Tuesday, October 11, 2005

All Shall Have Projects

The truth has slowly dawned upon me, that New Yorkers all have twenty-eight or so jobs.

In addition to these twenty-eight jobs, they have nigh on a thousand "projects."

When I lived in England, I had a hard task finding one thing to truly lay my name by, and that was perfectly alright. Here, I decided to prepare myself for what I was told was "New York's work-hard, play-hard mentality", by at least cooking up one thing that I did. So at parties, I announce myself with the one task that defines my idendity - I'm a fireman, I'm a terrorist, I'm one-quarter of the Gang of Four - and find that even my best-laid, and lying, plans are insufficient. Every New Yorker trumps me in having things to do, so much so that the conversation we're holding becomes I think, surely a strain on their precious time, unless we can legitimise it by calling it a project - and my the looks of their earnest eye-contact, that's precisely what they're angling for.

Everything is a project. Hanging out is project, properly done. Brewing tea is a project, with meanings I can only guess at. Catching the subway uptown is a project. Subway downtown is a project. Croissant is project. When I had a lot of international calls to make, in the days when promises to Mother could still be kept, I would always phone from the same payphone, by Washington Park Square. There, beside my payphone was a homeless man, who never seemed to move from his station. In England he might roll in the gutter a little, or offer you drugs that on closer inspection were toasted banana skins; but in New York, this homeless man had gotten his act together. He had rigged up a table on the sidewalk, and placed upon it an upturned, transparent perspex bottle, which contained the money he had received that day. Affixed to the outside of the bottle was a scrap of paper, on which was unclearly printed "HOMELESS ASSOCIATION." As people passed, he yelled out "Feed the hungry. Because nobody should go hungry."

He was clearly a homeless man, collecting money for himself. But nonthleless, he had set up the operation, until it was a larger project.

Four days ago, I was on the subway back to Brooklyn. When I changed for my connecting train, everybody looked as if they'd just been cracking up at a very funny joke. When I'm new to a scene like that, I presume the joke was me, or will be the whoopee-cushion designed for me; but on this occassion, my selfish self-flagellation proved inaccurate, as when the train took off once more, a man started shouting, and sent the whole carriage back into hysterics.

"This one time", the shouted, "I get on the subway, right? Now, there's just this one woman there, with a bag on the seat to one side. Now I see her when I get on the train, and I see the bag sitting there easy beside me. Well now, am I imagining it, or when I get on the train does she hug that bag so tight to her as if it were the lucky love of her life? Goddamn, I want that woman to hold me the way she holds that bag! If that bag was a child, it's be all suffocated to death! Do I want your bag? Do I want your bag?! No - I WANT YOUR MONEY! Simple as that. I am not a robber - I just live on the street."

Across from me, a Puerto Rican policeman was sitting on the seat, vibrating with laughter.

"Now this other time. I get on the subway. Damn me if there isn't one guy got this cell phone, playin' around with it. Soon as he sees me, he puts the phone right in his pocket. Excuse me? Do I want to make a call? Who I got to make a call to? I don't want a phone - I WANT YOUR MONEY! I found a phone once. Must have been broke. Didn't work. Looked like 'swas about twenty years old. What could I do with a phone?

"But the worst thing is, when you gets on the train, and you ask for money, and they reach into their pocket real slow, like they gonna bring out a little something for me, and - and - nuthin' comes! What happened in there? Hey? You get cold or sumthing? You go cold on me in there?

"This one guy - he reaches into his pocket - brings out a whole dollar note - and he brings it across like in front of my eyes - and he puts it right back into the other pocket! Man, are you trying to lead me on? Hey hold on, s'my stop-"

And the man stood up. I hadn't seen him before. He waddled very gingerly to the doors. Something was wrong with his legs. He had one eye that looked sewed shut.

As the doors were sliding shut, everybody was smiling at one another. The man's voice could still me heard from the platform. "I'm going to the liquor store. The doors shut. He shouted: "Can't we all make this work a little better?"


At 9:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's the problem with homelessness nowadays, the market's saturated, one needs a gimmick.

Fantastic blog my darling; the product of an interesting life no doubt.

Love Laura xx

At 2:59 AM, Blogger Donna said...

Maybe you should say you're homeless when they ask what your project is, and then they'll all shake their heads and say 'you guys sure work hard!' and pass a dollar back and forth between their pockets.

Ewan I love your blog! But it makes me miss you a lot more, I can almost hear your voice reading it, apart from the American accent.

It sounds like New York is a bit like London, only a lot more weird.

New Zealand is a bit like England, only a lot less English.

Did you ever get my email?

Hope all is well!

take care
Donna x

ps if you want to stop getting spammed, turn on the word verification thingie.

At 6:44 AM, Blogger Swimming Freak said...

Before I turn 30, I must have Jacuzzi Hot Tubs Oregon
and all the good times that come with them!

At 8:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Donna that you should have taken homeless persona. You need to tease and see the reaction.

Good luck!



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