How I love to sit inconspicuously in a public place and observe people passing by, especially children and young people...
Today I slipped out into the cool sunshine in the late afternoon around 4:30. I looked for a likely perch where the sunshine was still present and decided on one of the new metal benches on the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Durant. Telegraph Avenue on Saturdays is as it has long been, a magnet for young folks for miles around who mingle with the University students situated throughout the South side of campus. It's not the Mecca it once was, but a few of the over-size record stores survived the down turn in that business and they still attract the kids as do the clothes stores and the other life-style suppliers.
I see deeply into people even at a glance. I have always had the knack and it has only deepened with the passing years. Given a mild cannabis cookie as I was today, this pass-time can be utterly fascinating for me. It has been said that the charm of young people is that they smile even when there is no particular reason to smile. It's their default mode as it were. Particularly when they are walking around a busy youth scene and styling the current look.
They make me smile and they see me smiling and smile back. It is a heart-sustaining loop for a loner like the Flaneur. Oh, of course some are sad. These I look at with acceptance and, dare I say, love too. Most dazzling are the little kids, their eyes so brilliant and content. And sometime they are too tired and want to go home, and that's adorable as well.
I enjoy noting the outfits people wear--young and wanting to be sexy and au courant. No matter that many of the styles are laughably ungainly--like the ones who try to get the new tight jeans to hang low on the derriere like the fading baggy hip-hop look. Rebellion is no doubt served as their parents try to get them to listen to reason and "dress nice."
The population of genuine street people has diminished these days. These are full-time denizens, usually distinctive as such in some way, not the younger summer run-aways. The reasons are many and of course an civic effort persists to run them off. One guy goes by with gray beard, thermal leggings and a skirt or dress flapping. This clearly a genre and one I don't fully understand. I have heard of radical fairies bearded old hippies who cross dress somewhat theatrically but this guy seems more understated and survival oriented-- not a show-off but someone who wants to set himself off from the squares right away. He looked lonesome. Then the loneliest loony in town bounded past my green metal vantage point. He is quite tall with a wild shock of dark hair, with sun-worn skin. He always wears a sport coat and, under his high-water fitting pants, he has his long feet jammed into too small shoes. Today the shoes achieve his absurd extreme. They are open-back sneakers meant for a small child that cover a small part of his foot. He races all over town and the shoes stay on by his momentum. With his craggy profile he resembles Disney's animated Ichabod Crane gone to advanced seed. His eyes are frantic and haunted but his activity seems to keep him preoccupied, to shield him from the fear that may catch up if he ever stopped to rest. May God have mercy on him.
I note that the new Asian majority has its own idiosyncrasies of attire. Whereas I often spot girls who are somewhat obvious in their intent to bring the sexy, the Asian girls occasionally go way over the top. I don't mean the girl with a sweep of thick hennaed hair, T-shirt torn to hang off her shoulder, hot pants, and fetish-evoking tapered wooded platform high-heels with hobnails so much as some of the really nutty stuff. Two girls bounce past in tiny flouncy skirts, lace leggings, silver high heels and scores of other tarty tat, the kind you see on manikins in store windows in seedy urban ethnic shopping districts.
I wonder if they spotted the stylish turquoise leg-warmers worn by the homeless black lady asleep on the bench I'm sharing as they skirt by her shopping cart. I was chuckling as they went and I noticed that a guy on the next bench was watching them and chuckling too.
A wholly different type of Asian went by in a flock wearing some distinctly codified out-landish gear. Several have big yarn-like wigs of pastel pig-tails. They resembled the die-hard trendies one sees in photographs of the Ginzu district in Tokyo.
A cafe-au-lait rasta with four-foot dreads put up cards for capoeira. People with clipboards asked for signatures. I conceal myself behind my ear-plugs. People came and went from the ATM windows of credit doom. And I very rarely recognized a soul even after thirty years in this town. Where does everyone go? Elsewhere, I suppose.
A chilly fog sent tendrils in this direction. As the sun faded my observation point got a little tiresome and I must push off. I bless all I see the young and old, rich and poor, disabled and able-bodied alike. May they all be given friendship and sustenance, and myself as well. And as the poet Bob Kaufman once wrote, let us give places to the homeless and kindness to the forlorn.