Friday, August 8, 2008

Ode: Intimations of Awesomeness

Living in a city I see some pretty amazing things on a day-to-day basis. I'm sure you do too - its endemic to a place so full of people that you will be constantly experiencing wonderful outbursts of wonderful human expression - but after a while it just becomes so much that you kind of become inured to the whole magic of it and when a group of 14-year-old break dancers on the F find their first performance quashed by a rush hour crowd you forget how exact and poignant of a moment this is and end up getting annoyed. What I'm trying to do here is take a step back and take a smaller view, to not get irritated when I'm in a rush and get held up getting down to the subway because some guy with a shopping cart is selling pinwheels at the bottom of the stairway. Because if you really think about it, being late to work is probably worth the experience.
And of course, I don't want to forget about this stuff. I want to remember sitting next to some girl on the subway bragging about being punched in the face by her thug boyfriend and feeling the air thicken with the collective disapproval of an entire subway car. Or seeing a serene looking Asian guy wearing a store-bought t-shirt that says "Hate Rock" in swirly yellow letters. This is the kind of stuff I want to keep tucked in my head forever. Also I don't think I have enough blogs.

The main impetus comes from this: about a month ago I'm sitting on a bench in the Delancey Street station, nursing an inevitable hangover and the realization that I've just played a dozen games of flip-cup with some bizarre quasi-athletic events league, where people wear matching t-shirts and apparently reminisce about the great times they had in college playing drinking games and reminiscing about being in high school, when something AMAZING happens. By some blessed convergence four hispanic youths decide to save my night by recreating West Side Story for a new generation.

This may sound like the typical story of wild kids making a pointless scene on a subway platform while everyone tries to ignore the whole situation by staring intensely into their folded New York Times and copies of the Kite Runner but it isn't. This is no less than an apocalpytic dance explosion wherin a gang of rowdy teens enter the station like their lives are a perpetual Michael Jackson video (probably Beat It in this case) and proceed to realize the dreams of every immigrant who has ever landed in this country. These guys appear out of nowhere; they are loud and energetic and fully intent on getting everyone's attention, which in most cases is annoying but here has magical results - judging by the size of their swagger they have just come from the world championships of walking around like you own the place.

To start, one of them clear LEAPS over a garbage can. How? I don't know, kid has ups. The rest of the gang immediately bursts into a chorus of OHHHHHs and its clear that these are the guys who hang outside of the bodega drinking those little jug juices, eating Cheetos and hitting on your little sister and you let it continue just because you're amazed by the suicidal tenacity of their game. On their own a group of guys like this would be nestled somewhere between mildly irritating and slightly amusing, but seeing as this is America they are soon met with competition, and this is where things get really beautiful. Across the platform a group of five or six black girls take issue with these guys presumed supremacy of the station and just start dancing. So there's no music? They make their own. They are beatboxing and swinging their arms around and basically matching these guys intensity step for step with a furious stampede of feet.

Of course these boys will not be outdone. They band together and are pulling coordinated moves and using the benches and beams as props and there's this spirit of friendly rivalry and it's great. They are taunting each other and laughing and behaving with that total sense of guileless, bold-faced flirting disguised as some boys versus girls contest and it would make you wish you were a kid again if that wasn't already some embarrassingly hackneyed notion. It feels like being at your friend's family reunion and the food is amazing and there's this beautiful sunset and then you find out their little cousins have memorized the words and dance steps to "My Girl" and they put on a show for everyone.

I'd like to go on describing this contest and the things these kids did and how it ended with one girl asking one of the guys "Yo, what's your name?" but at some point the whole thing became too epic to fully digest and I would end up either exaggerating or leaving out the small details that really matter.

Since I've digressed enough I'll wrap things up here. I remember hearing a story about Haruki Murakami and about he decided to become a writer after seeing a really well-hit double at a baseball game, just how the small, perfect beauty of this thing was enough to make him realize that he needed to tell stories and share this kind of feeling with other people. I felt the same way, especially because even this amazing burst of vivacious expression wasn't enough to stop the Bowery crowd from toying with their IPhones and somehow continuing their conversations about free-range eggs versus oganic or whatever. I, however, have faith that the world is full of people who can appreciate these moments where tiny fragments drip down to earth in the form of people doing completely inexplicable things, so I started this to keep these moments from slipping through the cracks. I will try to update as often as I see this kind of craziness and considering that I just witnessed a turf war between two ice cream trucks (more on this later) this shouldn't be a problem.

Some other recent sights that have inspired me:

Batman Boy: Batman Boy is just like a regular boy except a crippling sadness has piled itself so heavy on his back that he is walking like Charlie Brown after whatever it is that he always screws up. Also he is dressed as Batman. I saw this kid on Van Brunt street in Red Hook a few weeks ago. He was holding his mother's hand and wearing a denim jacket over his costume and I kind of wanted to crash my car just out of the hope that it might make him laugh. His sadness was some deep pool of grief that I cannot begin to comprehend although I imagine it may have something to do with an ice cream cone and a storm drain or a cancelled birthday party.

Earth Angel: This guy holds a sign that says Earth Angel and has what may be the worst hair on earth. Seriously, this hair could inspire a docotoral thesis with twenty-five pages of end notes but let me try to sum it up in two sentences. It begins like a pompadour, this wild mass of thick black hair, but while pompadours mercifully end at some point this thing just bursts backward from his forehead a couple of inches and then descends to his mid-back like a waterfall flowing with barber-shop floor residue. It may be a wig but if it is he must have made it himself.

Anyway, I don't know if he is searching for Earth Angel or is the Earth Angel himself but he holds the sign like he's waiting for someone at the airport. I saw him again outside my office recently and he was holding an orange sign with three crosses and some writing that I could not read, kind of tenatively lifting it above his head every so often like he lacked the confidence to really be totally crazy. This man is a mystery that I would rather not solve.

Gays : Waiting for the F train at 34th street on Memorial Day I saw two fagged-out black dudes with the deepest, lispiest voices I have ever heard. They sounded like Paul Robeson working at a shoppe in Chelsea that sells antique playbills from '50s musicals. This alone was enough to get me giggling to myself but then God smiled upon me and put a giant rat on the platform nearby, which caused these two to flee up the stairs screaming at the top of their lungs. I slept the whole train ride home with the feeling that everything was right with the world.

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