Friday, July 15, 2011

Purple Man

We first met him seven months ago, after we had been in York for only a couple of months. Fraught with the culture shock, not-having-a-car-shock, and a general litany of other shocks (as small as no discussion of American politics to an inability to find a number of American books we wanted to read), our early time in York certainly left us with the lingering question, What in the heck have we done!?

And in response to this question, there was Purple Man. (See his website here.)

He rides an eternally immovable bike. (Purple.) He wears an endlessly blowing necktie. (Also purple.) His face evidences a thin layer of stubble and a massive smile. (Yes: purple.)

We see him most frequently on Stonegate, embodying the very essence of joy as he sits atop his bike, first fixed, then moving to say hello to some tourist visiting York, only to bring them closer, whisper conspiratorially, and then raise his bucket of paint and paintbrush.

"Would you like me to paint your hair?" he asks, in such a kind voice and with such a clever smile that no tourist--or local, for that matter--can resist.

The cameras flash. The Flip videos record. An audience of onlookers raise their hands to their mouths.

It wasn't until after Purple Man had painted Tyler's, Jennifer's, and my hair that we realized the paint on his brush is dry. He smiles with glee at the excitement of it all--the uncertainty as to whether or not you've actually been painted.

After the first time, Tyler began calling for Purple Man every time we went into the city.

"T-Man, what do you want to do in the city today?"

"I want to go see Purple Man."

"And then what?"

"Then I want to see Purple Man."

"And after we say hi to Purple Man, would you like to go to the library?"

"No, I just want to see Purple Man after I go to see Purple Man. We can do that one?"


And thus our little York experiment took on a new life. A new energy. Purple Man came to represent, for us, a kind of living that included telling any setbacks, Hey, Dude! Watch Out! We;re not giving up. We're not giving in. So what if we have to hang our clothes outside to dry in the rain? So what if we have to walk 45 minutes to church? So what if feeling a gas pedal beneath my right foot and getting somewhere--anywhere--fast feels like an impossible dream? We're sticking this one out. We're going purple.

Why else, after all, would someone decide to paint themselves purple, smile at people he doesn't know, and make them laugh? Why else but to share one small piece of something we all know to be true about this thing called life: joy.

Joy. We can most of us complain for hours on end about how hard certain events are, certain discomforts, certain having-to-do-withouts. But in the final analysis (whenever that is, and whether it takes place in a Graduate-level college classroom, or along some distant shore on a beach while the tide comes in) we've got a heck of a lot to be thankful for--a heck of lot of joy to embrace. For one thing: the color purple. (And yes, The Color Purple, too.)

Purple Man never gives advice on how to make it through the tough times. He doesn't wax poetic about the glimmers of hope or the cracks of despair. Nor does he recommend books, movies, or therapists.

He sits on his bikes, paints your hair purple, and smiles. Which, in my mind, is just about as good, if not better, most days.

Thanks, Purple Man.