There’s an attitude to summertime loitering that takes a certain knack. Call it, “the art of the stoop.” I like slouching—I’m excellent at slouching—or leaning, or lounging. And until the climate changes, there’s no question of sitting like a lady—no prim attempts at perching, knees together, ankles crossed. No, those are autumn postures.
I have finally mastered the art of the stoop. It took two months, but I’ve finally nailed it. Before, I was always looking for the straightest line on the grid between A and B, office and gym, restaurant and apartment. But now I can occupy a stoop with confidence, even panache, like it’s a throne to which I’ve recently ascended.
New York is sweltering these days, and the sidewalk is near unendurable during the sunlit hours. At night, though, the mercury dips grudgingly and if you sit very still you’ll barely perspire at all. The stoop is the perfect limbo to rest in on your way home from one of the city’s watering holes, when you don’t want another drink but neither do you want to sober up. The bar is too crowded, and the apartment is too quiet, and you’re not ready to consider flossing or remember your iron supplement or admit that the latest pair of knickers tossed onto your laundry pile is the proverbial straw upon the camel’s back. You need to mellow in your buzz. And so, to the stoop.
Sometimes I have a prop: a hat, or a cup of frozen yogurt, or a glowing iPhone. But often I just rest my elbows on the step behind me and listen to some music, something that belies my outward repose: maybe Girl Talk’s Unstoppable album or dubstep or any kind of borderline-atonal musical seizure. Such is my attitude in the world these days: outward composure, inward cacophony.
Loitering on my stoop I get attention from everyone who walks by: couples holding hands bashfully on first dates. Men in pastel polo shirts walking tiny dogs, stony expressions, pointedly ignoring me. A group of seven bros out for a night of it, each of whom aggressively eyes me as they walk by; I smirk back with a hint of eyebrow, and mentally posit, “Oh, yeah, what’s up boys?” but they stalk past, shoulders squared, spines self-conscious, and I smile behind them and think, “Uh-huh, that’s what I thought.” A black girl with a nose ring walking by with her girlfriend asks me a question; I take out my earbud and blink, and she asks again, “Excuse me, pardon me, but what is the word for a female gigolo?” I think for a second and reply, “Well, that would just be a regular prostitute, no?” and she looks triumphantly at her girlfriend and says, “That’s right.” And the girlfriend laughs hugely and they walk on, with a smile and a wink for my trouble, and I nod and wave and put my earbud back in. A few minutes later an Indian-looking youth walks by and reaches out for a palm slap, which I give him. Everyone loves a girl in a party dress illin on a stoop.
Occasionally I’ve sat on a stoop with someone, sharing furtive cans of beer and a passed cigarette. But stoops aren’t meant to be shared, at least, not the way I sit on them. Limbo is not a comfortable place to be with other people; you should either be upstairs, or out with the other strangers, trying to settle your terms in a more conventional, well-lit setting. I prefer to stoop alone.
It’s always hard to decide to end the night and get up from the steps, to feel fatigue begin to outweigh the buzz, and know I’ll have to stand up and shoulder my bag and rejoin the traffic of hand-holders and dog walkers and smokers, the people with places to be and people to see, New Yorkers with commitments and responsibilities that preclude loitering on baking night-lit side streets. But for now the stoop feels good to me; a few inches of perspective on New York’s towering lights. I can see a lot of things from here. And I can rest, before I head for home.
A.C. DeLashmutt is a Virginian living in New York. Her writing has appeared in McSweeney's, The Washington Post, theNewerYork, Flash magazine, and elsewhere. She also writes plays. Follow her on Twitter @acdelashmutt.