Friday, November 4, 2011

People-watching project

In Normal Bob’s postcard game, players match the cartoon figures with their nicknames and genres.

I love this man's personal project. He elevated people-watching to a whole new level. Bob Hain grew up in the Midwest and ended up in New York City where he hung out a lot in Union Square. Watching the people there he started to see patterns in the various oddballs found there. So he categorized and tabulated them, then created a postcard that identifies all the groups and allows you to find and check them all off.

I learned about him a few years back in this Times article and laughed myself silly. You really should read it for the entertainment value. Then visit his website for his latest pictures, stories and videos.

Here are some excerpts from the article to whet your appetite:

In Union Square, Mr. Hain is equal parts referee and ringmaster, curator and chronicler.
There is Junky the Barbarian, Pretty Boy Jake and Green Graver Girl, for starters. Then there are the categories of park regulars, which include scenesters, peepers, fundies, gravers and Griswalds.
Mr. Hain calls all these people his Amazing Strangers, and celebrates hundreds of them on a section of his Web site with the same name. Last year, he created a hall of fame, selecting the most outlandish characters and creating cartoon versions of them. Of the 70 cartoon characters he created, he selected about half to form an all-star lineup, then put them on a postcard-size handout challenging people to match each character with the right nickname.
The handout’s reverse side is an aerial photograph of the park with diagrams indicating where the various cliques and subsets tend to gather. For example, it shows that the peepers gather at the south side of the park, so they can blend in with pedestrians while peering under the skirts of women sitting on the steps. The gravers — Goth-ravers who usually dress in wide, black Tripp pants — gather nearby, near the statue of George Washington. The drug addicts do their nodding in the rear of the park, on the benches toward the east side. The Griswalds, or naïve tourists, gawk at it all from the periphery.
The club kids known as scenesters remain aloof, gathering on the triangular minipark toward Park Avenue. Fundies — being the fundamentalist Christian preachers — tend to gather at the very southwest corner of the park.
There is a primer on distinctions between a Goth and a raver. Then there is the graver, whose name borrows from both of those, but who would not be caught dead being grouped with either.
By contrast, the hipster is a bird of another feather, “the natural enemy of the graver,” Mr. Hain says. And the scenesters are the result of melding hipsters and gravers, identifiable by their studded belts, tight clothing and maybe a black handkerchief in the back pocket.
Then there are the robo-trippers, who try to get high by “huffing,” or inhaling, products like Dust-Off, or by drinking Robitussin.
Things are slower these days, with part of the park annexed by the artisan kiosks of the Union Square Holiday Market. Behind the statue, a few obviously inebriated men milled about and at one point, a sloppy fight broke out.
“I don’t have names for those guys,” Mr. Hain said. “They’re not on the handout. One time, one of them asked me, ‘Why don’t you have us listed?’ I said, ‘What are you?’ He said, ‘We’re dirtbags, put us on there!’ ”
Recently, a crusty man with hobo whiskers and a few crooked teeth in his mouth walked around the park soliciting change by flashing first one cardboard sign — “What’s the best nation?” — then the other — “Donation.”
“His name is Signs,” Mr. Hain said.

I visited Union Square with my wife and brother on Friday and met some of the denizens. It was a little cold for the peepers by Wendell the Garbageman was there rooting through the garbage and posing for pictures. The Gravers and Skaters were there but I was disappointed in seeing no Fundies or Huggers.

But it was nice to go to a new place and have a guide to all the locals. I'd love to see more people introduce us to the residents.

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