Early one morning on my way to work, I see a man sitting on a standpipe, just beneath a “No Loitering” sign. (You see such ironies all the time.) He sits on the red standpipe, an increasingly common type, a very black man, not too ragged, wearing a brand new watch cap. The man is mad: options limited, bent forward, hands clasped, rocking, rocking, back and forth.
Then, just as I am almost past, in common spring transformation (O season of jumps and whimsy), the mad man multiplies, becoming whole troops of mad old men, bobbing cheek by jowl, dovening in the schul, while I stand and watch, the bar-mitzvah boy.
To me, even then (thirteen, of course), these stale old men seemed participants in an archaic form of madness, inviting me to join, on a more-or-less permanent basis, The Shiny Pants Brigade.
An unattractive option, this —alarming, even— yet an option for which some boys —weak boys, obedient boys, god-knows-what boys— might have chosen —did choose— to trade away their Saturday morning freedom. (A good way, if you ask me, to have been fleeced and fleered, for god never once appeared, with or without beard, with or without sword, not even on a bubble gum card.)
Yes, even now, as I take the shortcut through the park, nevertheless taking my time, the madman, far —two blocks— behind, even now, I say, I consider the memory of those rocking men lingering in my mind, a nagging threat, a standing invitation to kneel, which I, a walking, working man (guilt edged, though no trader, keeping my options open), choose even now, as then, I say, firmly to decline.