I think it’s been a couple of years now since they turned Times Square into a pedestrian-only area. Up until yesterday I had managed to avoid experiencing it. I usually avoid Times Square like the plague. But the restaurant where we were having dinner is on 42nd Street and The August Wilson Theater, where “Jersey Boys” is being performed is on 52nd Street. I tried to steer the group into heading down 8th Avenue, rather than Broadway, which would have allowed us to scooch around Times Square, but some of the others, perhaps sensing my plan to deprive them of the mayhem that is Times Square on a Saturday night, actually suggested we take Broadway. On purpose. I think I overheard my brother-in-law mention something about how it might be “fun”.
Feeling uncharacteristically positive following the show, I ignored the urge to ask him what other things he would place in the “fun” category. Waterboarding? An afternoon at the DMV? Anyway, I acquiesced. Somehow, while winding my way through the clusterfuck, I managed to notice large numbers of people dressed up as superheroes, cartoon characters, and other idiotic things. This is new to me. I have been in Times Square countless times in my forty-seven years and I have never seen anything like this nonsense.
At first I thought their presence was indicative of a wacky promotional activity or that there was some kind of convention of dresser-uppers come to town. But, no, it was neither of these things. It turns out that this is a money-making enterprise. You can have your picture taken with one of these idiots and, in return, you are supposed to give them money. Whether the amount is negotiated beforehand or given in the form of a donation remains a mystery to me, investigation of the financial arrangements between the parties was impossible to determine, being forwardly and quickly propelled as I was by the hordes of people on Broadway. I had lost sight of my brother-in-law. As a result I couldn’t ask him if he was having fun.
It is almost incomprehensible to me what the thought proceess could possibly be that would compel someone to stop in a sea of people, grab family members or traveling companions, and begin the maneuverings necessary in this type of crowd to obtain a photograph of one’s loved ones in front of The Hershey Store with Wonder Woman, or Elmo, or even The Tin Man who, by the way, had the best costume by far. Because it wasn’t a costume at all. He had actually painted himself in silver paint. I don’t know if the axe was real, but the funnel hat looked pretty authentic. Why would anyone want to do this, especially considering that if you actually enter The Hershey Store you can take a FREE picture in front of “The World’s Largest Hershey’s Kiss”? That sounds pretty irresistible, though I have, thus far, managed to resist it myself.
If gargantuan Hershey’s Kisses aren’t your thing, there’s always the kind of creepy and off- putting, yet familiar, “Naked Cowboy”. This is the nut that stands in the middle of Times Square in a pair of big boy underpants, which are emblazoned in red sequins across the backside with the words “NAKED COWBOY”. The only other parts of his costume are a cowboy hat and cowboy boots (where one is supposed to deposit his tips). He accessorizes this look with a flag-themed guitar. I understand he sings country songs; I’ve never gotten close enough to confirm this. But he’s been a fixture for years. He’s like the proverbial train wreck, though. You just can’t look away.
Last night when I couldn’t manage not to look away, I noticed that he wasn’t the usual guy. And he was in the wrong spot. The guitar looked different, too. Then I realized that he was Asian. The original Naked Cowboy is definitely NOT Asian. Maybe the real Naked Cowboy has begun to outsource or franchise his brand. Or this Asian Naked Cowboy is a poseur, out to horn in on Naked Cowboy’s territory. If so, I imagine there’s going to be some trouble.
The City of New York managed to rid Times Square of the peep shows and the hookers, but The Naked Cowboy remains. There was some fuss a few years ago about removing him, which resulted in some legal wrangling, but The Naked Cowboy prevailed. So, while he may not be my cup of tea, I give him credit for fighting City Hall and maintaining his right to be an eyesore. And there’s something to be said for the tradition of artistic expression.
Certainly an argument can be made that The Naked Cowboy is a performer (indeed it may have been how he retained his right to remain in Times Square), but the rest of these bozos (oddly enough, considering the circus-like atmosphere, clowns were underrepresented by the costume coterie) are just clogging up the sidewalks. Frankly, if they could squeeze out the Spidermen, Cookie Monsters, and Minnie Mouses, I’d support the return of the prostitutes. Yeah, I could mastermind that plan. That might be fun.