Saturday, May 16, 2009

On dropping out of trees

About one hundred years ago I knew a young woman in Australia who, amongst other things, used to drop out of trees.

Her name was Zen - well that was the name she called herself - her real name being something traditional like Heather or Susan. Zen did other things apart from dropping out of trees. Like posing on a stage in a deserted RSL hall, a stage empty of all props except for three shiny river stones, and Zen herself of course. Standing next to the rocks Zen would pose, adopting a Japanese Geisha posture, face powdered white with a little red mouth lipsticked over her generous Australian one. Zen had long bright red hair. The effect was unnerving. But then, there'd be only one or two of us in the audience, the rest of the world being blissfully oblivious to Zen's performance art.

The falling-out-of-a-tree thing involved a different costume - that of a Raggedy Anne doll. Zen's hair would be done up in two red plaits tied at the ends with pink and yellow polka-dotted bows. She'd wear a blue dress with a big red sash tied at the pack by another bow. There were bows on her patent leather shoes and bows on the white organdy apron. Zen truly looked like a rag doll.

Zen chose her venues with a caution that was somewhat out of character compared with the persona that she perceived herself to be. She chose university campuses rather than public parks. Undergraduates being more likely to forgive being given the fright of their lives when an apparently lifeless body dressed in ribbons and bows drops from above in front of them.

Because of course, having dropped, Zen would just lie there, perfectly still, limbs akimbo, eyes wide open staring lifelessly straight ahead.

Man leaning on tree, 2nd Avenue
I've lost contact with Zen. I never even hear about her. She appears to have dropped off the face of the earth. Perhaps literally, making one giant Zen-step forward, graduating from trees to our very own planet Earth. These days I rarely think of her, remembering her today for the first time in years, when I passed this sorry fellow on my way to breakfast. I circled him twice, trying to work out what the matter with him was. He didn't seem drunk, and I wondered why he didn't go and lie down on one of the many benches in the square.

Skateboarder with peal necklace, 2nd Avenue
Of course there are many strange sights to be seen in New York. Just a few weeks ago, not one hundred metres from where the man was leaning against the tree this morning, a skateboarder happily posed for me in his happy tshirt. And lest you think ho-hum, what's so odd about that, note that he is wearing a pearl necklace. And last night on my way home from work, a man got on the Second Avenue bus wearing fishnet stockings and shorts made out of gold lurex, a hounds tooth jacket - the sort one imagines being worn by Welsh English professors sitting in armchairs in front of wood fires in stone cottages, and a top hat. Such bizarre sights are commonplace here - and hence the saying, "Only in New York".

But it isn't true. It isn't only in New York. Well maybe it is, but then the people who say that have never been dropped on from above by a girl named Zen.

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