There is a man that spends countless hours in Washington Square Park with his shirt off. He determinedly boxes imaginary opponents, pretends light posts are punching bags (stopping just before contact is made), and spin kicks the air. He seems to be around 40 or so, older but still with dark hair. Shirt always off. Pretty good shape, if I’m being honest.
The first time I saw the display I sat and watched for a bit waiting for some NYU theater production to appear. (I generally attribute all weird shit happening in Washington Square Park to NYU theater kids) But as I stood there, staring, it became clear that no one else was joining this exercise. It was him, battling opponents and pretty damn happy with himself.
A few weeks ago I was walking through the park and noticed everyone pointing and staring at something, that according to their faces, was quite alarming/weird/hilarious. Two tourists made the sort of eye contact that clearly conveys “look at that crazy shit” so I turned around and there was shirtless punching man. I had just walked right past him and it didn’t even register as something unusual.
There is also a homeless woman that sits under the CVS vents that propel warm air onto the sidewalk. You see her around the neighborhood, but that’s definitely her spot. Once September arrived and NYU students flooded the neighborhood, I would walk by and see students attempting to engage her in conversation. No doubt undertaking that admittedly self-gratifying task of attempting to save and help those who don’t want the help or saving you have determined they do need. And I wanted to tell this male, freshman student to back off. Leave this lady alone. You’re clearly making her nervous. She doesn’t want to talk to you. Then of course, I walked right past, as I had a million times before, knowing that soon he’ll learn to walk right past too. Until then, he will probably be alarmed at what assholes we all were.
And it started to sink in. That coldness that New Yorkers are known for (and let me be incredibly clear here, I do not, nor will I ever, consider myself a New Yorker. I’m not delusional) maybe isn’t coldness at all. Maybe its just that all those half-clothed freaks endlessly air boxing, or that homeless woman under the vent aren’t noteworthy for the simple reason that they too are part of the neighborhood. But in this ridiculous city of 8.4 Million people, we don’t have neighbors that don’t mow their lawn, or drive ugly cars; we have a different sort of different.