You know how certain kinds of films, television shows and stage plays will present a pandering, romanticized view of a homeless person, showing a rattily-dressed but wise old man whose simple words put middle-class problems into perspective.
As much as I love the The Clash’s lyirc about how “the truth is only known by guttersnipes” I’d never had one of these magical encounters.
I transferred onto the E-train at Canal Street and I was immediately bowled over by the stench of cheap whiskey at 9:55 in the morning. I looked up and saw a shabbily-dressed middle-aged man with dreadlocks, drinking brown liquor from a Poland Spring bottle.
Guy: What you reading?
Guy: What’s that about?
Me: How our culture is obsessed with its own past.
Guy: Like China and Kung-Fu movies.
Me: I haven’t gotten to that part yet.
Guy: (smiling) Maybe it won’t be in the book. But China makes a lot of Kung-Fu movies. Kung-Fu is very important to China’s history. It was the Kung-Fu masters that freed China.
He went on about Kung Fu for a few minutes. I was standing about 6 inches away from him, but everyone else kept their distance. Still, I got the impression they were watching/listening to this conversation. It’s the closest I’ve come to having a true Socratic Dialogue. I wish the train ride would last longer, because this was really getting good.
Guy: (more about how Kung-Fu saved China)
ME: I didn’t know that.
GUY: Kung Fu is very important.
The train pulled into the next stop and the doors opened at Spring Street, where I exited.
Me: (to my new friend) Take it easy.
Just before I left the guy looked at me, pointed and shouted one last thing. He was dead serious, but also joking.
Guy: THE FUTURE IS THE INTERNET!
I exited the train, and then came up with a good response after it was too late.
“That’s the one thing Kug-Fu can’t save us from.”