Thursday 20 December 2007

The midtown shrinkers

Oh it's raining horribly outside, said the man beside me as I left MoMA yesterday, with the rain belting down on 53rd street. Sometimes that's what you get, he sighed. Yes indeed, I said back. And he looked at me. Like I had just entered his apartment without pressing the doorbell. There was a line around his words with a red rope and a large black man in a suit and a headpiece, carrying a list. I hadn't used the VIP entrance. That was what his eyes said. You just don't do this. You just don't respond to a stranger's casual throwaway cliche in midtown Manhattan.

So I went walking. Through it. In the rain. Down 5th avenue to Union Square. Caught a glimpse of one of the Protected Ones, in the back of his chauffeur-driven Very Expensive Blackened Windowed Car, perusing a newspaper. It felt like it might be like a confessional in that little backseat room, kind of airless and costumed and expectant. But expensive, unlike any confessional I've been in (only Irish ones, only Limerick ones, actually).

A thin, mousy girl approaches me in the middle of the traffic at Flatiron. "Hi, I'm Annie", she says at me, laughing like she's just seen some special friend of hers. She juts her hand out stiffly to me, perpendicular to her body, from the elbow. "We save children". I search her face, her jacket, for some ID. Nothing. "Njeah, thanks", I say, and continue to walk across the street before the bus gets me.

Pity. Annie is sure this way of living her life is a failsafe way to get people to feed her cause, to feed her longings, to feed her. She's saving children for Christ's sake: how could anyone say no to Annie? Let me count the ways...

There's a boy on 21st street, sitting on a beer crate, pausing with a pen as he tries to figure out how to explain himself in the medium of cardboard sign in the street. I stop to take out my notebook, and look back at him. He's still hesitant.

There's an interesting quality to midtown. Indifference. Such a big place with so many shrunken people busily shrinking farther, hurrying to get to where they mightn't have to shrink anymore.

And then the N. Sitting opposite a man with bags, in one of those two abreast orange plastic areas. He takes a gulp, a large nip of whiskey, in view of the other apparently indifferent subway riders. He feels the exposure, anyway. Most of them don't actually even see him. I do, though, and that's enough. For what it's worth, if I'm thinking anything, I'm thinking that that's not a bad idea, keeping a flask of hot whiskey about your person for winter subway trips. But he's gone into that defensive face mode, you know it? With the chin up and the eyes and mouth corners that say "not me! I didn't do ANYTHING!".

The sign on the wall hisses, "if you see something, say something", as the train chugs into Pacific street.

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