September 28, 2004

Only Ghosts

By Jason Boog

In Times Square, the hordes of shuffling tourists, businesspeople, and vendors beg the lazy journalist to make zombie metaphors. Ever since Arnold Schwarzenegger mugged the GOP convention podium, mocking the “economic girlie-men” Democrats– the political scene begs the lazy journalist to make movie metaphors.

Therefore, there was no better place for the lazy journalist to stick his political thermometer than an afternoon showing of that overblown zombie movie, Resident Evil: Apocalypse.

The plot was relatively simple. An evil multinational corporation built a zombie factory beneath an idyllic American suburb, and then the monsters escape. The zombies terrorized a large city, inspiring heroics and computer-generated mayhem. In the end, the evil corporation dropped a nuclear bomb on the city.

Oddly enough, only ten young men sat in the 100-seat theater.

When a particularly gooey zombie crept up behind an unsuspecting hero, a 25-year-old zombie-enthusiast named David shouted, “Look out, son!” at the top of his lungs. He had seen the movie three times already, but felt too shy to give his last name. Dressed in a blue sweater and a matching cap, he liked to pound the floor with his umbrella when got excited.

“That’s what it’s like in the real world,” he said. “There’s viruses and war out there. Now everybody just looks out for themselves, they don’t help other people. It’s crazy. If Bush wins, I’m moving to Europe.”

David scoffed at anybody that might say his generation wasted away, ruined by video games and action movies. “My friends and I pay attention,” he said. “I read the Post and Financial Times. I know what’s happening.”

The movie didn’t ignore politics either; it pounded the audience with overwhelming images. Inside a school building, the camera lingered on a map of the world covered with bloody handprints. Buildings exploded, thousands of zombie-extras got blasted, and creepy soldiers occupied the city—and still, somebody decided to release this movie on Sept. 10.

“I’m a movie freak, and I loved it,” said 22-year-old Sharif Karni. Born in Bangladesh, he spent the last six years living in Brooklyn with his family. “I’m aware of the world. I know about the atrocities in Bosnia and Rwanda, but real life and movies are different things.”

As a confirmed “Bush-basher,” Karni had wanted to attend the Republican convention protests two weeks ago. However, he’s also an olive-skinned Islamic man, and feared racist attacks or arrest.

“I used to take videos of New York City to send to Bangladesh,” Karni said. “After 9-11, everything is very different. Now I’d probably get arrested! I’m more cautious.”

Karni wears jeans and sandals now, and picking up more and more of America. “I went back to Bangladesh this summer,” he said. “You see how far you’ve strayed from your country. We are a politically-oriented country, and that part of me hasn’t changed.”
***
After the credits rolled, the lonely zombie-lovers disappeared into the evening crowd. Across the street, Floyd Lee played the blues on a concrete island in the middle of 7th Avenue.

He had a microphone duct-taped inside a harmonica neck-brace, and plucked a hardwood electric guitar. Lee wore a shiny blue shirt and brand-new bowler hat, stomping the beat with black Velcro shoes.

His wa-wa pedal and battered amplifiers submerged the crackling guitar sound, producing a murky wail that sailed over rush-hour traffic noise. “Don’t believe a word I say,” he sang, a sad, old bluesman begging his lover to leave. “Just go away, pretty baby…”

Claire E. shook her tambourine beside Lee, singing sweet harmonies that smoothed his raspy voice. Over their heads floated the cluttered heart of Times Square: three different network tickers spieled digital news summaries, a 50-foot MacDonald’s “M” hung in the corner, and overlapping Jumbotron screens competed for the consumer’s burned-out attention.

Lee never noticed.

He was a founding member of MTA’s “Music under New York” program, and he played crowded subway spots for years. “This program keeps a lot of people off the streets,” he said. “A lot of these musicians come from foreign countries, and they need help. It’s real big.”

Claire E. only had good things to say about the neighborhood. “They sure cleaned up this place,” she said, “made it safer to play here.”

Both musicians ducked questions about former mayor Giuliani. “He’s thinking about running for President someday,” Lee said, pointing towards the sky. “He’s got power. You need to be careful what you say.”

Lee played outside the Republican convention this year, but refused to take sides with a party. “New York belongs to everybody,” he said. “Here, they love you even though they don’t know your name.”

Before he packed up for the evening, Lee waved a cardboard picture of the World Trade Center, each tower stamped with FDNY and NYPD logos. “My heart beats for them,” he said.

In Sept. 2000, Claire E. and Lee played an afternoon show outside the Twin Towers. Somebody videotaped the performance, and Lee whispered when he described the recording:

“You can see how all these people from that building. They all came out for lunch. They were just enjoying the music—singing and dancing for an hour. And then, just one year later… Can you imagine how their families would feel if they watched that tape? All those people from that building—if you could see it, it would scare you, man!”

The lazy journalist could make smug comparisons between zombie movies and the election year, but he would be wrong. Last week, the city recovered from the convention and re-opened a three-year-old wound. There were no zombies in Times Square that gloomy afternoon, only ghosts.

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