The Mighty Moor

8 Apr

“I will a round,  unvarnished tale deliver…”

That’s my favourite Shakespeare quote. Sometimes it is usurped by Cry “havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war, – but there you go.

It’s from Othello, when the Moor, in a  delicious bit of irony, is attempting to perform an act of civil nobility to his white bride Desdemona and her disapproving father. The act of performance varnishes his very words.

Which brings me to Harlem. Harlem NYC. An iconic neighborhood to an Aussie. It is, after-all, where “Good Times” was set.

I was there, heading out to La Guardia Airport on the M60 bus. Buses, like trams, attract nut-jobs. There must be just something about standing on a corner, barking at the sky and suddenly having a giant metal box pull up before you, like you conjured it, that wings the feet of lunacy. Just a step up and topple, and whadyaknow, a literally captive audience awaits.

The bus is crowded, and I’m clutching my giant man-bag as best I can. Three stops in and a gentleman who shall here-on-in be known as “CrazyJew” gets on. I know he’s Jewish because he wears the yarmulke. I’m guessing he’s crazy, well, just because.

The only vacant seat is next to me, but that’s okay. NYC teaches you active insulation very quickly. In a city where there’s almost always thirty people within ten feet, learning to live and let live is downright Darwinien.

He kicks my bag and chips something-or-other. I give him my best ‘so-bad-I-bore-myself’ look and he seems satisfied there’s not much game to be had with the man with the girly hair.

There are two boys sitting opposite us. About twelve years old, but I’m terrible with ages and even worse with black kids , who seem to go in appearance from nine to nineteen in a gesture. These two, they’re polite kids. Just sitting there having a quiet chat.

CrazyJew hones in and interrupts their conversation, re-quoting them in that “So you think” way only the truly hostile employ. He starts asking them about their schooling. Why are they on this bus? Where are they headed during school hours? Don’t raise your voice to me! The usual social tropes of the adult bully, whose only difference from a child bully is the camouflage.

Then he shifts to religion and the cruelty in his timbre turns me rigid. I suddenly become very aware of my every body part. A quick check of the cabin shows all in ear-shot developing a keen interest in their phones.

“Does God visit you?” Silence.  He stands, pulls of his shawl and tries to wrap it around one of the kids. Their faces flushed with shame, they do the best they politely can to ward it off. “Do you know what this is?” he bellows. “Do you?!”

Standard public transport harassment has become focused molestation. I check in with my bus-mates to see if they think this is as bat-shit crazy as I do?

They do.

So what do i do?

Nothing. I do nothing. I bury my head and close my shoulders and leave these kids to fend for themselves in the face of whatever psychic brutality this cock-sucker can conjure.

But then, this guy- just a regular guy, a tired thirty-two in regular guy depot work-wear with its regular logo, he gets up out of his seat and calmly sits himself next to the kids and across from CJ.

No fuss. No rush. He sits down and listens to the mania for another beat, then begins to engage him. He agrees, yes, kids these days lack for faith, yes, it is a strange time for them to be on the M60, yes, it is important to believe in something larger than yourself…really, is that silk, how wonderful.

Three stops later, flushed with the thrill of an ally elder, the kids alight the bus. CJ does not notice. Two stops after that, the silk shawl and its toxic owner get off also.

The guy? He looks around at those of us who have not moved away, and he smiles. There is no judgment in his smile. It’s just a smile. He stands up, puts his headphones back on and returns to his seat.

No fanfare. No coda. No public validation. Just a man who moved to a moment with unvarnished nobility.

The Moor in all of us would do well to learn.


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