Fellini Visits Brooklyn
Fellini Visits Brooklyn I was walking east onCarroll St. at about eight on a Sunday morning when two uniformed cops gotout of an unmarked car in front of me. "First thing we dois go to the church," one of them said, "and we'll trade them sometvs for golf clubs." "Sounds good,"the other policeman said, before they headed across the street, toward thechurch in question. I was thinking that thiswas a mighty odd thing, until I hit 7th Ave. Unlike most early Sunday mornings,today 7th was all aflutter with activity. Every few yards down both sidesof the street, groups of burly men in dirty t-shirts were trying to forcevarious lengths of pole together. Others had gotten so far along as to havealready affixed canopies to the tops of their poles. "Funnel Cakes,"some of them read. "Sausage and Peppers" or "Fruit Shakes"read others. A variety of salmonella pit stops and cheap crap stands wereslowly rising from the pavement, transforming 7th into another hideous streetfair. Happens every year about this time-I just can never remember exactlywhen. It always catches me like a savage roundhouse to the back of the skull. Farther down the street,another group of men in t-shirts as dirty as any others were creating somesort of makeshift half-assed stage in front of the high school. A bunch ofcard tables covered with an astroturf tarp. Three men were pulling batteredamplification equipment out of the back of a van. That's certainly nota good sign, I thought as I hurried past and through the glut and thestench of already-burning peppers to the grocery store-my original goal-topick up milk, juice and cheese for the week. The store was mercifully empty.At the checkout, the kid behind the register scanned my purchases and hita few buttons. "Six sixty-six,"he told me. I stared at him for asecond. "No, that's not a good sign at all," I mumbled. It was startingto look like one of those days. When I got home, shakenand dazed, feeling the first stirrings of fear tickling me, there was a messagewaiting on my machine. I played it as I put the groceries away. Yessir, I thought,as the message cleared itself, I need to get me an unlisted number.A few hours later, Morganrode the train in from Manhattan, we had a beer or two at my place, then decidedto head up to the fair. It was the one day of the year we were allowed todrink openly on the streets, and by God, we were going to take advantage ofit. "Just let me knowwhen it gets too bad," she told me as we headed up the sidewalk towardthe growing roar of the crowd, "and I'll get you the hell out of there." "Thanks," Isaid.. "I'll let you know." I've never been good with crowds. An aging doo-wop band-theBeltones, I believe they were called-were gesticulating their way throughvarious numbers on the rickety and dangerous stage, so we just fell into thestream and headed north, right up the middle of the avenue with the rest ofthem. Three blocks later, the both of us considering bolting to be our finestoption at the moment, we ran into the first beer stand of the day, and angledfor it. Suddenly, things didn't seem so bad anymore. The street was packed,yes, a turbulent and throbbing sea of humanity, but suddenly it seemed...almost...okay. It was well-behaved humanity. People were polite, they got outof the way. They minded their own business. They kept moving. So did we-past the standsoffering t-shirts and pottery and psychic readings from the World's LoneliestPsychic and on-the-spot tattoos and public massages, bootleg videos and balloons.Past treacherous-looking food carts offering foreign delights like "Ice-ColdMarinated Chicken" and other, less appetizing treats. A hatchet-faced childriding in a papoose on his father's back stared at me. I stared back. Histiny, pliable face twisted into a look of pure, sour disgust. I made the sameface back at him. He continued to stare and grimace until he and his father disappeared into the crowd. The day was warm and bright,but not unbearably so. Still, the beer was walloping us good. I think walkinghad something to do with it. We finished what we had and searched for more.There were no arguments around us, no fistfights. It was remarkable. Peoplewere simply enjoying this peculiar moment in time, and letting everybody elseenjoy the same moment in their own way. "It was almost likea religious festival," Morgan would say later. To our left as we continuednorth, a dangerous-looking "ride," apparently constructed-or maybejust adapted-out of old industrial baking equipment, spun screaming childrenin tight circles. A block later, another ride-a kind of pendulum swing, washoisted back and forth by a bald, muscular fellow who seemed to be havingmuch more fun that the mortified children who were strapped to it. Like thatfirst ride, it looked like it could collapse in on itself at any moment. Iwanted to wait around until that happened, but we were swept along. When we hit the barricadesthat marked one end of the fair-just a few blocks shy of Flatbush-Morgan noticedthe lonely man on the opposite corner, locked outside of the fair, apparently,who was selling his lonely flowers out of a plain green bucket. He had nocustomers. We turned around and headed back, plunging into the crowd one moretime. It all looked and felta bit too much like one of the missing scenes from La Dolce Vita, exceptin color. It was strange-I love fairs and cheap carnivals, but under any othercircumstances, I would have fled a scene like this, screaming, long ago. Iwould've seen all those people, all those unpleasant faces, then turned rightthe hell around and gone home, where I'd pull my shades and turn up the stereo.But like I said, there was something different going on here. Being therewith Morgan helped. She pointed out the weirdness that I normally wouldn'thave seen, and navigated me through the crowd with precious few mishaps. It was like an alien streetfair we had found ourselves in. I mean, it had all the same crap you'd findin every other street fair in this city, but the mood and tempo were different.There was something almost reckless about it as we drove onward. Again, Morganput her finger on it, I think, when she called it "joyous." Andnot in a creepy way, either-it was simply recklessly joyous, almost out ofcontrol, but not quite. Of course, the beer helped,too. So we got some more. It was such a simple pleasure, she pointed out,to be able to walk past policemen, beer in hand, and not get hassled aboutit. Back at the dangerousstage, members of what appeared to be a plague-ridden medieval performancegroup were stage diving and performing Bach vocal pieces very well. Then peoplefrom the audience were stage diving, too. It was very strange. I chose notto stage dive. Then a three-piece oldiesact set up and started playing Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly numbers, whilethe older women in the crowd (who'd also apparently discovered the nearbyBrooklyn Brewery stand) started dancing and twirling about wildly. All atonce, an old bum-I knew him from around the neighborhood-was in the midstof these dancing old ladies, kicking up his own heels, pulling the women,one after the other, away from the group to the open spot in front of thestage for some nasty, lascivious bumpings and grindings, gropings and cleavagenuzzlings. Any other circumstances, and these women would be (justifiably)filing charges against him. But here, and now, they stood in line, it seems,still dancing by themselves, waiting for a chance to grind nasties with awell-heeled homeless man. Off to the side of thestage, a group of three policemen stood by patiently, hands on their weapons,waiting for the first scream of horror and disgust, waiting for things toturn ugly, but they never did. The band kept playing, the bum kept dancing and we finally turned away. We continued moving southagain, feeling almost like we were at a Grateful Dead show (but not quite).Every third or fourth person we passed seemed to be carrying a long, blackstick of some kind-maybe a squeegee, maybe a mop, maybe nothing like it atall-but everyone seemed to have one, and Morgan became obsessed. She justwanted to find out what they were. I offered to ask the nextperson we saw carrying one, but decided that a drunken blind man stumblingout of the crowd and asking, "Hey...hey...what's that big ol' stick allabout, eh?" probably wasn't the best idea. We kept our eyes open and kept moving, but found nothing. The surroundings got stranger.The offerings at the food stands more unrecognizable. We were sliding ourway into a part of the neighborhood I'd never visited before. Still, though,everything seemed fine. More bootleg video tapes, more Puerto Rican t-shirts.This thing seemed to go on forever, like my old dream of heaven. It had abeginning, but no end. No end. We finally gaveup, the beer and the sun and the crowd and the miles underfoot finally catchingthe better of us. We slowed to a stop, stepped away from the masses and ontothe sidewalk, and headed back to my place.
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