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What’s Considered Weird in a City Where Anything Goes?

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by Arlen Hollis Kane

The answer will knock the cleats off your feet.

I’d like you to know that there is an elderly couple who live in my neighborhood. They are nicely rounded, quite friendly and dress from head to toe in psychedelic tie-dye.   We’re not talking muted shades of color that meld gently from greens to blues to purples to reds.  We’re talking bright turquoise, vivid orange, howling crimson, punctuated by yellows that could make the sun weep.

I often see them chatting amiably with the sidewalk fruit vendor on Broadway and 89th Street.  And, oh, did I mention, one member of the couple has a long white beard, also tie-dyed to match the colors of the day.  Welcome to my world.

I’d like to introduce you to another local citizen.

To ease you into this gentleman’s proclivity, let me first tell you that he likes cats.  And birds.  Parrots and parakeets.  So what, you say?  So he takes them out for a stroll and to hob-nob with the hoi polloi.  Again you say, so what?  So the birds ride on the heads of the cats.  I may have seen a parakeet riding on the head of a parrot, but I can’t say for sure.

We children of the 70’s remember Moondog, a fixture on Manhattan streets. Although he dressed as a Viking, he seemed a gentle soul, and we loved spotting him calmly standing among the suits frantically sprinting to their next martini.

The 1980’s brought us Adam Purple, an observer of environmental issues.

Although an early advocate of what would become the green movement, he dressed entirely in purple, including his jaunty little hat and sneakers.

Purple Man, as he was known, spent his days biking all over Manhattan collecting horse manure to fertilize an empty lot, which under his care became a thriving garden.  When his collection was sparse, he would head to Central Park, where the carriage horses were always reliable depositors.  After a time, we began to see Purple Woman.  Yes, our beloved environmentalist had a girlfriend.  Collections doubled.

I could go on with examples of the fascinating and some would say weird characters that inhabit my world, but I think you’ve got the idea.  What’s most interesting to me is not that these men and women and their peculiarities live among us here in the Big Apple, but rather that except for a glance, we don’t pay them no never mind. 

It’s just how it is, and frankly I like it.

Several days ago, I carried home a single golf club that I received as a gift.  My benefactor hadn’t a bag or container appropriate for such an item.  No worries, I said.  I’m weaning myself off plastic bags and have taken to carrying home grapefruits in my hand.

As I exited my friend’s lobby, handbag strung across my shoulder, a relaxed grip on the aforementioned golf club, I was greeted by a gentleman bemused by the sight of me and my club, then another, then a couple, then a family of five.  And this continued all the way home.  Did they think it was a defensive weapon wielded by a paranoid New Yorker?  An homage to the Masters, being held the following weekend?  Or just a weird sight in Manhattan?

What I learned that day is if you want to garner some attention in this town, forget about dressing like a Viking, or collecting manure like the Purple people, or tie-dying your beard, just carry a golf club down West 72nd Street.  Obviously, in Manhattan, there’s nothing weirder than that.

Welcome to my world.


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Arlen Hollis Kane

Arlen Hollis Kane is a Manhattan-based award-winning writer.  Memos from Manhattan, her regular column for 50PlusToday, is reflective of her love affair with her hometown.  Her focus is on writing about the ever astonishing people, places and events that inspire the phrase “only in New York.”

After reaching 50, she fulfilled a childhood passion by enrolling in the Fashion Institute of Technology.  She designs and hand makes scarves, handbags and jewelry. Her abstract acrylics and photographs have been featured in a one-woman show in the Gallery of the Borough President of Manhattan, and in juried shows, including at the National Arts Gallery.

Arlen volunteers for Dorot, an organization that helps seniors stay engaged and socialized, and Big Apple Greeter, which gives visitors the experience of seeing New York with a local.

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