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En La Esquina

Wow, I don’t think I’ve done a neighborhood piece since I moved to Washington Heights. It’s about time…

Every evening at the corner of 181st St. and St. Nicholas, around the newsstand, there is shouting. The last couple of nights I have hurried away from the subway station exit at that corner, because the caliber of shouting seemed to be a little louder than usual, and there were a lot more uniformly-dressed young men in doo-rags involved. I don’t know what was up with that. I guess I’m still a clueless agent of gentrification; can’t read the neighborhood.

Tonight confirmed one of my hunches about the usual shouting at the station. Tonight it was back to normal: ardently but not angry shouting from a bunch of middle-aged Latino men in working-class dress, throwing hands in the air and smacking at articles in folded newspapers. Among them, I have often seen a bearded fellow in an odd peaked hat who I could swear read at the poetry nights I used to go to in Harlem.

I paused at the elbow of one of the men. De que estamos hablando en est’esquina? I asked. (I learned the word “esquina” — streetcorner — from an Aterciopelados song.)

Politica, he said. Politica, politica. Todos los noches. He smiled.

I managed to fumble my way through a few more bilingual exchanges. He told me it was mostly Dominicans, and I believe he said they were talking about politics in their home country. I asked why they met on the corner and not at someone’s house or a restaurant. He gently explained it was to eliminate the economic differences between participants. I asked him whether the men present were socialists, or democrats, or something else. All types, he said, smiling again.

Where are you from? he asked. California, I told him. People there don’t like to talk about politics, do they, he asked.

No, no, si! Me gusta mucho! Y es mejor en la esquina, y en la calle! 🙂

I asked after the guy in the peaked hat. Aqui hay un hombre que se llama Popo? I asked. Popa, said the man. Si, si. Apparently Popa hangs out there quite a bit, and is judged to be muy intelligente.

I just looked it up: “popa” means “stern.” He always seemed more sage than stern, and was prone to a definite artistic or even mischievious streak at the poetry readings, but it’s an interesting appellation. I wonder where he got it.

I gave the man my name, and he told me his was Domingo. We shook hands. His were mightily calloused.

I think I should hang out on the corner more often.

One Comment

  1. Mommy wrote:

    Wow, good for you! How interesting! and we hear about Haiti, but what about the other half of the island?

    Friday, April 23, 2004 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

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