Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Denver Airport Anthropological Garden

In the middle of a long layover in the United concourse at the Denver Airport, I watch travelers file by as I wait for my flight. What would Hieronymus Bosch do with this scene?

I'm guessing he'd just use a camera.

Such a bizarre panoply of different human shapes and misshapes; different hair colors and discolors, skin tones and bloated legs and bone protuberances and make-up disasters of all sorts. The mix is inspiring and horrifying, by turns.

What can one see here in a mere five minutes?

Hip hop youths of every race jostle cream-colored Michigan retired dentists and their peers; Latino teens stare down overdressed Japanese businessmen. Here's a young Sri Lankan woman who came to to the States to study electrical engineering, and look--she's already found herself a pimply redheaded boyfriend of Irish descent. Behind them, dragging an oversized navy blue tote, comes a pinched, 60-something housewife who's spent her life learning to be polite and is now little more than a bundle of propriety and politeness. She's oddly without her husband this time: visiting a sister in Houston? Right behind her strides a Chinese couple in their late thirties in Chinese-couple traveling garb, the husband sporting an unobtrusive polo shirt and beige golf jacket--yecch!--the wife in the same color scheme but wearing white sneakers and carrying, of course, her LV bag. Then it's a pretend cowboy of about sixty with a huge beer belly and handlebar mustache listening apologetically as his 30-something daughter explains why she's pissed. Next a well-dressed black woman in her seventies, a wise Georgia matron with her middle-aged son, a woman who's stayed the course through thick and thin; and in her son's very features you can see how well she's raised him. Behind them a ragged looking white woman in her early thirties who pushes a baby stroller and drags two pre-Kindergarten keeners in tow. "Keep moving, Justin. Don't touch that." And catching up to the mother and her kids stride two tech guys with tight, focused eyes, heading to a meeting. Behind the techies lopes a grave-faced Rasta exploding in dreadlocks; he talks quietly with a short-haired white man carrying a guitar case. And they keep filing by, in such diversity of size and shape and sartorial foolishness that it's hard to believe they're all of the same species. And off to the side, watching them pass, sits a bemused, scruffy-looking man with somewhat Germanic features. He's in his forties, overweight, and on the seat next to him is a black shoulder bag overstuffed with notebooks and newspapers. His orange and blue sneakers clash with his corduroy shirt and black jeans. He's thinking whether he should write a paragraph in his notebook about the odd caravan he's watching. The people passing don't know it, but he lives in a Chinese-speaking country on the other side of the globe, where every day the city teems with mainly one race of people. Being in an American airport terminal and watching all this human diversity is something of a shock to him (he gets this same shock whenever he returns to America, usually once or twice a year) but this time, in Denver, the shock has almost bowled him over. The mix of races and cultures inspires; the obesity epidemic, on proud display, horrifies. What would Hieronymus Bosch do? Once he finishes his oversized coffee, and his head clears a bit, he'll start writing.