I was sitting in Bryant Park recently. Alone on a beautiful fall day with time to kill, I cozied up to a table with my iPad and a fresh cup of Starbucks to catch up on my newsfeeds. If you are familiar with the city you know that this particular spot is unique for several reasons – not the least of which is that it boasts both a lush green lawn as well as areas with tables and chairs. The latest addition is a coffee kiosk where you can get an over priced danish and cup of joe. On this day I got the cat-bird seat; a table that overlooks the lawn – perfect for people watching but not requiring any actual interaction. Essential for a now married people watcher of the ‘look-but-don’t-touch’ variety. I took off my shoes, felt the brisk fall air, had a sip and settled in. All I needed now was a good cigar. Ironic how far we’ve come. You can get WiFi in any park on the island, but you can’t smoke a stogie. Probably for the best…
As I looked over the indigenous inhabitants of the park, It didn’t take me long to see a pattern forming. As with most random spots in Manhattan, the park was a melting pot of color, age, gender, profession… I think there may have been more than one species… everyone enjoying the day in their own way. What stood out to me were the pre-teens. It was the middle of a school day, so I was surprised to see any – but they were there in droves. Tiny clumps of kids coagulating the way that cliques do. Must have been a school outing. Might have something to do with the proximity to the library, but it’s hard to imagine schools field-tripping to look at an actual book these days. Anyway, what struck me was that very few of them were talking to each other. They had their heads buried in an ‘iDevice’ of their choosing.
I know – this surprises no one. A sign of our times. I actually thought about saying something to the group next to me about enjoying the day but the thought of it made me feel really old. I continued gazing. It was then that I noticed that they were ‘talking’ electronically to each other. Not just idle chit chat either. Apparently a boy in one group wanted to ask out a girl in the other – clearly different social circles – and their friends were all texting about it between the groups. Romeo & Juliet however, were not. The timing of the giggling and pointing was unmistakable. The star-crossed would-be lovers were voicing their objections to their individual group, but in a way that clearly begged for intervention. The whole things was a very out-of-body trip to my teenage years masked behind the latest technological excuse to hide from what you want. It was the boys circle right next to me rather than the girls’. His buddies were razing him pretty hard. The peer pressure and sexual frustration were about to get the best of him. I couldn’t help myself…
“Hey guys…” I said, feeling awkward instantly. I actually considered a strong ‘Dude’ but decided against it. I kept my face in the iPad, but was addressing them. It got their attention.
“Sorry to butt in, but will you take some advice from an old man?” I waited for an answer without looking up. Longer than I was comfortable with. I started to realize that if he said no, my peaceful moment in the park was over. Then the nudging & encouraging kicked back in around the circle and I knew it was just a matter of time.
“No offence”, Romeo said. “It’s not that I don’t want your advice, I just don’t need it. I don’t really like her – and if I did she’s out of my league anyway. I just want these guys to knock it off!” He punctuated his statement by punching the guy next him. Fairly hard actually. I was impressed. Sometimes it’s tough being a Pal…
How to you convey to a 13 year old that he just buried the lead? I lowered my sunglasses looking at them over the top. This is a look that very few people under the age of 70 should attempt in conversation… except maybe Tom Cruise. I risked it. I’ve had lots of practice.
“OK then”, I said nonchalantly. “But personally, I think you are full of shit.” I wasn’t inflammatory, just tossing it out like I was choosing which pack of gum to buy at the news stand. Besides, I’ve found that nothing can ingratiate you more to a strange group of teens than an adult willing to use, but not overuse, profanity.
“Just out of curiosity though; Which is it?”
Confusion filled his reply. “Well. Wait. What? What do you mean?”
“I mean which is it? Are you not in to her, or is she out of your league?” His friends were all ears now. He thought for a moment.
“Both… Yeah. Both”. I kept eye contact but raised one eyebrow. Lee Majors eat your heart out. “OK. I do like her, but… you know.. look at her!”
