Wednesday 5 August 2015

The Ballad of The Misplaced Man

It's a fact I have proclaimed from the rooftops since I first came to be here;

Nothing has been a greater surprise, delight and inspiration to me during my adventure in New York City, than the completely unexpected kindness and friendliness of strangers.

Now, I don't know whether it's New Yorkers or just Americans in general, but one of my favourite things about people here is that social awkwardness just isn't a thing. Whereas in England, we miserable Brits will genuinely walk an extra mile to avoid someone we'd have to entertain small talk with, people here are just open to talking to... pretty much anybody who'll listen.

And while it threw my ardent Britishness for the first few weeks, I can't tell you how much I've come to dig it.

Sat in a coffee shop last week, and in the space of half an hour, the girl to my right confides in me about her med school application and asks me for advice on what to write, and the guy on my left leans over to show me pictures of his favourite beach in Paraguay. 

Helping Chloe to carry a Craigslist-bought futon from a few blocks away to her new apartment a few weeks ago, and we must get stopped about 14 times in 10 minutes by people offering to help, eventually accepting a hand from a guy who ended up telling us his life story about how he got paid off the mafia at age 21 and ran off to Bali with the money to start a new life. 

Just yesterday, I was stood outside Morgan Ave subway station, my newly-purchased $5 vintage suitcase proudly displayed between my feet and an elderly gentlemen walking past grins and says 'If you're gonna run away from home, you might need a bigger case!'

I always wondered how the Humans of New York guy managed to provoke these fascinating tales and tit bits from strangers, but now I realised it can't really be that hard at all - people here are just bursting to tell you their story.

You'd think after 2 months the magic would wear off and it would start become annoying, but so far, it remains to me one of the most fascinating thing in the world. 

And perhaps my favourite of all, took place in Washington Square Park last Friday.

I'd awoken to a beautiful day.

The sun illuminated my skin and the warmth recharged my soul, but as the day wore on I began to feel more pensive and distant, my mind constantly repeating a conversation I'd had earlier in the week which had hit me like a sledgehammer of reality.

Needing to free myself from it, I handwrote the conversation onto little pieces of paper, and ventured out into the fragrant afternoon to photograph the journey of closure wherever I walked, however long it would take me to feel okay again.

I walked aimlessly without direction, until I found myself somewhere familiar, Washington Square Park, a place my best friend and I had just as accidentally stumbled upon last April when we'd come to New York for the first time.

"Hey," a voice behind me appeared, drawing me from my reverie, "Are you photographer?"

I looked down at the two cameras slung on either of my shoulders, one analogue, one digital.

"Well, amateurishly." I said with a small smile.


"Amateurishly." I repeated.

"...One more time?" He squinted, smile slowly fading.

"Like... an amateur."

"Wait sorry, what-"


"Ah! Cool man, cool."

He stood before me  in a bluish-grey abstract shirt and short shorts, a bizarrely shaped guitar slung over his shoulder.

"Well if you're looking for some inspiration..." He held up his hands with a smile.

I paused.

"What... you mean... you?"

He nodded.

"Oh right. So... you came over to tell me that I should photograph you?!"

"Well yeah, I'm offering my services as a subject."

I found myself speechless with surprise and joy. Only in New York would a subject approach a creator and proclaim themselves a muse.

I loved it. 

"You know what, sure, let's do this." I smiled as he held out his hand. 

"I'm David."

"Katie." I shook his hand firmly.

For fifteen minutes we stood in the park, him wandering around and me circling him to grab the perfect candid shot, him sat upon the fountain playing song after song as I snapped away, and I found out he was an elementary school science teacher by day, and busking musical muse-maker by night. I couldn't help but be impressed, for many reasons. 

He reminded me of someone so much, but I just couldn't think of who.

"So listen, these are all on 35mm film," I joined him by the side of the fountain. "So why don't I take your email and send you them through when I get them developed? Shouldn't be more than a week."

"Sure." He smiled, jumping down and taking my phone from my hands.

And with that, we parted ways, two complete strangers with a little promise sealed within celluloid. 

But it wouldn't be New York if the magic stopped there, right?

I got the photos developed, gleefully emailed them over with the tiniest air of smugness at how cool they'd turned out, only to get an instant no-reply bounceback from the server.

He'd written the wrong email address, and now this science-teaching guitar-wielding artist-seeker would never get to see the photos he'd shamelessly ambushed me for. 

I was disappointed, but I couldn't help but feel overwhelmingly charmed by the situation. Of course it was going to end up this way. Here I was, a lone British girl in possession of the 35mm snapshots she'd taken of a young musical stranger in the glow of  late afternoon in downtown Manhattan, trying to find a way to bring them home.

So that's why right now a handful of anonymous people will have curiously clicked on a craigslist lost and found title GUY W/GUITAR NAMED DAVID - I HAVE YOUR PHOTOS - my vain attempt to find this wondering musical man, because everyone in NYC knows craigslist solves EVERYTHING.

So David, if by some sweet miracle you're reading this, email me kid, I have your photos and you earned them. 

But for now my call echos in to the vast expanse of the internet... and so now we wait, to see if anyone can resolve The Ballad of the Misplaced Man.