Saturday, October 29, 2005

spare change


i get on the train and scan the car for empty seats. at first theres no invitations, not one sliver of space. but after stopping at union square a few passengers get off and i slide in between two slumped over shoulders, opening my book and releasing my bag all in one fluid motion. the train lunges heavily towards brooklyn. it feels good to be going home. its been a long week. at canal another exchange of bodies is made. i think of the cocktail waiting to be prepared at the palace and feel the ease of friday spread through me. the week is over. thank fucking god.

but there are five boys, the oldest no more than 14 years old, the youngest at around 8 or 9, and they want everybody's attention. figures, i sigh, its always my car. i swear im haunted by panhandlers. fucking hell. the car is packed, you can smell the weariness. the day is over for most, no one needs any more entertainment. no one looks up. undeterred, the oldest announces who they are. we do this for extra money he says, so we can get food in our stomach and clothes on our back. any donations will be appreciated, he says, and then he hits play on the radio. a boombox so huge it would bring LL Cool J to tears.

an old school jammy fills the train. something from the 80's on a Funk/R&B electro tip. ive never heard the song before but i like it. it sounds like something maybe Roger would make, or Zapp or someone along that vein. we start ascending over the manhattan bridge, i look back into my book, every now and then sneaking snatches of the city. Soho Chinatown Little Italy then Dumbo. the kids are getting a soul clap going, i notice that no ones paying attention.

they get into their routine, a typical, though well executed, mixture of breakdancing and just plain grooving. it get progressively acrobatic and choreographed as each kid takes his turn, and eventually they are bouncing off each other expertly, sliding beneath legs and crumbling to the floor then emerging in well rehearsed, yet casually performed pop locking. at one point the oldest takes the youngest and flips him above his head, where he uses the car roof as a floor before falling onto his back between the older guys legs, and then they simultaneously begin a bounce that just

breaks

it

down.

the crowd swells then burst into applause. the kids take a bow. and the two youngest, and be default cutest, begin to circulate the passengers with a backpack in their hand. the oldest kid, who was sporting a wife beater and had what can only be described as a beer belly, sees a girl he knows and and yells out her name. she recognizes him and waves back and he beams for a second then slouches back into coolness, his friends catch his smile and punch him in the arm teasingly. he looks back up to her and they smile again shyly.

i am floored by this kids confidence. had i ever been caught hustling on the train and a girl i knew witnessed it, i would have shattered under the weight of embarrassment. i would have cowered in shame, being seen so desperate. i was poor growing up, devastatingly poor, but i tried hard to hide it.

things are different here though. this city breathes wealth and opportunity. there is nothing you cant have if you just want it bad enough. and those kids were raised here, they are way ahead of me. they see that. they see a train with a million passengers and they think, how can i get everyone on that train to give me a dime? i know, i'll dance.

the youngest one makes his way to me and i give him a few quarters, satisfied with the entertainment. he walks away i notice that the backpack is stuffed to the top with dollar bills and heavy at the bottom with change. there had to be a few hundred in there, easy. and they had about five more cars to go.

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Creative Commons License
:gray matters: by jkg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at downtownalleys.blogspot.com.