Monday, January 31, 2011


We happened to stop and rest in a small shadowed plaza, where park benches lay scattered about and weird modern sculptures splayed against the sky and fountains -- so much prettier -- splashed. The tall buildings loomed about us. It was a hot day.

While we sat among the crowds, five or six young black kids all dressed in jeans and plain white t-shirts came racing around a corner and sprinted down a corridor which led like a small canyon off the plaza. They disappeared up some wide steps.

All this time, a street performer had been setting up on the curb nearby. He was a black man wearing sweat pants and a shirt. We watched him put out a big boom box and a drum.

He took off his sweats. Underneath he wore a skin-tight, multicolored spandex bodysuit. He leaned over, switched on the boom box, and stood up on the drum as if it were a stage. His music blared, raspy, something funky and nondescript.

A uniformed cop on a bicycle rode slowly past him, up on the sidewalk. The performer said nothing but pointed gracefully in the direction the boys had run. The cop rode that way, and the performer began. He contorted himself, pulled a narrow plastic hoop over his body, balanced remarkably. I noticed there was a clear plexiglass box on the ground beside him, the kind contortionists fold themselves into on t.v.

While he stood on his drum, acting, playing to the crowd, he also watched where the cop had gone and where the boys had gone. He stood handstands while watching. Then one of the boys came back, the youngest and smallest. He settled in quietly among the crowd. The performer did not take his eyes off him.

I hissed in Aunt Laurie's ear that I thought the street dancer was an undercover cop. She gave me that arched-eyebrow glare, which usually means “Really? How interesting, you’re so wrong.” After a few minutes more, she was ready to move on.

We left. The man was still balancing and contorting and his music still pumped and thundered as we made to cross the street beside him. I was tempted to compliment him quietly on the fine job, but I thought this might blow his cover. On the other hand, I don’t see how the young kid who came back -- was sent back -- could not have known full well what he was.

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