Acts 1 and 2
He only appeared at night. I saw him three times, on three different nights, going around Duffy Square. This story happened in September 2017. The specific dates are irrelevant. It could have been a Saturday, a Sunday, or a Wednesday and nothing would have changed. He arrived at a different time every night. I have no idea where he came from. When I saw him he was already there, his performance had already begun.
He was a tall and skinny black man, between 25-35 years old. He was always in a hurry. He did not spare much time in dealing with those who were blocking his way. The man I am talking about was easy to identify by his clothes: studded military boots, blue and worn skinny jeans, long black and white scarves around his hips, a black and white striped T-shirt, a black scarf around his neck, a US Navy sailor hat and aviator sunglasses.
His hands were busy. He held a black cloth tote bag in one hand and in the other he was carrying a prominent black speaker. The speaker was at the height of his face, near his ear, and I imagine some music was being played through the device. Although I was relatively close to him, I didn’t know whether the speaker was working or not. I assumed it was because the man was going around the Square, moving his head as if he was following the rhythm of a song. But I was only speculating.
His walked fast with a long stride as if Duffy Square was a runway. He was moved back and forth, sporadically yelling “hey! hey! hey!” and repeating specific phrases and words depending on the situation. For example, when an unsuspecting tourist was in his way, his reaction was to avoid him and continue with his show without looking at anything in particular, yelling, “Ignore! Ignore! Ignore!” Then, calling more attention to himself, he screamed, “watch, or not! Watch, or not! Watch, or not!” followed by his catchphrase, “Hey! Hey! Hey!”
Most of the eyes, cameras and phones in the Square were focused on him. Momentarily, he caught everyone’s attention, achieving what he wanted to achieve: to summon everybody around to watch his show. The world, the world of Times Square, revolved around him: people were looking at him, laughing at him, recording him, enjoying him, making fun of him… and he was there, walking around, modeling on the virtual catwalk, going up and down the red stairs, playing random songs (finally, I was able to hear them), yelling phrases related to the moment and facing the tourists.
As he was balancing his body trying to do a sort of rudimentary dance on the red stairs, a previously seated black started to breakdance to his music but not with him. Immediately all eyes were on her, the cameras focused on her, the laughs, the jokes, the feelings, the spontaneity were inspired by her. Even he, the former center of attention, focused on her: dancing and yelling “Hey! Hey! Hey!” and trying not to let her overshadow him while pretending he was comfortable with the situation.
But he was not. He was no longer the center of attention and it was apparent how upset he was about that. He was not in Times Square to get money. He was there to put on a show, to get attention, to be seen. Times Square was, for him, a sort of showcase where everyone was able to see him. He was there to shine, to bask in the admiration of the crowd. That’s why, when the dancing woman ended her performance and returned to her place, he immediately left the red stairs and continued his catwalk routine. Again, all eyes were on him. New eyes, old eyes… finally, he was once again in the position he wanted to be.
Due to the fact that his routine was taking place almost in the middle of Duffy Square, in the middle of the “chill zone,” and because that area was not re-imagined as a “designated activity zone” and much less a runway, a security person from the Times Square Alliance came up to him and asked him to move to one of the designated blue areas for street performances and panhandlers. This time he did not yell a “ignore! ignore! ignore!” he just moved away but he never went to one of the assigned zones. He just left the Square heading north. I did not see him again, either that night or the next day.
Act 3, finale
A few nights later, he arrived again. He was wearing almost the same outfit, the same studded boots, the same skinny jeans, the same scarves and same sailor hat. However, instead of the black and white striped T-shirt, he was wearing a long black tank top over a white one. The most interesting thing about his new outfit was that instead of carrying a speaker he was wearing white earplugs. The message for me was clear: even though his show was about him being seen by everyone, his music would remain private, perhaps to prevent him from being overshadowed again. It was only his ears only.
That night nobody asked him to move away and nobody tried to dance at his side. The runway of the square was for him alone. He went up and down the red stairs multiple times, making his moves. He walked around the tables in the food court, yelled to some people occupying his space and, perhaps most importantly for him, caught everyone’s attention. I followed him for almost an hour that night. Then he lost me. I left him there doing his performance and moved to another area in Times Square.
About 45 minutes later I came back to Duffy Square and saw him there again. He was doing the same performance as before as if only a few minutes had just passed. Tourists were still recording him and laughing at the situation. Meanwhile, he just continued walking, dancing and singing along as if he was pretending there was nobody around him. Pretending, because from time to time —without stopping his performance— he would check if the glances and cameras were still focused on him. I left Duffy Square again and did not return that night. That was the last time I saw him. Our paths never crossed again.