Thursday, August 23, 2007

Dazed and Confused

Dazed and Confused

"Something is happening, but you don't know what it is, do you, Mister Jones?" --Bob Dylan

Walking around the city -- Jersey City -- I often feel dazed and confused. Inexplicable things are happening, or at least, I can't explain them.

One fairly common sight (maybe you've experienced this too) is a crowd gathered to watch a fire truck or ambulance that is blocking traffic on a side street, it's lights pulsating, but nothing else happening. No flames, no smoke, no body on a stretcher. "What is it?" I sometimes ask. Nobody knows. But the spectacle is apparently fascinating enough to transfix a whole pack of gawkers. Unfortunately, I'm usually too impatient to wait around to see if any calamity has, in fact, occurred.

Sometimes the mystery is less what is happening than why. While I was walking past a local church a few weeks ago, I heard an amazingly talented rock band playing, loud and raucous, in the church yard. They had drawn quite a crowd, not typical church-goers by the looks of them -- more like hipsters and dead-heads. Churches used to raise funds with bingo and ice-cream socials. Now they stage rock concerts?

I've seen stranger sights. One day, as I was walking down a local street, I noticed a man wearing a gas mask standing in a doorway of a decrepit house -- a nonchalant, slouching fellow, as if wearing a gas mask was no more unusual than wearing a baseball cap. He saw me staring and waved. I wondered as I passed by: had the chemical factory/terrorist event we all fear finally happened, or was it just strong paint fumes?

Curiouser and curiouser. A few days ago, while walking past a local park, I noticed a group of a dozen men, middle aged and older, standing in a circle on top of a hill, shoulder to shoulder. About half of them were wearing long orange robes; the others were dressed in jeans and polo or button-down shirts. Cult ceremony or impromptu soccer scrum? Whatever, they looked very intent on what they were doing, and I didn't think it polite to ask.

You can see some unusual things while riding the light rail, too. I work in Newark, and one day, while riding the light rail there, the train came to an unscheduled stop -- a long, long stop. The passengers were becoming quite annoyed. At last we began to move. The next stop was the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and there we could see what the hold-up was. A huge crowd had gathered near the track, all ages and races, and they seemed thrilled about something. There were TV cameras and lights, too. Something important, or at least exciting, was apparently happening.

"Another mysterious urban gathering," I thought, as the train at last began to move. "I'll never know what it was." But then, suddenly, as we were pulling away, the crowd screamed and parted, and Queen Latifah appeared, bathed in a sort of glittering, almost holy light.

I suddenly recalled reading something about a movie premiere that was being held at NJPAC. And, for once, I understood what the commotion was about. If only every such mystery could be solved by New Jersey's queen.

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