I have sat inside Bobst and outside of Bobst, but never quite on Bobst until today. It’s a little cold, sitting on Bobst—that is, on the little enclaves that spot the exterior of Bobst, upon which one will often find the bloodshot smokers leaning their tired, lanky bodies during final time. It is a cloudy October day, and this accounts for the coldness of the stone which sends shivers through my bones.
Sitting in this little enclave of Bobst’s exterior, I notice that up close the color of the building isn’t as bright as it seems from far away, when it’s distinguishable from the other washed-out buildings around it. Far away, it appears more to be fresh salmon-colored. Up close, it’s a damp clay color: worn, a little dirty. At the corner of Washington Sq. South and Washington Sq. East, three girls with a guitar stand in front of a construction fence next to Bobst, singing Christian tunes in high-pitched, screeching voices. One, a petite Asian girl with a beaming smile, jumps out to intercept the path of an unsuspecting student on his way to the library. The girl asks him if he believes in Jesus, but before allowing him to respond, hands him Jesus cards. The student is wide-eyed and bewildered, looking for a way to escape this trap. Clutching the straps of his brand new, awkwardly-shaped backpack, he appears to be a novice, probably a freshman. He didn’t expect to be bombarded by Bible study advertising when he decided to attend one of the most liberal schools in the country… How does he tell her to bug off without seeming rude … They are always too nice!
He gets away at last, and makes a lunge for the library. The Jesus girl yells, “God bless you!” after him, still beaming.
Only feet away from the Jesus girls is a male student wearing an ash-colored knit sweater and an unmatching “stoner” hat with ear-flaps. “Occupy Wall Street: join the NYU protest tomorrow at 4 o’clock!” he shouts at passersby, briefly overpowering the God chants behind him. He passes out flyers; some determined students dart away from him, while others, like the poor freshman, get caught and tuck the flyer into the pile of books they carry in one arm, then scurry away into oblivion.
If you want a good picture of NYU demographics, this intersection may be the most telling. Bobst, prodigious and stately, towers like an intimidating grandfather at the center of campus, across the street from the newly-renovated Washington Square Park (not quite as dirty, not quite as shady as it used to be). Students occupy 99% of the herds of people that scuttle back and forth along the sidewalk, scampering into the street and chattering like benny addicts amongst one another. It is 5pm, the rush hour of the fall semester school day.
They are carrying backpacks or messenger bags, they are tall or short and thin, stylish, fit. Some make long, determined strides to their destination; others amble near the Bobst doors, smoking cigarettes and staring out with comatose complexions into the abyss of their exhausted minds.
Two apparently ravenous friends devour burritoes as they walk rapidly, spilling beans and white sauce over their pants and sidewalk.
The smell of the strategically-placed halaal cart in front of the Stern building occassionally wafts over, a constant reminder to those running in between classes of their empty stomachs. And then, of course, the cigarettes … The front of Bobst is constantly shrouded in a cloud of smoke; just standing here could turn you into an indirect smoker. Non-smokers generally have to hold their breaths and duck as they enter Bobst.
Amidst all this movement, all the noise, all the sights—there is but one person who stands still. An old man is across the street from me standing at the corner, enjoying a cup of frozen yogurt. He waits patiently for the light to change, then shuffles slowly across the street. Students and young people swarm around him like hyperactive ants, but he takes his time, perhaps slightly confused by the commotion of the youngsters. He eventually disappears into the crowd; the three Jesus girls continue their attempts to harmonize, never-ending. Hipsters petulantly remove iPod earphones to briefly assess the live music they are hearing, then immediately plug them back in their ears and veer in a different direction. “Happy, so very happy I’ve got a lot of Jesus in my life!” the girls sing. “Jesus is in my heart!”
Then, passing to my left is a strong, clear voice, an African-American student, the Jesus girls’ first audience member: “Yep, Jesus is in my pancreas too!”