Was walking up First Avenue and I saw another one. Fourth one is as many weeks. This one was especially flamboyant, though. I started and stared. He must have seen my look of combined amusement and disgust, for he too stopped short and called out.
“You got a problem?”
“Nope. You do, though.” Yes, a cliché. But clichés become clichés for good reasons.
“You got a problem with the way I look?”
“Yep. You look like an idiot.”
“How dare you! How dare you judge me!”
“Don’t you judge me for judging you. That’s judgmental. If you don’t wanna know, don’t ask me, buddy.”
“My name’s not ‘Buddy’! I demand you call me by my proper name!”
I knew what it was, but I had time to kill. And, the Lord help me, I couldn’t resist needling him a bit. I know it’s a sin, but I didn’t start this. “What’s your real name, then?”
“No it isn’t.”
“Yes it is! I had it legally changed. I demand you call me Napoleon. My pronouns are ‘your’ or ‘his majesty’.”
“So you had it changed. You’re still not Napoleon.”
“I am too! I am Napoleon! And you’re a bigot!”
“You’re Napoleon, eh. Then let’s see you invade Russia.” Before he could blow up again, I changed tack. “Where’d you get that hat?” He was wearing it athwartships in the classic fashion. “Must be Hell to get it through doorways.”
“What do you care. It’s from a website that caters to Napoleonics, if it’s any of your business. Not everybody is a bigot like you.”
“I hear a lot of you are drugging up. You on those hormones?” I recalled a bus stand ad for some clinic down in the Village.
“It’s not drugging up, as you so condescendingly say. They’re necessary corrective medications to reduce height so that I better resemble who I really am. My insurance covers it.”
“Of course. I used to be over six feet! Now I am only five-eleven.”
I couldn’t recall how tall Napoleon was. I know they say his shortness is exaggerated, but it was anything close to six feet. “Got a ways to go. Drugs can shrink you that much?”
“No,” he admitted. He had calmed down some. He must have figured I wasn’t going to cause him any harm. “No, drugs can only do part of it. I’m also considering surgery. But not until my hormone treatments are finished.”
“Shin reduction surgery. You must have heard of it.”
I hadn’t. I live a sheltered life. “That hand seems well stuck, though.”
“They attached it permanently to my stomach. Now whatever I wear, my one hand goes through my jacket.”
“How do you get that big coat off? The buttons must be impossible to work with just one hand.”
“Little flaps. And velcro.”
Seamstressing and surgery technologies were better than I thought. “How’d you ever get the idea you’re Napoleon?”
“Of course I’m Napoleon! I’ve always known I was Napoleon. Well, I didn’t always know. When I was a boy I knew I was somebody important. I knew the status of commoner I was assigned at birth couldn’t be right. I wondered why other people couldn’t see what I could about my importance. I first thought I might be Teddy Roosevelt, but one day one of my co-workers said ‘Well aren’t you a little princess’ and at that moment I knew.”
“Knew you were Napoleon?
“Almost. It wasn’t until I went online and discovered the Napoleonic community that I was completely certain.”
“I’ve heard of it.” And how. I’d seen the pictures on Twitter. Men, and not a few women, larping around, prancing about in preposterous costumes, telling everybody they were the Emperor of all France.
“Not only have they helped me. But we’re very influential.”
“We’re getting the laws changed everywhere. We’ve come so far! We used to be locked away in sanitariums by a medical establishment that did not understand our lived experience. Now we can’t be discriminated against. Not by you and not by employers. Or in housing. If you don’t use our pronouns you can be fired. The city is going to impose fines.”
“What do you say to people like me who say people like you will always be men; simple, common men, and that no amount of body mutilation or foreign chemicals will make you into what you can never be? That you are not Napoleon?”
Now I could see he was growing hotter and hotter as my question went on. Tears were forming.
“I say this!”
He struck out, using his one hand. Hit my shoulder. He’d been so weakened with cutting and drugging himself up that I’m still not sure it even happened.
He was weeping dramatically as he charged off and up the steps of the Library. Even with the time wasted with me, he was still early for Story Hour.