September 25, 2013 —
As the final days of summer begin to wane, one of my favorite things to do at work is to take an afternoon coffee break. Standing outside my building on 8th Avenue, cup in hand, on any nice day, we call the break the “2 p.m. freak show.” At this time of day, the working world is back in its cubicles, while the streets are taken over by the traveling minstrel show of misfits. It seems the nice weather brings them all out of their closets.
We have a collection of regulars: the hairy man in the sun dress and high heels—no makeup or wig, just the colorful dress; various methadone club members (we still have two methadone clinics in the neighborhood) and I’ve noticed a strange thing about them—the voices of the men and women sound the same, deep and gravelly; even the tourists have something to add to the show as they dress to impress NYC.
One thing about tourists is, they like to stop a lot and check out the scenery. On a busy New York sidewalk, this can wreak havoc with the pedestrians’ traffic flow. I remember one day helping a tourist cross the street as he stared at the city canyons and not the light. When the light turned green, it was time to go, but there he stood. Undaunted, I placed my hands on his waist and then gently pushed him forward, encouraging him as we went: “Walking, we are walking.” We New Yorkers have places to go and people to see.
Plenty of the cast of characters make daily visits. One of them is the “Birdman of 8th Avenue.” He can often be heard before you see him, his bird calls can be heard blocks away. “CAW-CAW-CAW” sounding like a lone crow, he grabs your attention. When he comes into view, the first thing you notice is the feather in the front of his hat. Dressed like a guide at “jungle world,” he has his fishing vest adorned with pins from his travels. He walks the street stopping to make his calls. He will even do requests, if you can get his attention and have a dollar bill in your hand, and he has quite a collection of calls.
He doesn’t interact with anyone and is quite comfortable in his own world. His name is Stan, and he is a messenger by trade, which takes him all over the city. The looks on the faces of the tourists are priceless. First they wonder if he is for real and take a step back, but then their cameras come out and they can’t get enough. Watching him as he makes his way up 8th Avenue, he leaves a smile on the faces of many people as he passes. When he’s around you really feel New York City is a jungle.