New York sideshow

Freaks and voyeurs, perfect together on the streets of the Big Apple.

I want to have all his mandingo babies.

I took the train from DC’s Union Station to New York. When I stepped out onto Eighth Avenue, there he was, flexing: standing in front of a mailbox, wearing jeans, kicks looking like the Timberlands all the guys in my neighborhood wore in 1995, and a huge Figaro chain. He’s all greased up and not wearing a shirt. Like everyone else, I clap for him: all that bittersweet chocolate and only small movements, the slight shift of slack muscles turning tense.

I have a scarf and jacket collar covering my face. My Florida-trained skin thins at anything below 50. I worry his nipples could crack off when cabbies wail on horns and startle him. Some lost tribe of something hands out pamphlets. A man dressed as Santa leads a rally for AIDS research. Bus tours. Comedy at Caroline’s. Phantom of the Opera.

Freaks love the voyeur and vice versa. Extroverts love the introverts because no matter how introverted we are, we all want attention. We’re all anxious. Freaks come out at night and all day, too.

And a sideshow doesn’t need a stage. Really, all the world is not a stage, unless that stage is Piaget’s egocentrism: that time when we all, as children, think the world revolves around us. It does. You ain’t got to get naked for it. Ain’t got to be a bearded lady.

Weird doesn’t discriminate. When I was young, I thought (still black) Michael Jackson, in his “Beat It” jacket, was hiding in my closet. I could see the red leather and brown skin through the white metal slats. I insisted my dad was white. (He’s so not white.) I know every word of Cats. The birthmark on my stomach looks like Africa. I’ve been on psychotropic drugs for so many years, I don’t remember what I’m like without them.

Back in Union Station, a guy was so desperate to get on the train, he shoved and danced like a monkey at the opening door — arms flailing, ooh-ooh as he lunged. Two people argued about the Amtrak derailment killing four people hours ago in the Bronx, worried only about the possibility of a delayed train to Albany. The announcer announced “Rahway” and it sounded the same as “Wilmington” did. Near Trenton, a little girl busted out a remix of “It’s a Small World After All” where small becomes dog. “It’s a world of bones, it’s a world of treats. It’s a blue stuffed phone and daddy’s meat …”

People are overstatements: subtle, blatant. Right here and now, I’m in love with a muscle man in New York, and the shiny babies we’d have, and the street corner where no one would notice if we started working on making those babies. I want to walk back to him, tell him I’ll P.T. Barnum with him all the live-long day.

Of course, he could just be brazen. Maybe he needs the money and knows he’s diesel enough to make it this way. Maybe Piaget’s developmental theory came from discoveries during his study of water snails. I heard that once.

And maybe normal doesn’t mean anything anymore. Maybe there’s no standard. Maybe there’s no mean from which to deviate — just good-clean dirty streets and a man with righteous pecs, and that heart that’s supposed to be red as an apple, but, instead, looks pinker with things resembling fingers sticking out from its clenching fist.

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