His posse had stopped teasing him now and focussed their attention on me. They had gone from looking for the old man to be an idiot and past right over hoping I would help them rib their buddy. They had landed on wanting to help their friend who dared to dream out loud about the girl non of them thought they could attract. I felt like the Pied Piper… armed with an iPad… and sunglasses.
“I see.” The girls had started looking in our direction because the texting had stopped. I pushed my glasses back up and addressed the crew. “What do you think? Does she like him?”
“Not a chance”
“In his dreams”
None of the guys had noticed that the girls were all looking our way. Their entertainment had turned to intrigue. Someone liked someone in this mess…
“Listen. Not for nothing. But you guys have been texting back and forth as a group for a while now. They aren’t doing that because there is nothing else to do on their phones…. all of them… together… as a group…”
They weren’t getting it.
“Guys. Ever watch animal kingdom? You need to break your prey away from the herd. It’s the easiest way. Otherwise you have to play to a whole audience rather than just one person.” Their ears perked up. They had discussed this before…
“But this is my only chance”, he replied. “The dance is tomorrow. Once we are on the bus it will get worse… Besides, we are friends and I don’t want to ruin that.”
“Yes. Yes. I see your problem. Well then. You are only left with two options.”
I left it hanging out there. Like the big pink elephant in a very tiny room.
“Well?!?! What are they?”
“Let’s put it this way,” I replied, “Option B has you finishing in the shower….”
One of them lit up and said to the others; “You know – nice guys don’t finish last…” They loved it. The whole group. I knew I would be the topic of conversation of every chaperone on this trip. Luckily for them I use my powers for good not evil.
“You need to walk over there. Just you. Walk right up to her and ask her out. Don’t fidget, don’t stammer, don’t slouch. Be confident that she will say yes and she will”
“Bold moves Dude. Women like bold moves”. I had gotten my point across and worked in a ‘Dude’. Feeling very accomplished, I turned my attention back to my iPad and left them to contemplate.
“I don’t know. What if she says no?”, he sheepishly asked.
“Will you be any worse off then you are right now?”
“Bold moves Dude”.
“But…” he was close. I could feel it. “How do you know?”
Without turning back I flipped the page on my eBook and replied; “Bold moves…”
He got up and headed across the yard. Every girl was watching. Every boy was watching. No one was talking or texting. I’m not going to lie – I felt anxious for him. I gave him a better than average shot – I was confident what would happen, but I couldn’t help but feel as though my faith in every 80’s movie was being tested. Youth is, indeed, really wasted on the young.
He made it over to the group. Said a few words. Stood tall in the center of their circle and waited. We were to far to hear, but the look on his face was unmistakable. All of the boys cheered and started clapping and whistling. I urged them play it cool, but smiled with the rest of them as I watched his triumphant return – all of us trying to act casually despite the adrenalin. I was given fist bumps from the crew while he made his way. I could tell he was very conscious of his gate as he tried to walk normally back to his buds…
My work here was done. I started packing up.
Upon his return, he was treated with a victors welcome. And with good reason. He walk past the back slaps directly up to me – stood tall in front of me & held out his hand.
“Thank you Sir.”
“Nicely done, ” I said. I looked at him with a straight face, stood up, held his hand a little tighter and said; “Now, as payment all I ask is that you name your first-born after me. My name, is Balthazar.”
He couldn’t tell if I was serious or not, and clearly was not a Shakespeare fan. We were both also instantly aware of the fact that my height and size had just blocked what little he could see of the sun. I watched him tense up, so I smiled setting him at ease.
“I’m kidding”, I said loosening my grip. “Congrats man. Keep up the good work.”
I packed up my crap and left on a high note. Chatting with strangers in NY can be a bit of a crap shoot. When you are 30+ years their senior you should really pick your moments.
I put on my headphones and headed North along 6th ave, passing the school busses lined up on 42nd. I felt as though I had done my good deed for the day. A chit to help balance my karmic scale. Lord knows with my past I can take all I get. Now – if I could only somehow appear half as smart to my own kid as I am to everyone else’s… but we all know that’s not going to happen.
‘Course that’s just how I see the world. Your view may be different.