24 February, 2012

A Baboon in New York, 2.2: A Baboon on Wall Street (Cont.)

"The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see. " - G.K. Chesterton

"The observer is a prince enjoying his incognito wherever he goes." - Charles Baudelaire

After three or four days in one place, I start to get itchy. I've noticed this since I started this trip; I intend to visit my friends and family for a week, and after 3 days I'm starting to think I need to get my shit together and go. This urge has nothing to do with being tired of the place I am; and it certainly has nothing to do with the gracious company of my hosts.

And I'm not all that surprised about the return of the itch; I've had it as long as I can remember. What surprises me is that it's kicked into hyper drive. What used to take at least a month is taking a few days.

I'm not entirely sure what it means. It may not mean anything. It may mean I'll have to do this forever. Or until the bones in my feet and ankles disintegrate into dust.

This thought isn't nearly as disturbing as it maybe ought to be.

Another thing I'm noticing is how easily I slip into that ethereal social class that has been given so many names, almost all of them derogatory, full of judgement, fear, and derision.

Because a lot of times, when people refer to other human beings as bums, it's a rooted in fear. Fear of The Other. Fear of The Truth... that Truth being that most of us are closer to being without a home and without a job than anyone wants to admit. And, yes, there are those who feel no need to help their fellow human beings, feel no responsibility to help the least of us -- and I won't get started on them here.

Since leaving Ashland, I've been called out at least once in each city by other travelers -- you may call them bums, you may call them homeless -- at this point, I prefer to think of myself as something of a conscientious malingerer -- which is to say,I'm a traveler, an observer of the human condition. A a techno-hobo. A bum.  Lately I've been lucky enough to visit friends. But I'm also aware that I can only crash on people's couches for so long before my itch to get away and their need to not have their routines permanently disturbed will get in the way of any good visit. And I also realize that I am more fortunate than many in similar states of living and most who could consider themselves better off. The universe has not seen fit to give me a temperament that would allow me to make tons of money or to be the family man my father was; but I am absolutely wealthy in regards to friends. And I hope that I'm able to return the favor, in some fashion to each and every one of them.

I wrote briefly about the first time this happened in Norfolk (Nor'fuk) -- still Number 1 in my list of Most Inhospitable and Wretched Places (which also includes the whole state of Alabama, a Denny's Restaurant in Lexington, Kentucky, and every Gym and Health & Wellness Center on the Planet. So you know, I take this list very seriously.) It happened to me again in the Washington D.C. Greyhound Bus Station. That time, I was again approached by someone trying to ask for money. The man, who was black and was probably around my age, stopped short and started talking about how he knew we were alike -- called us brothers. First he talked about how cold it was outside. Then he said something like this.

"I know," he said. "I know you and me, we're alike. You know... you're like me. You... uh... travel around. Yeah. The blue eyes," he said. "The blue eyes, they don't lie."

He then stood up to approach someone else who might actually have money; but before he left, he shook my hand.

When I was down in Lower Manhattan with my friend and very kind host, Susan, I was approached yet again. The subway ride from Queens to the World Trade Center took about an hour, and it was early afternoon by the time we got there. Susan took to the place where she participated in an Occupy Meditation Circle. It was this circular space created with the bricks and some cement benches to surround a tree that, when it was planted, was meant to be a memorial for the victims of the 9/11 WTC attacks. She explained that during the first Occupation of Zuccotti Park, there had been an altar of sorts.

Altar in Zuccotti Park
From Flickr, by Michael J. Nolan. The altar was  also cleared  along with the rest of the encampment by NYC Cops in the dead of night. I knew Dorm RA's in college like that. They'd "test" the fire alarm at 6 in morning to catch girls in the shower. Classy.

Being there... at Zuccotti Park, in the shadow of the World Trade Center Site, close enough to Wall Street to make the city barricade it like something truly important goes on there ... gave me reason to pause. When I first heard about Occupy Wall Street, my initial impression was skepticism. But as I watched, and as I learned more about it through the eyes of my friend Susan, I wanted to leave Mount Carroll and see it for myself'. That didn't happen, for a variety of reasons. Sitting there, in what was for Susan still sacred -- though changed -- space, I tried to come to terms with the fact that it's entirely possible that I missed out on the beginning of something that could come to have more significance once Spring arrives. And in some ways, even though the space was "clean" -- the only remaining evidence there was a couple of guys at the other end of the plaza -- one flashing a homemade Pro-Union sign and the other -- according to the words written in white marker on the black sheet he used as a cape -- was a "OWS Black Knight Til Death."  They were both engaging people in an apparently polite way, since no one -- including the jackbooted private security guard -- did anything against them.

The wind was on the chilly side. Even though it was in the mid-50's, skyscrapers and city streets make great wind tunnels; so it felt a bit cooler than the actual temperature. I had also forgotten to eat something. I also didn't have any cash on me; but I asked Susan if she could spot me for a hot dog or something, which she graciously did.

Based on recommendations -- or exhortations, depending on your point of view -- from friends, I was looking for both  a Nathan's Hot Dog Stand or a Sabrett Hot Dog Stand. But there weren't any, that I could see. The nearest vendor was a Halal guy, selling everything from kabobs to chili dogs to hot sausages. I ordered a hot sausage and a bottle of water, and Susan got one of those giant salted pretzels -- it was the only vegetarian food he had.

While we were standing there, a man approached me. (I wrote a short poem about him.) He asked if I could  "buy a brother a hot dog." I turned to face him. He was a bit older than me. His skin was dry from exposure; I could tell from the grayness of his skin.( Sometimes, when Blacks have dry skin, their skin tone goes a little gray.) I told him, quite honestly, that I didn't have any cash and that I was, in fact, bumming off of someone else. He laughed and said it was okay. We shook hands and chatted for a bit. He told me he'd just come in from the South; didn't say how far south, but I could tell from his drawl that maybe he was North Carolina... not that he had just come from there necessarily. He looked around and up at the buildings. Then he laughed and smiled and said,

"I like it here."

"You do?" I asked. I figured it was at least warmer down south; but I've also learned that there are things that are more important than the weather. Just because it's warm doesn't mean you want to sleep out in it. "You be sure to stay warm," I told him.

Then I turned because the vendor was handing my lunch. I looked down at it and thought about sharing it the guy; after all, who knew when the last time he ate was, or when he'd eat again.

But when I turned around again, he was gone.

Susan and I talked about the interaction later, after she had read the poem. She said she was getting ready to buy him a hot dog when he disappeared. And seriously, it was like he evaporated. He's been on my mind ever since. And I hope he's okay and that the city's being kind to him. I wish I had been able to be a little kinder, or that he had stuck around so I could share my food and talk to him about where he was from.

But that's how it goes sometimes. You meet other travelers, and then they're gone.

A BIG thanks to SCOTT "Funny Man" MCNULTY for a gracious donation to the re:visionary fund. Every little bit helps. And I appreciate it mightily.

[If you like what you read here, you can help by:
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