Thursday, July 17, 2008

Jumping to conclusions... this morning

Most mornings, I stop off at a makeshift diner in lower Manhattan and douse the fires of a twelve hour fast from the night before with a sandwich and a tall coffee. Today was no exception. After ordering, I look around and notice a lanky youth with afro hairdo and a backpack to boot intently staring at the menu choices written down on a blackboard strategically placed on the sidewalk such that the diner could waylay people like us with its choices. Mornings tend to be busy and as is typical, I noticed the sandwich vendor try and get the afro youth’s attention as to what might be his choice for breakfast. Those of us standing around waiting for the morning cuppa soon come to the conclusion that the vendor’s actions seem like an exercise in futility. The afro youth was in a world of his own, intently staring with singular focus at the two feet high blackboard menu, eyes unmoved. Just from facial expressions and body language conveyed by the motley group waiting for their orders, it was clear that most of us thought that we have a crank in our midst. Hey, it New York City – cranks ooze out of stone walls. A little later, the youth takes out a piece of paper clipped on a hard pad and starts to copy parts of the menu using a half chewed out pencil. Looking at the paper and little clip pad in his hands, I remember thinking to myself that this guy must have come prepared and planned – for what I was not too clear and did not care too much – just as long as I got my breakfast on time. At this point of time, I hear a couple behind me whisper that either the afro is copying out the menu to start a rival diner on his own or that he must be comparing prices for menu items between makeshift diners like this. By now, the diner owner is at his wits end and starts to slowly raise his tone and tells the afro that one simply cannot copy the menu off his establishment and the youth better make an order for breakfast or clear the premises. I also heard a ‘cop’ invocation somewhere in between the veiled threat. What was fascinating was that the youth still seemed to be stuck in a world of his own, writing laboriously on his little piece of paper. After what seems like an eternity, I am handed my sandwich and coffee and as I am about to pick up my bag, I notice the youth look up slowly and catch the eyes of the diner owner. The youth then proceeds to pass him the piece of paper. Maybe it is a stick up note – I thought to myself hurrying to clear the area. I heard him say something to the diner owner – nothing intelligible – it seemed like a guttural cry from deep within the back of his mouth. Just as I was turning to go, it slowly dawns on us that the afro youth with the weather-beaten backpack was a deaf-mute and he simply was copying out a part of the menu that he planned for breakfast today.

Photograph of a painting by Zhao Nengzhi at the ChinaSquare gallery in Chelsea (displayed in June 08).

3 comments:

JafaBrit's Art said...

That painting is perfect for your story and a great reminder as to why we should never judge a book by it's cover and assume anything.

Sunil said...

Thanks. I read your post and thanks for the shout out.

Sunil said...

Thanks. I read your post and thanks for the shout out.