New York - Times Square - November

Walking from the bus terminal towards Times Square, I found myself in the old cinema district, their entrances overhanging the street and covered with hoardings that once advertised films that were ringed in lights. Only a couple of the cinemas still survived, one proclaimed "Enjoy large screen and stereo sound" and gave a short list of the latest films, the other simply stated "4 hot sex films" but didn't supply any titles, though a pair of giant red lips projected onto the entrance described their attractions. I wondered what ancient films would be listed on the hoardings of the deserted cinemas and was surprised to read "You are trapped on earth therefor you will explode" and "Laugh hard at the ultimate evil". The words read like a mixture of prophetic graffiti and religious fever. I began to ask shoppers about the origins of the sayings but the shoppers just shrugged and continued to stare at window displays of dance music CDs, fast food and soft porn.

It seemed that the hoardings were just captions on whatever happened below. On the other side of the street a woman sat down awkwardly on the pavement, pulling cardigans and shawls around herself before arranging her children around her feet like baskets of fruit at a market stall, her hands held outstretched to each passer by. The hoardings around her read "Go where people sleep and see if they're safe" and, further up the street, on a cinema with old wooden boards nailed across its doors "Mothers shouldn't make to many sacrifices".

The road between us held four lanes of yellow taxis, each jostling for fares. A stretch limousine glided serenely past, its shaded windows hiding the passengers from the world, or vice versa, or perhaps there were no passengers at all and the world would stare enviously at no one at all. The car seemed to ignore the taunts on the hoardings as it passed below "People who don't work with their hands are parasites" or "Any surplus is immoral" and then the car, like its occupants, disappeared from view. Now a new sign caught my view, not a hoarding this time but a string of fourteen flashing digits representing the national debt at that precise moment, the last four digits were a blur of climbing figures. I stood there staring at a number so large that it seemed to have life of its own.

"WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN?"

A tramp stood in front of me, his wild eyes staring into mine, his beard exploding from around his mouth and merging with the fibers of an ancient jumper. He wore a raincoat that flapped in the wind around him, I felt he could of flown away if he hadn't been holding quite so tightly to the bag that contained his life. He grew impatient for an answer and shuffled off, shouting back over his shoulder "Believe in life itself".

I looked up at the signs above us and found "Alienation produces eccentrics or revolutionaries" and, more worryingly, "Deviants are sacrificed to increase our solidarity". I wondered if he ever read the signs himself.