West 42nd Street and Other Stories

High on Life_MPHIX


I sat outside the library from the vantage point of the low perimeter wall, and watched intently with my camera in hand as the young man dressed in mock military dress paced up and down with exaggerated purpose. He wasn’t going anywhere, neither did it seem as though he were waiting for anyone. His expression was focussed as if he were on a personal mission, high on the ethers of the New York streets.
He produced something from his pocket and dutifully unwrapped a Snickers bar, consuming my favourite confectionary with a speed that matched his walking pace. Whatever his deal was, he was oblivious to me with my camera, and it appeared, to everyone else around him. I had the feeling this was a familiar ritual for him, not part of the usual passing throng of tourists. What he was doing was important, he wasn’t there to sightsee. The sights he had come to witness were within the landscape of his mind, not constricted by the gridded, neat formation of the glass and concrete canyons surrounding us, peopled by the plebiscites of conformist farming, following a shepherd clothed in gold promising delights beyond measure.
He bore his faith on his chest in blood-red print, ‘Cruz’, and his obedience on each sleeve, silently but clearly defying his allegiance to the red white and blue flag behind him.
He was dressed for war, though not yet ready to fight for whatever cause he had been conscripted to. His feet touched solid ground, within his rubber-soled, modern street army apparel, even though his expression was divorced from his surroundings, and his uniform too clean, too conformist, ironically, too comfortable to bear the marks of the radicalism he was attempting to portray. Ears hardwired into a mantra affirming his position, his status and his dignity, fuelling the embers of an unrequited passion in servitude of a cause only obvious to him.
His demeanour was oddly calm, self-assured, and calm, despite his frenetic movements.
I watched and clicked, feeling his energy as he passed me repeatedly at close quarters. Sensing his anticipation of something, and the whispering unease that propelled his muscles, that impelled him to take charge of the strip of paving that he had commandeered, and that I was cautiously sharing.
Quietly I got up and walked away, having satisfied myself with the street show, having taken my own hostages with my weapon of choice, leaving no casualties but instead exercising freedom, in the same way he was exercising freedom afforded by the almost innocuous standard gently fluttering in the stirring breezes. Yet as it hung subservient to the passing crowds beneath, it’s colours dulled by the dust of daily servitude, it posed a subliminal, and cunning reminder that freedom is not without cost nor adherence to rules, no matter your cause or your purpose. No matter how wide your wings may yet stretch.
I left this disaffected raven to perform his duty allowing him to be consumed by the dwindling street corner behind me and the nebulous magic of being out of sight and mind.
Briefly we had shared the same space, and we were on the same side, if only because we had found solidarity in a popular brand of chocolate, for a moment keeping the sounds of war a distant rumble, somewhere on an imagined horizon not yet visible nor real. Not yet tangible enough to change my gait, nor his, nor the need to be participant in the vitality of the streets that still bustled with colour and promise around us both.


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