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When happy endings come to modern films or novels, they often come like this: An orphaned character, beset by evil-doers, finds an unexpected family among a ragtag collection of fellow travelers, unanticipated neighbors, animated toys, or funny forest creatures.
You know, like Snow White discovering the seven dwarves.
Apart from sex and home theater systems, that's what most modern people dream most about: I mean instant kinship and unexpected community.
Each of us is pretty sure that one day we'll be sitting at Starbucks, working quietly on our laptops, when we'll turn and suddenly find a table full of people who not only look and think like us, but wave. "Hey good buddy," they'll say. "We're your peeps, your homies, your posse, your crew. Don't worry," they'll say, "we have your back."
Okay, depending on your cultural orientation, it could happen at an underground bar, a rooftop bar, a gay bar, or Barney Greengrass. In any case, the scene will end with a power ballad, you know, when everybody holds up a lighter and becomes as one.
Last week, I was sitting at Starbucks when I turned in my chair to find a woman staring back at me. Immediately I noted her rectangular glasses, worn jeans, French t-shirt, abstract jewelry, practical laptop bag, and white iPhone. She noted my rectangular glasses, worn jeans, casual polo and Elvis Costello hat.
After she leaned over to read the Urban Man byline at the top of my laptop screen, she said a strange and mystical thing. She said, "The word urban always makes me think of community."
"What are you talking about?" I reply. "Most people think ‘urban' means ‘isolated and alienated.' "
"Not me," says she. "I grew up in the suburbs. It was dead. Barren. So to me, ‘urban' means concentrated people. Gangs of potential friends."
I nod: "Like on TV."
"Yes, but actually it's a tough job," she replies. "Assembling your crews, one after another, throughout your life. You always have to be on the lookout for the signs. It was easiest in college, right? You could walk into a dorm and see what posters were on people's walls, what books were on their shelves. When I lived in New York, I knew I would like people who liked that Hungarian Pastry Shop, you know, near Columbia? When I got to L.A., I found a crowd at the Novel Café...the one in Santa Monica. Then I pretty much lost that crew when I got married and had kids. Right now my husband and I are sort of between crews."
"It happens," I say cheerfully. "When my wife and I had kids, we had to get a new crew."
"Naturally," she replies.
"Of course, now there's Facebook," I offer.
"Sorry, the jury is still out on social networking," she frowns: "Sure, you get your short witty comments and your cute pictures. But it's not like Facebook has your back."
Here we pause to consider the possibilities of instant cultural congruity, of urban kinship, and/or rapid posse formation. I mean we both have rectangular glasses and listen to NPR. I don't mention Disney cartoons or dig deeply into the essential orphaned nature of modern times, but I tell her how I too hail from the ‘burbs and how all my life I dreamt of becoming "The Urban Man," with all that might mean in terms of peephood.
"And you succeeded," she offers brightly.
"Not yet," I reply. "It's always a work in progress. In real life you never get to the happy ending."
There's a pause, and then, I'm sorry to report, the moment passes. We exchange business cards and turn back to our laptops. Still, the Urban Man can't help plugging in his earbuds and scrolling through iTunes to find a power ballad.
Copyright © 2009 Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved.
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