by Kate Faigen
Today in Central Park I clocked the fourteenth weirdest thing I’d seen all day, which is no small title. A man rolled his eyes so hard that they got stuck. Right up there toward the sky like a rocket frozen in launch.
I thought, what a story this would make! I had to follow the man, to know what it was that caused the single greatest eye-roll of our generation. The story was my fire, my fuel. “Sir, excuse me,” I called after him like a journalist on a mission. “Can I get a word?”
Mind you, the man had just suffered an undocumented physical oddity, so naturally, he started running in circles, beheaded-chicken style. “Sir,” I tried to calm him. “Look here, sir.” The man grunted like Frankenstein’s newly born monster, thrashing me away.
I took his arm and steered him toward a tree. “Let’s talk,” I offered. “Let’s take a breath and talk.” For a moment he stood still; I imagined him experiencing some sort of spiritual awakening—with the sky being the only thing in his sightline and all. No chaos or craziness of the park, just an infinite body of baby blue ahead.
But the man took off. He tripped then crawled then got up then tumbled then crab-walked toward anything it seemed, furiously toward another human or a damn time machine to get his natural eyeball position back. “Let me help,” I walked after him. Finally he loosened in my grip.
“Tell me, sir,” I said gently, as if consoling a lost toddler. “Start from the beginning. What made you roll your eyes so hard?” The man turned toward the sound of my voice, the whites of his—well, you know—pulsing with fear. “Stuck,” he gurgled. “Unstuck.”
I realized that any pertinent information toward my budding story was going to be hard to extract. I figured a little wind and disorder might give him some clarity, so I prompted him to do as us New Yorkers do: walk, fast. Arm in arm, we hobbled through the jungle together.
Passersby thought we were a street act when we stopped for help. (Surely there would be a medical professional among us, or at least a magician?) “Stuck,” the man gurgled harder. “Unstuck.” Kind people handed him dollar bills, coins; some putting them in my hands as if I was his caretaker.
But the human interactions were brief. Folks went on their way after witnessing Mr. Slot Machine Eyes, because in reality, he must’ve merely been the twentieth weirdest thing they’d seen all day. Our steps got shorter, slower. I wondered if the man was accepting his situation—wondered if he would utter more than the same two words to me, the future writer of his story.
Suddenly a smell awakened something in the man. He sniffed like a cartoon dog, mesmerized by its strength. He staggered toward it, his senses taking over for his limited eyesight. When we reached the source of the smell, a hole-in-the-wall hoagie shop called Tommy’s, I got a second wind myself. I figured this place could be the catalyst for a real conversation between the man and me. “Inside!” I shouted, like I was rounding up a troop. “Let’s go!”
Behind the counter, employees in bright orange T-shirts were slicing meats and toasting rolls and working at breakneck speed to assemble the fattest hoagies I’d ever seen. From the corner, a stocky fellow in a ball cap and sauce-stained apron—Tommy himself—looked into the man’s eyes. His own widened like salami slices. He stepped over to us, placed his mitt-like hands on the man’s shoulders.
“Stuck,” the man whispered, his lip quivering. “Unstuck.”
With Tommy’s signal, like they had been drilled for this exact emergency, the employees rushed over to our huddle and got to work. With hoagies in hand—tuna, turkey, Italian—they sturdied the man and whacked him on the sides of his head like a piñata.
Mustard and mayo flew everywhere. Onions and spices whipped about in the small shop, as patrons cheered not with amusement, but with hope and good will. “It’s not working,” Tommy said calmly. “Someone make the mother lode.”
Without hesitation, an employee leapt behind the counter to concoct their signature sandwich: For The Love Of All That Is Hoagie. A triple-decker masterpiece of the juiciest chicken cutlets in the city. The employee brought it over to the crowd like it was the antidote to evil.
Tommy gripped the hoagie like a baseball bat and took his swing. And then it happened. The man’s eyeballs settled straight. For a moment, all sound went out—and then a thunderous applause. Strangers hugged each other as if they were loved ones. The employees put their heads in their hands, smearing their cheeks and hair with grease.
I looked at the man, all six frightened feet of him. I took a labored breath. Braced myself. “What do you see?” I managed. The man gazed at the mess, the wreckage, the employees who were dripping in disassembled hoagie parts as he was.
“I see the most beautiful people in the world.”
Kate Faigen works as a copywriter in Los Angeles. Her stories have appeared in Los Angeles Review, Maudlin House, Ghost Parachute, and more.
(Hoagie photo at “Top of the Pop” c/o 22nd & Philly.)