Washington Square Park Alive

With the transition from a harsh winter to a reluctant spring still in the works, I felt the need to visit Washington Square Park. The park is the Village’s historic frame of reference, a tourist Mecca, a place of encounter for lovers, musicians, theater enthusiasts, and gymnasts.

In the center of the square, around the water fountain, a group of energetic African-American men are performing. They are not only excellent gymnasts but first class showmen. For a little less than a half -hour the onlookers are glued to their movements and sounds. They mimic, tease each other and toss puns to the spectators while preparing the public for the grand finale. Their timing combined with their physical dexterity is exceptional. At the appropriate moment, one of them jumps over several people who are bent over in expectation.

Sitting next to me is a middle-aged woman and her teenage daughter. Eyeing the great number of dogs in the park, the woman says to her daughter, “We humans are outnumbered by dogs today.” As soon as she finishes saying that, two very young, very tall, very strong men walk by, each one holding a little dog in his arms.

I hear the sounds of a piano and am directed to a young man playing Mozart on an upright piano. He is part of a city program to encourage piano playing in public spaces. I then witness an unusual sight. A middle-aged man, tall and slightly overweight, is seated on a bench with a bag at his side full of pigeon food. He is completely covered by pigeons and, as he feeds them, he talks to them and pats them on the wings. His face is covered with patches of dry skin probably a left-over from eczema, all contributing to his unusual looks. What makes the sight truly strange, though, is that his body is almost completely covered in pigeon’s feces, and he doesn’t seem to mind.

I move away from him and come upon a quintet of wonderful jazz musicians. On the right is an Asian-looking man playing the trumpet. He is short and thin and is wearing a boater hat, the trademark of the famous French singer Maurice Chevalier. Behind him, on the base, is a very earnest young man. A thin Vietnamese woman is on the drums and a short stocky man with a beard is playing the saxophone. Next to him a tall Black man in a rumpled suit and a hat that is too small for his head is also playing the trumpet.

I am sitting next to a Japanese woman with a pleasant smile. I learn from her that the African-American man is not part of the group; he was just walking by and joined in. She is talking to a 7-year-old child, a beautiful girl with curly hair who moves in sync with the music, totally absorbed by it. Her father, the African-American trumpet player, looks at her lovingly, and while playing makes faces at her. He seems to be playing for his daughter alone, who obviously enjoys the music. “She loves to play the piano,” he tells me later.

It is a typical day in the world’s most cosmopolitan city, in the city’s most myriad park. Although I listen with interest to the music, my attention is drawn to the “pigeon man.” I cannot understand how he can stand the dozens of pigeons perched on top of his head, on his arms and legs. He just sits and continues feeding them. He is a bit unkempt, totally unconcerned with his surroundings and the people near him.

The girl continues moving to the rhythm of the music; at times the Japanese woman says something to her. The girl reminds me of so many girls I see in my travels in Africa, full of vitality and charm. She is smartly dressed in a dark blue skirt with broad suspenders and a beautiful white blouse. Her sights are fixed on her father.

Although spring began officially several weeks ago, it is still cold in the late afternoon. I look over at the pigeon man, who has eyes only for his pigeons and continues feeding them. In the meantime, the musicians have decided to call it a day and are packing up, so I leave, too. Just as I am getting up, though, a passing pigeon (one of the pigeon man’s pigeons, I suspect) leaves a present on my pants. Delicately, without a word, the Japanese woman hands me a tissue.

More articles by:

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

November 20, 2018
John Davis
Geographies of Violence in Southern California
Anthony Pahnke
Abolishing ICE Means Defunding it
Maximilian Werner
Why (Mostly) Men Trophy Hunt: a Biocultural Explanation
Masturah Alatas
Undercutting Female Circumcision
Jack Rasmus
Global Oil Price Deflation 2018 and Beyond
Geoff Dutton
Why High Technology’s Double-Edged Sword is So Hard to Swallow
Binoy Kampmark
Charges Under Seal: US Prosecutors Get Busy With Julian Assange
Rev. William Alberts
America Fiddles While California Burns
Forrest Hylton, Aaron Tauss and Juan Felipe Duque Agudelo
Remaking the Common Good: the Crisis of Public Higher Education in Colombia
Patrick Cockburn
What Can We Learn From a Headmaster Who Refused to Allow His Students to Celebrate Armistice Day?
Clark T. Scott
Our Most Stalwart Company
Tom H. Hastings
Look to the Right for Corruption
Edward Hunt
With Nearly 400,000 Dead in South Sudan, Will the US Finally Change Its Policy?
Thomas Knapp
Hypocrisy Alert: Republicans Agreed with Ocasio-Cortez Until About One Minute Ago
November 19, 2018
David Rosen
Amazon Deal: New York Taxpayers Fund World Biggest Sex-Toy Retailer
Sheldon Richman
Art of the Smear: the Israel Lobby Busted
Chad Hanson
Why Trump is Wrong About the California Wildfires
Dean Baker
Will Progressives Ever Think About How We Structure Markets, Instead of Accepting them as Given?
Robert Fisk
We Remember the Great War, While Palestinians Live It
Dave Lindorff
Pelosi’s Deceptive Plan: Blocking any Tax Rise Could Rule Out Medicare-for-All and Bolstering Social Security
Rick Baum
What Can We Expect From the Democrat “Alternative” Given Their Record in California?
Thomas Scott Tucker
Trump, World War I and the Lessons of Poetry
John W. Whitehead
Red Flag Gun Laws
Newton Finn
On Earth, as in Heaven: the Utopianism of Edward Bellamy
Robert Fantina
Shithole Countries: Made in the USA
René Voss
Have Your Say about Ranching in Our Point Reyes National Seashore
Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines