Friday, March 25, 2005

I'm singing this whole thing wrong

You call it Good Friday, I'm calling it bhang day. It's funny how one reference can sometimes set off a cascade of recollections. Yesterday's bhang story reminded me, oddly enough, about Manhattan. BB King Blues Club, the 21st of September, 2001. A & I didn't have tickets but the show was not sold out. And just then, it wasn't very hard to get a ticket to see a band in Manhattan. The B&T crew had temporarily lost any drive to go into the city.

Me, I'd been waiting to go, yearning to go, but not wanting to disturb. Manhattan is precious to me. I didn't want it to feel I was barging in, trying to cheer it up prematurely. But ten days later, I could bear the separation no longer, and dragged a nervous A along with me. Everyone, it seemed, was suddenly so nervous- that's what I remember most about those days.

We used to park at the PATH in Jersey City, take it to 33rd Street through Hoboken, walk or subway it the rest of the way. Simple routines like that had to be reconsidered. We forged new paths which were really old ones we had not taken in a while. NJT to Penn Station, and on a night like that one, just warm enough, we walked it the rest of the way, the 8 scant blocks. On a night like that, normally, you felt you were floating. That night, it started off as plodding.

I always hated Times Square, hated the way it was spilling over with pedestrian traffic at any hour. Hated that it had become a bastion for teenyboppers hoping for a glimpse of Carson Daly or for tourists from the boondocks waiting to get taken for a ride by some con artist. Hated that people were so often so overwhelmed by Times Square that they would just stop in the middle of the sidewalk, mouth agape, taking it all in. Yes, yes, I was B&T, but that label meant nothing to me when I was in Times Square. We were fugitives; they were tourists. I looked at the visitor in my city, and thought The f*** you lookin' at? Get the f*** out of my way! I used to walk down a seedy parallel avenue speckled with strip clubs to avoid the cheeriness, the hullabaloo of Times Square.

But that night, there was no getting around it. A was insistent that we cut the well-trodden path, take solace in the masses. We did. We walked up the avenue like we were being pulled into a charybdis, let ourselves fall into the flow of the crowd. It was the only time I can remember Times Square as a gentle thing. The movement was still there, there was still a current, but it lacked velocity, it lacked volume. And everything about that moment rang false. This pathetic version of Times Square was not the object of my hatred, and I missed my disgust suddenly, acutely.

We turned onto 42nd, and with us turned a man with a boom box hoisted over his shoulder. He strutted by, then stopped to crank the volume, the recent hit drifting through the warm and vaguely humid air: "I was gonna get up and find my broom, but then I got high. My room is still messed up and I know why..."

A & I exchanged smiling glances, musing over this man easing down the road, the only one we'd encountered that night that didn't have the nervous look on his face. We looked back almost as though to witness it again. "I was gonna go to class but then I got high", and a woman sidled up to the man. Curvy and vibrant, she nodded at him in approval and then started dancing beside him, singing along "I am taking it next semester and I know why, because I got high". And as she walked on by the man, I realized that A and I had inadvertently joined in the chorus- "because I got high, because I got high", the whole collective of us giggling involuntarily. I grabbed A's arm, urgently squeezing it, as if to acknowledge what we had discovered. We hadn't laughed in 10 days.

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