Cafeaplis — coffe + community @ minneapolis

NYC Moment: The Hawker’s Chant

There’s a man who stands outside the entrance to my building in downtown Manhattan almost every day with the same hawker’s chant, in a tone like an auctioneer: “SHOErepairSHOErepairTENPERCENTOFFSHOEREPAIR”. I wonder: How bored must this guy be saying the same thing over and over and over again? Does he do this all day long? Does he say other things for other businesses or just these same five words? Is he so used to saying it that it doesn’t even register in his brain? Does he occasionally just break out into the chant at inappropriate times because it’s second nature, in the same way you get into your car on a Saturday afternoon and suddenly find that you’ve driven to the office when you meant to go to the store?

I realized one morning that there was something about his chant that felt so familiar. It took me a few moments to work it out but suddenly it occurred to me that it is performed in the exact same intonation and cadence as my father used to do when he read outloud from one of my favorite childhood books about a man who hawks hats that are perched in a stack on top of his head: “CAPSforsaleCAPSforsaleFIFTYCENTSACAP”. The only difference is that my father does not have a New York accent, which makes the shoe repair guy’s chant sound like: “SHOErepaiahSHOErepaiahTENPERCENTOFFSHOEREPAIAH”.

And I wonder if that guy made up the cadence of his chant, or maybe if his own dad read him that book when he was a kid, or if that is, since time eternal, just the chant one uses to hawks one’s wares, be it caps or shoe repaiah.

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© Copyright 2006 Adrienne Bockheim.