December 12, 2010
The other day, while I walked along Worth Square, across Fifth Avenue from Madison Square Park, highly canvassed with European walking tours and lunch hour foot traffic in and out of the local outdoor bazaar, an old black man with a cigarette hanging from his lips coasted slowly on his bike through a crowd of streetwalkers. I saw him in my periphery wobbling over the walkway through the slow amblers, and suddenly he was addressing me, without swerving, “Watch where you’re walking homo boy, watch where you’re walking homo boy,” he taunted. Homo boy? I thought. I’ve been called a “homo” before, and “fruity,” and my former 80 year-old landlady once called me a “fairy bitch,” so the precedent of insult no longer regards my actual sexual preference, but others’ perception of my comportment as a styly guy. I did take offense though of being called a “boy,” and not a man, unless I am to extrapolate the homo part as Latin. The biker’s slow wheel scraped the heel of my shoe, doing no damage. He thought he could mimic the horsemanship of General Worth. Anyway, you can’t take seriously someone who smokes and bikes at the same time.
It is easy to cast a moral light on a subject in order to dispel the exploration of its stickier recesses. At the urge of Mayor Bloomberg, bike riding in NYC has increased, with miles of new bike lanes, hundreds of bike racks. It is part of the Mayor’s environmental initiatives, supporting the health of the air and of traffic. It is a good thing, surely, to get rid of garbage on river barges rather than trucks, or to ban smoking in restaurants (though eating in New York diners has never been the same without lighting up over a black coffee). But the right of bikers is also used by some to plow by pedestrians as if they have the right of way, since they don’t, and they shout like a berzerker’s warwhoop because they want everyone to know they aren’t going to stop. The bigger a thing becomes, the lower goes its IQ, like Disco or the American version of The Office. Thus the incident last year in Times Square when Critical Mass came riding down Broadway, and a uniform cop picked a harmless biker to brutalize. What better place to demonstrate the paradoxes of the mass mind than Times Square! A tourist happened to video the assault, which showed that indeed the harassment was unprovoked, and action was taken against the cop. Didn’t the cop know that Times Square is the most visually captured area on the planet? It is not only the Entertainment District, where New York City can gaze at itself basking in the lights and screens which are never turned off and the tourists aim cameras everywhere – but it is also the Information District.
At One Times Square, where the New Years Eve Ball is dropped and which is vacant but for Walgreen’s on the first floor, billboard rents command up to a quarter million cabbages per month, and the State of New York advertises its need of your gambling revenue at the “Racino:”
The New York Times were once headquarted in One Times Square, and the newspaper lent the square its name. The Times still reside off the Great White Way, which might inform a passage of The Gray Lady’s recent November election coverage:
“Overall, however, voters did not express any clear policy preferences that might help direct lawmakers…. They indiscriminately ousted Democratic incumbents who loyally supported Mr. Obama’s agenda… as well as lawmakers who carved their own path by voting against the president and the party leadership…. A number of ousted incumbents were centrists… leaving the Democratic caucuses not only diminished but more liberal.“
Tourism is up in the city, but not as many of them are riding the buses. Rockefeller Center, Times Sq. and Herald Sq. are all jampacked with people wired in to shop and gawk. Gray Line Bus Tours is losing steam. The new rumor is that they will not renew the lease on the headquarters at 777 Eighth Ave, and tour guides will have no theater in which to caucus and eat lunch. Tips are down. Tourists are getting harassed by the Evil Elmo.
I worked with a new driver who told me that, because of his prison record, he couldn’t get a job at Coach USA, a bus co. which like Gray Line is part of Twin America LLC. I asked him about it but he didn’t elaborate. He isn’t the only Gray Line employee who might have served time in jail, and there may be charitable light cast upon Gray Line – however dim – in its lack of discrimination in hiring ex-cons. I think Michael Milken works in Payroll.
Last month, Old Town Bar, on 18th Street between Broadway and Park Ave, celebrated the 100th birthday of its mens room urinals. As a recurrent drinker at Old Town Bar many times (it is featured in the classic New York movie, The Last Days of Disco) and have admired these historical artifacts, where Tammany wardheelers might have once made room for more beer.
As a countersignature to the supersonic land use of Times Square, it was a relief to read that Obama signed the CALM Act, which forbids wily advertisers to raise the volume of TV commercials above the volume of the broadcast program. Such subterfuge against the senses should never have been legal, and now saves one the trouble of hitting the mute button during cocktail breaks for Mad Men.