Walking around Times Square one can see all manner of dressed and costumed people. Some, mostly informal workers, are dressed like Disney characters or other franchised superheroes. There are naked women painted with the colors of the American flag and fake Buddhist monks that, from time to time, walk around the plaza giving away “free” bracelets in exchange for a contribution. There is the naked cowboy and the naked cowgirl. The ones who go there wearing quirky clothes, just to be seen and there is this man I want to talk about here.
This section is a short story about a sporadic presence in Times Square. I would guess that the amount of time you will take reading these words will be longer than the time this situation lasted. Nevertheless, it will ultimately become apparent why this man is relevant for this piece of research even though, at first glance, he may not appear to be. He appeared one day in September 2017 at the corner of 46th Street and 7th Avenue. When I noticed him he was already there, just standing at the intersection. Meanwhile, I was looking at and judging him from a distance.
It was around noon and the first thing I thought was, “what a party this man must have had last night.” He was wearing short pants, regular sneakers, and a light green shirt. Some Mardi Gras style necklaces were hanging from his neck, sparkly sunglasses covered his eyes in the shape of 2017, and on his head he wore a colossal hat, a backpack completing his outfit. What caught my attention was that despite the traffic light changing multiple times and the people crossing the intersection around him, he remained static. I was expectant, waiting for his next move.
I got closer to him, curious about his presence. Suddenly he started to dance and blow a plastic whistle I did not realize he was carrying. “Happy new year!” he began to yell. I did not have so much time to react. I just took out my phone and started to record the situation. He continued with his performance, and then, after a few seconds, he realized I was watching him, and he started to perform for me. Then he abruptly stopped what he was doing, took off his hat, and left.
Later that day, I saw that man again by chance. He was walking to the same corner I encountered him at that morning, wearing the same clothes, displaying the same attitude he had when he first left the place. I followed him for some time until he arrived at the intersection again. The same situation occurred as before: he was there, waiting at the corner, looking at the traffic light. Meanwhile, the rest of the pedestrians were crossing the road. A couple of minutes later, he started to scream “happy new year!” again while moving ridiculously and blowing his whistle.
This time I finally realized what he was doing there. It turns out that he was working as a part of a performance about Times Square that a tourist company was offering for its public. There is a specific tour one can take around New York City inside a bus. The tour buses I am talking about are not the traditional double-decker ones where one is provided with cheap headphones, a map, and a multilingual and superficial narration. These buses are more like stages with wheels. The whole interior is like a set of theater chairs enclosed in a glass bubble. Inside the bus, two hosts are in charge of guiding the whole interactive experience.
The man’s role was to reproduce, through a hyperbolized interpretation, what it is like to be a random pedestrian at that corner of Times Square during the New Year celebrations. That was his job. I saw the man going to the corner one more time that day. His behavior was always the same, performing in front of the bus and quickly dropping the act once the vehicle was gone. His presence represented a sort of paradox, a paradox linked to time: he was something new and exciting for the tourists watching him but, at the same time, that interpretation was just a repetition of itself carried out a few times per day, I don’t know how many days per week. He was just a reproduction in September of a New Year’s Eve element in Times Square. Perhaps he was a reproduction of himself just a little bit late, or earlier, depending on how you look at it.