The Urban Man
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Ten Minutes in Leicester Square

Ten Minutes in Leicester Square
By Marc Porter Zasada

I've been told that once upon a time, parents could very nearly pass themselves on to their children. You could take your wide-eyed boys and girls out to the same moonlit field, almost on the same summer night you knew at ten. You could send them to play in the same stream or stoke the same cook-fire on the same winter night you knew at eleven.

In this way, your soul could almost become their soul.

But I don't have to tell you that modern humans rarely manage this feat. I needn't explain how modern humans grow up with a hodgepodge of experience, incoherent to any but ourselves.

It's no good talking of the same field you knew at ten -- it's now an industrial park. That dance club that meant the world to you at eighteen became a liquor store, then a shoddy boutique, then an Arco station.

In fact, when you think about it, what did create the you that you know today? There was that mad trip to San Francisco in 1975. That filthy apartment in Tribeca during the me-decade. That midnight conversation on that beach in Baja.

Few of these experiences can be reproduced, touched, or even understood by your children. I mean, you can hardly explain them to yourself. Today, however, the Urban Man, father of four, tries the impossible.

Today, using the excuse of a family vacation, I've taken my kids all the way to London, England, with the secret goal of standing for ten minutes in Leicester Square, and reproducing a moment which occurred here 28 years ago.

Maybe you know Leicester Square: gateway to the Theatre District; a place of milling youth, bad street performers, ticket hucksters, currency-exchange artists, and stone monuments -- a place you can witness all the wonder and disillusionment of a great city. And now here we are, me and the kids, standing comically like any tourists, with our little knapsacks, and holding hands.

Nearly three decades ago, I stood on this same spot at the age of twenty -- but instead of children, I was graced with a scraggled beard and an empty wallet. I spent hours leaning on a sleeping bag rolled atop an oversized backpack, and I sat on an iron bench -- maybe that same one just over there -- pretending to read a Graham Greene novel while seeking out random conversations with foreigners. I remember I sampled falafel and chutney as pregnant clouds blew overhead. I remember seeing the open possibility of everything and picturing the size of the unpredictable world stretching out from this place.

Incoherent or not, it was one of those moments that made me into myself, and it constitutes some vital part of my soul.

Don't you see? I have no moonlit field to offer my children, no stream, no cookfire -- only this same smell of wet cobblestone on a partly cloudy afternoon, this same roar of shouted conversations in a hundred accents.

London does change -- a few more headscarves, plenty more uncertainty -- but it doesn't change nearly as much as other places. And now I take my kids to sit on the same bench, and I point out the same restless energy of the crowd, the way it searches ceaselessly for new wonders. I say: Do you see how they keep repainting over the promotional signs for new shows? Do you see how all roads seem to lead here?---

But of course, because I am a modern human, the magic fails. The kids smile in appreciation and nod their heads. They try to look wide-eyed. But I see they have no idea what I'm talking about. And after ten long minutes, they explain how they're not very fond of falafel or chutney.

Soon, a light rain breaks from the pregnant clouds, and we're ready to move on to Trafalgar, where we plan to drop into the National Gallery and visit nostalgic landscapes by Constable or Turner.

Copyright -- 2006 Marc Porter Zasada. This essay originally appeared in a longer version in The Link Homeschool Newspaper.

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