The things legends are made of…
He comes up to me at the bar.
I turn to him and take him in, all earnest face and persimmon hair, clipped tonight into a mohawk and sculpted painstakingly into stegosaurian plates.
It’s my friend the Anxious Hipster.
Our primary connection is the acquaintance of a wild waif named Casey who paints a red streak though this town every few months and then splits until she comes back and does it again.
I know her from back in the day, though it’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure of seeing her face.
I haven’t seen the Anxious Hipster in a few seasons either, so we spend a minute catching up.
Doing great, he gushes with characteristic gusto, loves the job, loves the scene’… though he’s quite drunk the Anxious Hipster is more calm and focused than usual’… he’s been kind of laying low lately, busy at work and all, and remember that funny story you did? The one about the nine best places to swim in Greensboro and the one worst? Remember that?
I surely do, I say.
I’ll never forget the day last June when Erik Beerbower called the YES! Weekly offices in a restrained rage, tempered with some humor’— Beerbower, Greensboro’s eminent mouthpiece for the arts, is not without a slug of Hipster Cool himself ‘— venting about vandals, skate kids or graffitoes most likely, but definitely some species of disrespectful punk, who had one mild summer night on downtown Greensboro’s main thoroughfare scaled the iron gate that shields Beerbower’s River, the smallest body of water in town, from the action on the street.
The river runs down an alley through a series of concrete ducts that swivel with the weight of the water, leading it in increments to a pool just below ground level. The common wisdom at the time was that a skateboarder, unaware of details of the fountain’s construction, hiked to the top and let fly, cruising until the third segment gave under his weight. It was unknown if the metal praying mantis sculptures ‘— an integral aspect to the piece, in my opinion ‘— were tossed in the collecting pool before or after this faceplant for the ages.
There would be justice, Beerbower assured us, whether as a result of a flyer campaign offering a $250 reward or, perhaps, a reckoning meted out by the laws of physics.
‘“That’s an eighteen-foot fall. The first thing I did was look under it to see if there was still somebody down there,’” he said to Jordan Green, who reported on the event [‘“Fountain vandalized in downtown GSO’”; June 8, 2005].
The tale has become something of an urban legend among the city’s night people, retold by club hoppers on the sidewalks, discussed over tiny coffee shop tables and in dusty art studios.
A week later we named Beerbower’s River the worst place in town to go swimming in our Ten Best feature.
‘“That was pretty funny,’” the Anxious Hipster says to me.
It was, I agree, pretty funny.
‘“In fact,’” I say, ‘“I was just standing by that fountain today and I told that story.’”
The Anxious Hipster is quiet for a moment.
‘“You know that was me, don’t you?’” he says.
I tilt my head like a dog.
‘“That was you?’”
‘“I heard the guy broke both his legs.’”
‘“I shattered my heel,’” he says. ‘“I fractured the other one. I still have a limp.’”
I have a rare moment of speechlessness. Then I say the first thing that comes to mind.
‘“What the dickens were you thinking?’” Or something like that.
‘“I don’t know,’” he says. ‘“I just wanted to go up there.’”
Turns out it wasn’t a skateboard thing or a graffiti thing at all.
After the fall it took four or five guys to get him over the gate, the Anxious Hipster says, including a couple of ‘“homeless guys.’”
‘“My friends passed me over [the gate] to them and we gave them a couple of bucks.’”
And then he went home, only to wake with both his ankles swollen like overripe eggplants. He got a ride to Moses Cone ‘— ‘“The same [hospital] where I was born,’” he says ‘— and began the road of recuperation, which included time in a wheelchair and, of course, legal accountability.
‘“There’s still criminal stuff going on,’” he says, and he gives a slight wince.
But it’s funny the way things play out. The Anxious Hipster’s infamous fall put him out of action for months. He had been waiting tables at the time, but switched to kitchen detail after he could get around again to ease the strain on his busted-up feet. And he found he kind of liked it back there.
Today, just over a year later, he’s the managing chef at the restaurant and eagerly studying the nuances of the culinary arts.
It was, he says, ‘“one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.’”
But not without its drawbacks. There’s the niggling legal details, the occasional shooting pains that come from the bottoms of his feet’… and of course Beerbower will not return his calls.
But the Anxious Hipster’s tumble down Beerbower’s River actually tossed him into friendly currents. And it’s made him the stuff of barroom mythology.
‘“I was standing in front of it the other day,’” The Hipster says, ‘“and some guy came up and told me the story.’”
To comment on this column, e-mail Brian Clarey at firstname.lastname@example.org.