Main | Monday, November 14, 2005

The Absolutely Last Nice Sunday

Sunday 2pm, Union Square, Manhattan

It's an unreasonably beautiful fall day.

Despite it being mid-November, Union Square is littered with young people in shorts. In the air, a palpable sense of malaise is forcing people to sit, to lounge, to bask in the Absolutely Last Nice Sunday of the year. There are a dozen skate punks performing tricks for a largely uninterested audience. The usual break dance troupe is trying to gather a crowd, their painfully overamplified music crackling and bouncing off the surrounding storefronts.

On the west side of the square, I wander amongst the vendors, artists mostly. There's the guy who sells his "pinhole-camera" prints. There's the guy who makes tiny sculptures out of wire hangers. There's the guy who sells small framed prints of his watercolor Manhattan landscapes, most of which conspicuously feature the World Trade Center.

The trees still have a surprising amount of leaf cover, and in the shaded areas there are dozens of couples lying on blankets, or sprawled on the shallow steps. The Mister Softee truck parked next to Virgin Megastore is doing brisk business and again, I'm struck by the incongruity of the scene and the season, considering that there are Xmas decorations on the ice cream truck.

Along the 14th Street side of the square, I encounter the activists. Always there, always shilling for some mostly unpopular cause or another. There's a card table staffed by the nutjobs that claim 9/11 was staged by the government. There's the guy wearing a sandwich-board advertising his book about his alien abduction. There's the short round man offering "free yoga lessons".

Near the subway entrance, I encounter a looming man, almost 7 feet tall, advertising his book about longevity. He has a few handmade posters about his breakthrough life extension techniques and taped on the posters are photos of him in various meditation poses. As I pass, the man gives me a direct, strange stare, and I'm quite startled by his pale blue eyes and his unlined face. His poster claims that he is 84 years old. I move away from him quickly, uncomfortable with his staring.

Over at the dog run, I lean over the chain-link fence and happily watch the two dozen or so dogs racing around on the loose gravel. A young dyke brings her Labrador up to the entrance and when the animal realizes where he is, he emits a hilarious yelp of joy and strains at his leash. His mistress drops the leash with a smile and the dog gives her a quick grateful look before bounding directly over to a cocker spaniel and mounting it. Horrified, the young dyke chases the two dogs, her own charge remaining on his hind legs, hips thrusting, as they elude her. Everybody finds this quite amusing, except the young dyke.

I head back to the subway entrance where there's now a small group representing the Socialist Workers Party. They have a card table set up and a grim grey-haired woman is hawking copies of a newspaper called The Militant. I stand back and watch them for a minute, but my eyes are repeatedly drawn to their poster advocating for Puerto Rican independence. "End the occupation! Free the political prisoners!"

The grim woman sees my attention and proffers a copy of her newspaper. I shake my head, but remain standing there and she gives me a questioning look. Another moment passes and I can't stand it anymore and I point to her sign, "You spelled 'independence' wrong." She turns her back to me, and I head down the subway steps.

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