Your ride comin’ soon?”
“Anytime. He’s within a few blocks.” I shook my head and continued reading as they cycled off into the night.