Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Four Ways

The alley is clean of debris. A pale gray isle of concrete is flanked on either side by corrugated steel panels. They are free of graffiti and grime, only a faint chalky layer of undisturbed dust has settled on their matte surface. Here and there the corrugated panel give way to a stretch of chain link fence, revealing an urban expanse of concrete. These glimpses are ghostly, void of any movement, or even signs of life. No streets or sky scrapers may be detected; they are not there. Only a desert of abstract concrete plazas and occasional smatterings of chain link cloistered around empty yards of asphalt. The alley opens into such a plaza. It is covered by a large Constantinoplan dome which hangs over a concrete gazebo with yawning arches on four sides.
Where the alley meets one of these archways, a vendor is positioned with a box of round lollipops hanging from his neck. His hands are gloved with fingers exposed in black and purple striped stockings, which are just visible from under the cuffs of his dirty coat. He wears a dingy straw cap from the striped band of which dangles a silk flower, it’s yellow color blotted out behind darks smudges of grease and soot. A wrinkled red scarf is tied around his throat. A visible layer of soot is cast all over him. His toes poke from holes in his sock out of holes in the tips of his shoes. The brown tops separate from the soles like yawning hippos when he moves on his feet.
As people stream by out of the hall, he presses lollipops into their hands as if they are VIP passes. The trickle of individuals tends to clot were he stands dispensing the brightly colored confections with an air of importance.
Inside the plaza, barkers announce the attractions to be found beyond the other archways. One wears a black silk top hat and a worn red jacket coupled with dirty white leggings and high black boots. The jacket hangs open to reveal a dirty striped T-shirt worn over a roll of belly fat. It all hangs from him like a weathered second skin. He stands before a great wooden sign with white lettering inviting and beckoning the folks milling about in the plaza to pass through his archway.
There are other grubby looking vendors peddling their wares. Some hang back in the shadows, other linger in the center arresting the attention of all of those who pass their way. They sell all manner of oddities, silver spoons and old ties, empty cookie tins, and birds houses. Cigars and peanuts and candy are also to be had; there is even a glass walled popcorn cart with its polished silver kettle popping loudly behind the glass and red and gold lettering.
One archway leads to yet another tattered gentlemen pushing lollipops. Beyond him an auditorium with stadium seating is filling up with an assortment of people, young and old. Many are clustered together in groups; a pair here, a trio there, a quintet up front... Some seem to be families, others are packs of friends. A few are seated alone. Projected upon a screen at the front of the auditorium, a spy movie plays out. Much of its appeal lies in that it is a color remake of an older black and white film. Most of the viewers are engrossed in the well known story. Some move from one seat to another, unable to find the perfect spot. In the dim room, the furnishings are still very distinguishable. The carpet is goldenrod in color, clean but worn. The folding seats are all fashioned with faux wood laminate.
A lean man in a crisp dark suit, white shirt and tie, stands near the projector at the back of the room. The image from the screen dances as a reflection upon the lenses of his silver rimmed eye glasses. His posture is erect, his hair neatly trimmed. In his hand he holds note cards with facts about the movie, its plot, political implications, details about the performers, the director, the writer, and the producers.

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