Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Underground, Manhattan

Something happens on the subway tonight while flying through the belly of the steel-and-concrete isle of Manhattan. The cohesiveness of family manifests itself beautifully in a sad—and perhaps degrading—but ultimately uplifting way.
The Q train doors open at Times Square, and a forty-something man and two kids get on. The kids have got glasses: thin plastic oval frames. Looks like they share the same style. The man holds a guitar; the kids each hold double-bongos, a mobile rhythm section.
The man plays a chord, fiddling around.
The taller kid says, loudly, looking around the train, “Hello folks, just trying to make some money for food. We missed dinner at the shelter.”
The man, the father, plays another chord.
“Whatchu boys wanna play this time?” he says.
The kids look at each other. The little one makes a suggestion.
The father says, “Na, we played that already. Let’s play something new.”
He begins. The kids start pat-patting on the drums. They all start singing in a brisk harmony. It’s the Beatles, Revolution. The father can carry the tune, but the kids, with their harmonies delivered in two completely different registers (the younger brother’s got a crisp alto) bring the song together. What’s obvious is that people are moved. They try not to look, but can’t help it; they fight to maintain those cold, stony city faces, but the muscles twitch. The emotions struggle to allow the affect of this iconic song, played now on the Q train by a small family troupe that’s down and out.

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