Soirees and Solemnity in the Square

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Green DesklampI sloshed along—weary, beaten, and soaked head to toe in Faygo. Heading back from the ICP show at the 2011 Bamboozle Festival in New Jersey, I’d taken the train to Penn Station, and was meandering, exhausted, back towards my hotel near Times Square. I barely took in my surroundings as I stumbled along; the adrenaline and unbridled joy of the event still had their hold on me. I mumbled familiar lyrics to myself, navigating slowly towards the Square.

The first thing I recall noticing was the crowd—significant even for Times Square. The hour was quite late after all—likely well into the early morning of May 2nd, 2011. I paid little mind however, and continued on my way until I heard the chanting.

“USA, USA, USA!”

An ominous feeling took hold immediately. As it turned out, that feeling would take a long while to subside. Turning down an alley and passing out into the main square, I was met by an impenetrable wall of people chanting and singing. There were American flags as far as the eye could see. I stood with my jaw agape trying to sort out what was going on, when an errant crowd-surfer nearly took my head off.

‘Nice try,’ I thought—having spent the past few days stalking the Insane Clown Posse along their east coast tour, it would take more than a lone crowd-surfer to take me down. Still…none of this sat quite right with me.

Glancing eagerly about, I saw people climbing telephone poles to either hang flags or to improve their view. Men on benches read from bibles, and women held their children up to the open air. High-fives were exchanged, friends embraced, and a general feeling of unrestrainable patriotic glee pervaded the scene.

“What’s going on?” I recall asking a stranger.

“Obama’s dead!” he answered over his shoulder.

This news came as an even greater shock. Certainly, I recalled the controversy surrounding his presidency, but the festivities taking place around me seemed well overboard—or downright seditious—if based around a recently deceased president.

Still, the next person I asked gave me the same answer. And the next. It wasn’t until I approached a fourth stranger that I caught a glimpse of a familiar face on the giant Times Square screens. Dark skin in white wrappings, a long black beard—no one alive during the past ten years would mistake that face…and suddenly everything fell into place. Osama Bin Laden, not Barak Obama, had been killed.

Now the joy made a bit more sense, for a moment.

I turned around in awe, taking in the scene with a touch of morbid curiosity and a resounding knowledge that I was, at that very moment, witnessing history.

Everything continued as it had been. The songs were sung, the crowd-surfers surfed, and the flags were waved. For me though, the strange scene quickly lost its charm. Listening to the vitriol and barbaric revelling of the partiers, I couldn’t help but sympathize. Many were likely locals, who had been personally affected by the tragedy of 9/11. I was not.

It didn’t take long for me to decide against staying. Dancing for death had never been my forte—even when the death was so well-earned.

I dropped my soaked clothing at the hotel, changed quickly, and headed out for a quiet pint. Even that was hard to find. Most bars were filled with the overflow from the party in Times Square, and escaping the patriotic revelry seemed nigh impossible. After a tenacious search however, I found a tiny little corner of nowhere, ordered something dark, and sat in silence to reflect on the moment.

Beside me—and quite possibly the only other patron of the joint—sat a weathered old man. He stared morosely into his beer, his eyes never moving up.

I don’t remember how I started talking to him—although my interest in strangers is naturally increased when away from home—but eventually I asked him for his thoughts on the scene outside. He said he didn’t have many, and none worth sharing.

He was an old Marine, he explained. He’d no doubt seen plenty of death in his day. Perhaps he’d danced the same dance that raged now outside many times before—for victories far more personal. Or perhaps not. Just now, he wanted no part of it.

We sat for several hours—most of them in silence. He’d ask me now and then about my home, and what I did. What I believed. What I didn’t. He seldom answered the questions I turned back upon him.

When I finally left, I remember having no clue what I was feeling. Sure, I was fine with the death of a known killer and terrorist, but I didn’t feel any safer. I had no illusion that the world would be a better place now. More bombs would be dropped, and new leaders would rise on both sides—all intently seeking further death and destruction.

The people who fought the hardest for peace appeared to benefit from it the least, while those who hadn’t worked at all for it danced as only those who’ve never known loss or toil can. The people who proclaimed most fervently the superiority of their nations seemed to be the ones who’d never left its borders.

I suppose there are a lot of things like that in life. It’s easy to be enthusiastic when we are young and foolish and know no better. For the wise and weathered—for the warriors who have seen the cycle come back upon itself time and time again, there are no songs of joy or dirges of sorrow. There’s just another day, with nothing more to say.

Every year, I feel more like that old marine.

-Brad OH Inc.

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