Stranger in a Crowd

It's 46 degrees and overcast on this Saturday in New York City. I'm still loving it, even though I'm cold as I don't know what.

Did I really once live in this city and stroll down Broadway on days like this, jacket open, nary a scarf in sight? How times have changed as I shiver in my coat and granny scarf. My hands feel like icicles.

To remedy this chill factor, I just popped into Allegro Coffee, a cafe close to Houston and Bleeker, and am now seated here sipping chai, dreading the moment I must step back outside.

I have so many photos to share, including the one I just took of Foster, an Allegro Coffee employee. Or rather, my photo's of Foster's tattoo on the inside of his right forearm. It's a pig but the pig body is divided into numbered sections. I asked him if I could photograph his pig and he was quite obliging. I don't know how I'd react if some weird woman with crazy curly hair ordered a chai and said, "Excuse me, can I take a picture of your pig tattoo?" But Foster was a total sweetheart and even stuck out both arms. He has a carrot on the other arm. He's planning on turning that arm into a tattoo sleeve of food.

I asked Foster what the divided and numbered pig body is about. It turns out it's a diagram of how a butcher cuts up a pig. Foster used to live in Italy and while there, he worked as a butcher. They say you learn something new every day, but learning about how a butcher cuts up a pig was something I hadn't expected.

In another ten minutes, I'll be heading out the door, heading back into the sea of people out on the streets. Whenever I come here, I always look at the faces of the people I'm walking past because, without fail, every time I'm in this city I run into someone I did not expect to see, someone who doesn't live here, isn't from here and just randomly happens to be in this city, just like me. It hasn't happened yet on this visit, but I still have a whole two days ahead of me. I
wonder who it'll be.

I went to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe last night. I haven't been there in about eight years and it was interesting to see how much nicer the neighborhood's gotten since I last ducked in those doors, and how much more diverse the crowd has become. There were the usual folks with
locs, fros and hoop earrings, but the crowd last night had someone from every background there. That was nice to see.

As luck would have it, it was the semi-finals of their poetry slam. I can't really get into all the finger snapping folks do at those, but I loved every minute of the poetry. The poems seemed to be falling into two categories. Interestingly enough, many were about a longing for spiritual enlightenment, a longing for closeness to God, a crying out to God to heal the ills afflicting both individuals and our collective society.

The second theme I kept hearing was one of fatigue with the disrespect and objectification of women in our culture. And it was nice to see this fatigue coming from both the male and female poets. I took some video of a couple of the artists, so when I get a chance, I'll upload it so you can see what I experienced.

A young poet named "Soulful Jones" won the slam. He did some amazing poems about his mother. His mother was a prostitute. He had nine brothers and sisters and no father. But he is on fire and full of hope. And if he can be hopeful, what excuse do I have to ever give up hope?

I sat on the A train this morning, watching tough girls with their gold door knocker earrings and curly Dominican hair stroll by in tight jeans and Timbs, gum popping and eyes cutting from underneath tilted pageboy caps. I saw women applying even more black eyeliner to their
eyes and men, eyes closed, bobbing their heads to hip hop blaring from iPod headphones.

I watched a West African mother chastise her two small children, a girl and a boy. The lilt of her accent as she said, "Sit in your seat like you're supposed to," was like a music all it's own. The daughter's hair was covered with a colorful head scarf that she seemed to wear with pride. The boy was just as cute as he could be, his eyes shining with the clear desire to get up and explore the train. I wanted to ask them what country they were from, but clearly strangers don't speak to each other on the train. It's taboo to even make eye contact.

All that diversity on the train and we don't see each other, don't really look at each other. If I see you and you see me, if we connect, then we might see each other's vulnerabilities.

Of course, the fear is that one stranger will take advantage of the other's vulnerabilities and weaknesses.

So, my time is up and I must head back out to the cold, back to find the stranger who's face seems so familiar. Who will be that familiar stranger in a crowd?

Comments

Mes Deux Cents said…
Hi Liz,

You're in my home city! I grew up in Queens but of course spent a lot of time in 'the city'.

It's iteresting that you made mention of people not speaking on the subway. I was just on a little trip and kept having the inclination to say hi to people. I for a while lived in the south and people, complete strangers say hello when they pass with in speaking range.

I didn't really pick up much from southerners except saying hello or 'speaking' as they call it. It's a really nice thing to just say hello to a person in passing. I always have to stop myself from doing it because as you say, in bigger cities that's not the custom.

Anyway have fun. Stay warm and have a Nathan's hot dog for me!
Sundry said…
Sounds like a marvelous way to move through the city. Aw, it's been so long since I was in NYC. Never lived there, but visited every year for many years when my sis lived in New Jersey. Always thought as a kid that I'd live there.

Can't wait to hear more.
Jameil said…
a tattoo sleeve of food??? you're def. in ny. i loooooove going places and seeing people i know that i didn't expect to see. LOVE IT!!
ryan said…
That sounds like an excellent tattoo - and I actually knew what a diagrammed pig represented before you even explained it. I think there must be a picture in my Grandma's copy of Joy of Cooking.

You're making me want to take a little jaunt down to the village!

Have a wonderful time!
Liz Dwyer said…
MDC,
No hot dogs for this vegetarian, but I've been doing so much good eating that it's a good thing I'm burning it all off through walking like a madwoman!

Sundry,
I always thought I'd be living here in NYC forever. It still surprises me that I actually live in LA and for all the years I have. I don't know if I could come back here with kids though.

Jameil,
Isn't that a unique idea for a tattoo sleeve? I love it. I don't want a carrot on my arm but it works for him!

Maia,
I'm staying on St. Marks Place so I've been right in the mix! Everything's so much cleaner than it used to be though. I wonder where the grit's gone!

West,
Thank you! I guess posting every day is a good thing! :)
Jess said…
I can't wait to hear Soulful Jones when you upload the video.

I was just thinking today about the oppression of women in our culutre, which got me thinking about how I wish more men would stand up and confront it when they see it--instead of thinking it's a woman issue. It's a HUMAN issue.

I'm glad the hear the New York artists are speaking up and out about it. Maybe the passion against misogyny will move like thunderclouds across the plains.

I wish I was a familiar stranger you were going to see in the crowd. You make New York sound intoxicating. I could use a diversion-excursion right about now.
Anonymous said…
There's still a chance you'll run into me! I'll know you if I see you, but you probably won't know me (unless you saw me in the Oct. 15 issue of TIME magazine with my son).

Yeah, it's gotten cold fast in NYC over the last few days. It's really starting to feel like the Holiday season.

I'm not sure why we don't talk to one another on the trains, but I like your theory. I don't even like to talk to the people that I know when I'm on the subway. I think of it as my "me" time. Time to read and occasionally write, but never talk.

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