Riding the J into Manhattan today, I heard a sound I hadn’t knew I’d missed so much, “It’s showtimeeee.” The beat of the boombox (now more the size of a bowling ball bag) filled the car from its place by the door.
The first kid - face tattoos, immaculate braids, perfectly sculpted muscles, crisp white tank ribbed red on black skin, a bright and intelligent joy in his eyes - reached out to grab the pole, lifting his body up and around, arcing gracefully. Landing again, jerking to the side, flow down, stomp back. Bowing forward, legs rising over suddenly and hung suspended, handstand and back again. Up quick and he stops, judging distance, and leaps to catch the top rails, swings back and kicks the pole to slide upside down with his toes hooked.
A stumble. “Ahhhhh, sit down, sit down let me show you.” His friend’s turn.
I remember when I first moved to New York in 2009, I thought these kids were fools. Hustlers. Hacks. I just wanted to be left alone to read in peace.
Over the years I started to watch and then respect them. These kids are working. Their pitch is perfected. I see references in their steps. They’re watching each other, they’re watching culture, they’re watching you. It takes time and discipline to work a crowd when no one is watching. And more to dance like no one is watching when everyone is.
I’m watching now, and I don’t hide it. I have no cash, but when he came by with the hat I looked him in the eye and told him, “Hey, thank you, it’s really great to see y’all out again.” And I meant it.
As the worst parts of capitalism return, so do the best. The moments of humanity facilitated by the rush of people from place to place. New York is filled with these moment, but they’re easy to lose between the cracks. The cracks of judgement, the cracks of my phone screen, the cracks of the sidewalk as we look down. But today it was me that cracked a little more open, again.
Welcome Home, New York. It’s Showtime.