Monday, January 25, 2010

Waitin' on Boombox Season

I’ve always liked the idea of the Man With The Boombox, a sort of traveling messiah whose sole mission is to bring jams to the ears of those he passes in his infinite travels and undefined quests. But up until I moved to Bed-Stuy the MWTB has eluded me. In Philly, or at least in West Philly, the closest thing we had to a boombox presence was the Man With The Duct-Taped Bike, who often taped a small, antennaed radio to his handlebars and broadcast crackling radio waves to anyone who stepped into the small perimeter of audibleness. There was also Omar, who instead of a boombox carried around a CD player with headphones and, occasionally, small computer speakers and played, almost exclusively, Depeche Mode and Tears for Fears to anyone who’d listen. But Omar’s mission was not to bring the jams, but rather to get drunk, and his sharing of Tears for Fears was only a side effect of that eventual goal, usually successfully reached.        

            In Bed-Stuy, however, the boombox, especially in the summer, is like an institution. I’ve watched grown men stand across the street from each other, each with a boombox in hand, blasting music - each his own  – and talking to each other as they did this at competing volumes. What drifted up through my window was like a poorly planned mash-up. And this seemed alright to everybody; all the grannies hanging out on plastic chairs outside the buildings’ entrances and the Always Outside Dudes and whoever else was chillin’ within the blast volume area. There are also the men – and it always seems to be men who devote themselves to the boombox – who carry their stereos in those wheeled cages that people use to haul their groceries and laundry in. They’ll just walk up and down the street trawling their tunes behind them with no discernable destination or business but to spread the jams. . 

            My favorite MWTB, however, is the one that lives 2 floors below me, on Quincy St. He goes by Camelot, though he only tells some this, while others call him Allen. He wears a pair of green pants and a burgundy sweatshirt and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in anything less or more than this – no t-shirts, no coats in the winter. Camelot is always hanging out or in the hall or outside the building, usually with his boombox. Sometimes, he goes across the street and keeps post in front of the construction site gates, standing much like a British Royal Guard, immobile, eyes focused on distant horizons, stereo in hand. He plays, exclusively, classic rock.

            Camelot’s the nicest dude ever but when I first moved into my building, I thought he was a stoic and unfriendly bastard. It was August, peak of boombox season, and he was hardly ever separated from it. Coming home, I’d see him inevitably stationed under the tree or leaning up on the gate by the entrance or even, sometimes, down the block, and I’d wave or say, “Hello.” He’d look on, unperturbed, feigning as if he hadn’t seen or heard me, standing in a sort of boxer’s stance to be maximally balanced. I was psyched about my new place and ‘hood and he was the only one that didn’t answer to my alacritous hellos! With time I started noticing that he only did this when he had the boombox on him. If I caught him without it, he’d smile all big and goofy and chat with me and generally be super genial.           

            The boombox is serious business and manning it requires focus I can only dream of, it seems. I can’t wait for the warm weather to open up the boombox season. Bring it, Spring!  

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