I was walking down Seventy-third Street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan when I saw myself come out of a brownstone on the opposite side of the street. Shocked by the sight of myself I froze, halting in mid-step. The version of me on the stoop was oblivious; he hadn’t seen me. He was wearing running clothes and sneakers and was performing various stretches. After a minute or so he started walking east, toward Central Park, and I—stunned but intrigued—followed at a discreet distance.
The sidewalk was filled with people coming home from work or heading out to dinner, walking their dogs or taking their children out for a ride in expensive strollers. Cars—taxis, mostly, headed west down the one-way street—obscured the view of myself heading toward the park. But then, through a gap in the traffic, I could see that the running outfit the other version of me was wearing was one that I owned: grey Adidas shorts with red striping, light blue T-shirt, black digital watch. Only the shoes, which were Nike and looked new, were something that I didn’t have back at my apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey. This made me think that this was truly, somehow, me that I was seeing (instead of someone who just looked an awful lot like me).
Toward the end of the block I watched as the other Jeff leaned over to read the menu of a restaurant—a place called Arte Café—before peeking into the window of a tanning salon. At the corner, as he waited to cross Columbus, I felt more exposed than I did on Seventy-third Street, so I hung back and pretended to window-shop at an expensive boutique. Next to me a homeless guy was retrieving bottles from a line of trash cans standing outside an apartment building. He was filling up two plastic bags; each contained a mixture of plastic and glass bottles. The glass ones, as they knocked into each other inside the bag, made music not unlike wind chimes. In the reflection of the window, I could see the Jeff dressed in running clothes stepping farther and farther away from the curb.
The light finally changed and I watched as the other me started to lightly jog across the street. I followed and then, halfway down the next block—feeling a bit bold—crossed the street from the north to the south side. I was then only about twenty or twenty-five feet behind him. Directly ahead of me seemed to be me. People passed us, but no one appeared to notice that there were two versions of the same person on the sidewalk (one wearing running gear while the other was dressed for the office wearing khaki chinos, blue-checked shirt, brown loafers, with a brown Jack Spade messenger bag slung over his chest). Or maybe people did notice but figured, Hey, this is New York. You can have as many versions of yourself as you want.
Ahead of me the other Jeff continued to stretch as he walked down the street, getting loose by twisting his neck around in hard circles and swinging his arms from side to side. I could tell that his hair was a bit shorter than mine but it was cut in the same style. From that angle I could see more clearly than ever my bald spot; receding in the front, I could now see that my hair was also disappearing from the back.
When I was in junior high and a science teacher was telling the class about the solar system and its various planets, he dispatched a fact about Venus that I’ve kept in my head ever since. He said that there was something about the planet’s structure or its atmosphere—the facts now escape me, but the image remains—and that if you were walking on the surface, because of the way that light was bent, you would be able to see yourself walking in front of you. That idea always intrigued me: the footsteps you followed in the sand were your own. That’s how I felt that early evening on Seventy-third Street as I was on my way to see my therapist. Except the version of myself that I could see walking in front of me was wearing different clothes, and seemed to be following his own path.
As I reached the corner of Seventy-third and Central Park West, the Jeff in running clothes caught the light and jogged across the street, heading south towards the entrance to the park. Glancing at my digital watch I noticed that it was, for some reason, flashing twelve o’clock. I pulled out my iPhone and saw that it was 7:06. My appointment with Dr. Schwartz was for 7:10. I was torn. I wanted to follow the other Jeff into the park although, given the running outfit, it was pretty clear what he was going to do. But while no one had noticed when we were both walking down Seventy-third, it would be a different story if I were running through Central Park in my work clothes just a few feet behind a person who looked exactly like me. Confronting the other Jeff also didn’t seem to be an option since I couldn’t be truly sure that it was indeed me. I didn’t want to risk being seen as a madman or getting punched by a stranger. Then I noticed that my hand holding the iPhone was shaking. Talking to my therapist seemed like the better idea. So instead of giving chase, I stood on the corner of Seventy-third Street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and watched as a different Jeff Gomez turned left and disappeared into Central Park.