Saturday, December 24, 2011

Urban Encounter 2: Christmas Edition

I saw them again, the couple panhandling on the subway. It was last week. It took my lunch hour to do some last minute Christmas shopping and had to take the subway to Bed Bath and Beyond. I could have walked, but I thought the train would be quicker. Very crowded. I'm standing by the door and I see the guy with the accordion. I think "Where's his girlfriend with the baby?" Ah, there she is at the other end of the car. "Please to excuse disturbing you," he announces in a Russian accent and then starts playing. I got off at 23rd Street and so did they. If this were a New Yorker short story, I'd follow them, but it's not, so I continue on my way. I do think, who are they and why are they begging? Musicians from a Slavic country who can't find work and need to support a baby?

Later I wander back to work through the holiday market on Union Square with all these little booths selling cute little gifts for Secret Santas and gift grab-bags. I need to buy something for a grab-bag friends are having on Christmas Day. Suddenly standing next to me is Brad Pitt. Or someone who looks exactly like him. I can't be the movie star, but the resemblance is so strong I almost say "You know you are a dead ringer for Brad Pitt; you must get that all the time." And then he'd say "I am Brad Pitt. How about an autograph or a French kiss?" Something similar did happen to me once. I was in a bicycle shop buying a lock and this guy standing next to me at the register resembled the actor who played the smart-alecky teen on the Dell Computer commercials. I remarked on the resemblance and he said "I am that guy." But it didn't go much further.

I leave Brad Pitt and go to the Barnes and Noble to buy a present for my friend Diane who is staying over for a few days before the holidays. At first I think of going with the safe choice of a gift certificate, but then I remember a book called Lost Bookmarks I thought she would like. It's a collection of letters, postcards, and other miscellania a used book dealer found in volumes he's acquired over the years. Fascinating little bits and pieces of people's lives like invitations to a Halloween party in 1913, a postcard from a relative informing about a son's illness ("The doctor has been by every day"), doodles and sketches drawn on advertisments, etc. I find it on the fourth floor and buy it. It makes me think about the scraps we leave behind. In the digital age, what will future biographers and anthropoligists rely on to get an accurate picture of how we lived? Tweets, blogs like this, Facebook status updates? What happens to a Facebook account when the person dies? Does it just stay there in cloudy cyber space waiting for someone to randomly google it?

When I walk into a used bookstore, I look at the old magazines like Life and the New Yorker, they give you an idea of the day-to-day of people's lives. When print disappears how will the people of the future find us?

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