The places we go, when we aren’t going anywhere,

published at 12:09pm on 09/02/07

I didn’t have anywhere in particular to go, but I went anyway.

That hasn’t happened to me in a long time. It used to be that I would go out with the express purpose of going out. Not going out to go back in again, but going out to be in the world, to see what the universe had to offer on a particular night, at a particular moment. As I’ve gotten older, or more busy, or more responsible, my desire hasn’t waned as much as my motivation. Motivation, not motivations. Those are still the same. The former though, the former is what keeps me in, glued to the computer or the television, and occasionally to a book. But not often enough to the latter. In fact, as another year slips by, I find that more and more of life is spent in front of one glowing screen or another, doing the things that I do to make the world a better place.

But what do I do to better myself? Alas, not nearly enough. And so, last night, I found myself walking the streets of SoHo as I so often did in the past, with no particular destination in mind, and found myself, as I so often did in the past, sitting on the corner of Broome and Greene streets, watching the world go by.

It wasn’t too late, and the streets were far from filled. That neighborhood never really gets too full anyway. Mostly people passing through, as was the one man who was looking for his car.

“I think it’s on Broad Street. Where’s Broad Street from here? Oh? Not Broad Street. One minute. Honey! Where did I leave the car?”

He walked away for a minute, and I thought about how strange it must be, walking around SoHo, with its large iron columns and cobblestone streets, looking for your car, and coming across a young man, sitting nestled between two columns on the sidewalk, a camera at his side, watching the traffic go past. Do you approach him to ask for directions? Years ago in New York City? Most likely not. But in this, the biggest small town in the world, everyone is as helpful as you want them to be.

“Wooster and Grand! That’s where I left the car. Wooster and Grand!”

I pointed him in the right direction and continued to sit.

The nice thing about not having anywhere in particular to be is that you have the freedom to not have to go anywhere. My butt was getting cold as I was sitting on that big iron step, and at that moment I had a choice. I could stay there, but shift around so my butt wouldn’t get cold any more, or I could get up and move on. The great thing is that I didn’t have to do one or the other – it was an actual, legitimate choice. One wasn’t better than the other. They both had equally compelling arguments in their favor, and it was really just a whim at a given moment that would lead me down one path or another. It’s rare in life that you end up not only with choices but with choices that have such insignificant consequences. It’s quite liberating in fact.

I ended up staying. I shifted into a cross-legged sitting position and remained on the step on the corner of Broome and Greene for a little while longer. While sitting there, I was approached by two more people looking for directions. The first was looking for a sneaker store that was down the block. The second, and older man wearing a t-shirt with a button-up shirt over it, shorts, very long fingernails and a beard, stopped to ask me if I knew where he could catch the 6 train so he could go home. I pointed him in the right direction, and as he was leaving, he stopped and turned back to me.

“I’m taking a bit of a survey. What do you think of the state of the world today?”

I thought this was quite a broad question and asked him to be a bit more specific.

“Well, what about the United States then?”

Now, the first thing you have to remember when engaging with crazy people is that, in general, they just want to talk. They have their own thoughts and their own opinions and their own stories, and they just want to make sure that as many people as possible are exposed to this information. So it’s best to just go with it, if you’re so inclined.

This particular man didn’t seem to have a particular agenda in mind. I told him that I thought that we all need to respect each other a bit more (I, citing littering, was countered by his argument about post-Katrina New Orleans, and a conversation about bottled water were about the only two lucid moments we had together). He looked me in the eyes after a few minutes and said “What’s your name?”

I told him.

“Your last name?”

Again, I told him, though in retrospect, that may not have been such a bright idea.

“I know you. I’ve seen you before.”

“Oh? From where?”

“From, from,” he stammered, and stopped for a minute. “Elementary school. Philadelphia. In the early 90s.”

The fact that I’d not been to Philadelphia until the mid 90s did not seem to deter him, and he pressed on. I was there, he told me. I was in school there. I always had my camera with me. We were part of a commune, my parents and I, and we (from the commune) went to school in Philadelphia. I told him I sounded like I had a good time.

“Oh, you did. You always had your camera, and that’s what you always said – that you had a good time. You were always at the mosque. You know people now. Famous people. Actors and artists. You know them, you’re friends with them. You all went to school together. That’s where I know you from.”

We spoke a bit more about Philadelphia. What did I say my name was again?


“That’s right. You’ve got it.”

“Ka-. Ker-. Khan… Khan-Miller!”

Well, close enough.

He asked where my parents were living. Haverford? No, I told him. Downtown Philadelphia.

“I’m one of the richest people on the planet, you know? It’s because I made a motion picture when I was two. Mary and the Beetle.”

“And you’re still getting the royalties,” I ventured.

“That’s right. But I don’t get to see any of it. That’s the deal I made before I came to this planet…”

At that point I had to leave, for while I started my evening with no plans in place, in New York City, it’s rare that you can go an entire evening without someone finding something for you to do. In this particular instance, an opportunity for dinner had presented itself, and I had to take leave of my new friend.

“What’s your name, friend?” I asked him, as I was getting up to leave.

“Christopher Wynn, 1786. You know your number, right?”

I informed him that I did not.

“Your BOP number. Ask your parents. They’ll know. Christopher Wynn, the runner.”

“Oh, you’re a runner,” I asked.

“NO! The Runner. So, which way is the subway again?”

And with that, my encounter with Christopher Wynn was over. Was he crazy? Was he just out for a good time? Maybe he was going senile. He’d mentioned that he had been to a photo opening this particular night, and he was just heading home. I don’t recall the photographer’s name, but she was the lover of one or two famous musicians in her time, from what he tells me. He asked if he could come to dinner with me. I told him that unfortunately, it was a closed party, but in retrospect, it could have been the most wonderful night of conversation of my life.

I got up off my perch and headed off to meet my dinner companions. We were the last party seated for the evening and we dined on arepas until we felt like we were going to burst.


Filed under: Observations, Personal

At 3:58 pm on 11.06.07, OMMAG said,

Odd how searching the internet for background on simple things like PITH gets a person engaged with something like your blog!

Nice little vignette you describe.
Now I am left wondering…..

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