The Vampire on 42nd Street
by Mark Goldblatt


"Eternal damnation... It's a natural concern."

...he had on sunscreen.

The vampire I met on 42nd Street looked forlorn. His long black cape was tattered, and the widow's peak of his hairline was lost in a tangle of wind-blown curls. His skin looked pasty -- which I attributed to the time of day, mid-afternoon. I asked whether it was a good idea for him to be outside -- daylight being doom to vampires. But he said he'd be okay because he had on sunscreen. Still, he didn't seem well. "Why so blue?" I asked him.

"Don't get me started," he replied. But I knew, from the tone of his voice, I already had. He took my hand and led me to Bryant Park, where the two of us sat down on a bench. I was a bit self-conscious at first -- not that there's anything wrong with the living and the undead sitting together in a public park. But the metaphysics of the situation, the spiritual peril, made me edgy. He sensed the waver in my glance and clasped me on the shoulder. "It's worrying you, isn't it?"




"Eternal damnation," he replied. "It's a natural concern."

"Well, I do kind of have my heart set on an afterlife."

"Then I'm your man," he declared. "Don't worry, I'm not here to preach. I simply want to point out that a vampire can be a gospel unto himself. It's a question of interpretation, you know? The spin is what matters."

"I don't follow."

...if you think it's tough to hail a cab on Broadway...

"Think about it," he said. "Is damnation the worst fate imaginable?"

"It's right up there."

"Granted, it's bad. The fires of hell. The devil's maw. And if you think it's tough to hail a cab on Broadway, you should try the steps of Pandemonium. But at least it's something. The real nightmare is nothing. That's what people fear in their heart of hearts. Not hell but the void. So you see? The sight of a vampire, properly understood, is an affirmation. That's the difference between us and . . . " He glanced again at the sky.

"The Opposition?"

"That's a good word for them. Yes, I like that. The Opposition works their entire sales pitch around faith. But what's faith? Where's the percentage? What we offer is proof."

"Yes, but there's also the bloodsucking," I said.


The remark caused him to hiss loudly, and he cast a long plaintive look at the sky. But a moment later, he collected himself. "That's so judgmental. Do I denigrate your heritage? What's acceptable in one culture isn't in another. It's no reason to cast aspersions. Have we learned nothing from Levi-Strauss?"

I began to inch away from him on the bench.

"Look," he said, in a conciliatory tone, "the blood thing is a real issue. No one denies that. Don't you think we're aware of public relations? It's not like we don't try to improve our image. We form support groups. I, myself, am in a twelve-step program."

This calmed me somewhat, and I leaned back again.

"The sameness..."

"The trouble is, I like blood," he continued. "I don't need it, but I like it. For centuries, I thought I needed it, but I've learned that the first step in recovery is to admit you have a choice."

"You have to take that hard look in the mirror," I offered, and then realized too late my faux pas. "What I mean is --"

He waved off the explanation. "You get accustomed to it. You get accustomed to everything. That's the whole problem, if you must know. I've been on the planet for so long -- truthfully, I don't even know how long it's been. Millennia. There are no experiences left. No emotions I haven't had. Elation. Misery. Wonder. Revulsion. And now boredom. For generations now, boredom. Even the nuances are exhausted; I'm no more bored today than yesterday, no less bored than tomorrow. The sameness is what gets to you. . . . Oh, excuse me, is that a piece of lint on your shoulder?"


He leaned forward as if to brush it off, and I jumped up as he was about to bare his fangs. He drew back at once, full of remorse, but an instant later he gave up the pretense and smiled.

"What can I say?" the vampire sighed. "I'm comfortable with who I am."

As I trotted out of the park towards Sixth Avenue, I sensed that he was.


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