Scenes from New York: A Few Thoughts at 33rd and 8th

There is a crush of humanity here. It’s humbling. Faces pour by in sheets, an artist’s pallet of brown, beige, pale flesh, pink. Phrases cut the air, foreign languages; English, Spanish, French, German, Franco-African, Chinese, Japanese, all the tongues. How many are there? Why are they here? There are so many of us, we could be stomped dead, the weight of a galactic child attacking an ant hill at this intersection, and who 1,000 years from now would know what happened? Would it make a blip on the universal radar?

This area is buried in the buzz, that murmur of all those languages and voices, and the car horns and decompression of the bus breaks, the street music, rising to an insect-like hum. That buzz is noxious. To be a voice above the fray here is a challenge. The spoils of breaking through that barrier drive Americans to insanity. To be a Derek Jeter. To be Scorsese. An Anna Wintour. A Trump. A True King of New York. The ego horsepower used to rise above the buzz could run the Mid-Atlantic electric grid.

Its why fashion is so important here. You’ll never see these people again, so you have to let them catch a bit of your soul in a 10 second to 10 minute window (depending if your on the 4, 5, 6 train). So you have the tailored suit cut to fit your chest, pulled taunt at the crotch. From that tree in the Brooklyn backyard, you pick a pancaked-sized three pronged leaf and don it to your thick curls, riding the subway without a hint of self-consciousness despite vegetation crowning your head. It matters more here, the hipster jeans and fedoras, the ankle length fur coats and pocketbook dogs, the Eurotrash high-and-tight haircut and the fitted Yankee cap still glittering with the MLB Authentic sticker across the brim. How else do you sing?

Well, you can sing like the young man panhandling on the northbound Green Line. A short framed man, he blended in at first, wearing a simple sand-colored button down shirt and wool hat which he used to collect donations. There was schizophrenia hovering about him, or at least a slight heroin glow. I couldn’t tell, both produce a similar haunted, hungry gaze.

He introduced himself as a opera student trying to stay out of homeless shelters and make his way in New York.

“Thank you for your attention,” he said. “This is Tchaikovsky.”

A soft tenor tone emerged from the panhandler’s lilt frame, the notes trembling off the seats and aluminum fittings in the car. His voice didn’t cut quite like a premier Met tenor, but it did echo with deep-seated masculinity, tickling the brain with bits of deja vu, a long since forgotten emotion bubbling up in the stomach. Most of the subway riders I’m sure hadn’t heard the auria before, but they understood its physical ramifications.

Minutes passed, and he wrapped up his song as the train pulled into the 77th Street station. No one paid much attention to him, except for a pair of Puerto Rican girls who kept a hardened gaze on him from their bench seat. They weren’t going to give him money, and neither did I, though an Indian student a few seats down popped a dollar in his hat. When the train stopped, he slipped out the sliding door, into the crowds, disappearing into the buzz.


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