New York -- I first saw this guy in Venice, California in 1998. I was at a window seat in a cute little bistro having dinner with a friend when a flash of pink went by on the sidewalk. Then the pink flash came back again the other way. Then again. It was a high energy ball of pink happiness. But, what was it?
Venice is known for eccentric people, but still, this one stood out. He was in a pink, full body leotard with a built-in hood. He had a cape and a very large, bright smile that covered his entire face. Oh yeah, and he was riding a unicycle, twirling and spinning around, waving uncontrollably to everyone in his line of sight. Seriously, no one got away without a great big wave hello from the Pink Man. I had no idea what this guy was up to. The questions in my head persisted. What in the world was his purpose, and what was he getting out of it? Then, just as quickly as the Pink Man fluterred into view, he was gone. This one-wheeled crazy happy pink person continued on his way, swirling down toward the boardwalk, waving hello to every lost soul he could find.
I had never seen or heard of this guy before and, after that night, I never saw him again. Until a few weeks ago when the Pink Man reappeared in Washington Square Park in New York City. A full seven years later, I was walking with my girlfriend and her brother through the park, people watching and enjoying the eccentricities of NYU students and local Greenwich Village personalities. There were the performance artists, musicians playing prehistoric drums, clowns making spiraling balloon sculptures, break dancers, old men playing Bocce Ball, sly chess players looking for a game (and an easy buck), obsessive parents in the kiddie playground and even more obsessive dog owners in the dog run. And there he was. Off in the distance I could see a flash of pink and two hands waving wildly. Back and forth, spinning and swooping beneath the great arch in the park's north end was the same weird dude I saw in Venice. It was the Pink Man, saving souls on a bright spring day in the city. I still had all the questions left over from our first encounter in Venice -- now was my chance to find the answers once and for all.
As we got closer to the Pink Man under the arch, all the same characteristics from seven years ago came into view. The huge, almost naive smile. The vigorous waving, ensuring that everyone in sight got a hello. The teasing and flirting with anyone and everyone.
"Hey, I saw you in Venice in 1998," I said.
With a great force of vigor, Pink Man dipped his left shoulder, twirled his unicycle in a 270-degree turn back toward me. He shook my hand and put his other hand on my shoulder.
"Yes. Let's see, I lived in Berkeley for a long time, but in 1998 I would have been in Venice. Great to see you."
He was genuinely glad to see me. I could tell. We kept walking and he kept rolling along, somewhat hurried -- there were hundreds of other people he needed to greet.
"Listen, I'm here in New York, but I'm on my way to Europe. Come see me there. Go to my website too: www.PinkMan.net. I'm going to Europe -- to Paris!"
Then he was off. Up and down, back and forth, all throughout the park and the rest of lower Manhattan.
I didn't get a lot of words out of Pink Man, but somehow got all of my questions answered. He's just a guy who lives from place to place, moment to moment, trying to make people feel welcome in this world. He does so by wearing a pink leotard, riding a unicycle, and waving to everyone he sees. He has ambitions greater than you and I. He wants to conquer the world with glee and cheer. He's pink, proud and pleased to help put a smile on your face if only for a day, a moment a flash.
I was stoked to have seen and actually talked to Pink Man some seven years since my first sighting. Somehow, I don't think it'll be the last time. I'll be in Paris in September with my girlfriend. Do you think? I hope we run into each other, because I have a whole new set of questions for him.