Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Few Notes On Tribes

A number of years ago at a nightclub I was introduced to a rather attractive gentleman by a mutual friend. Upon our introduction the man said "Who are you anyway, I've been seeing you around for years. " Several months later I was introduced to the same gentleman a second time. His question, almost word for word, was the same. I informed him that the first time we were introduced his reaction had been identical. I then added, "Did you really have to use the word years?" His quick reply, "I could have said decades". To be fair his face, and somewhat hunky body, were familiar to me as well and I had been seeing him around for, well, the better part of two decades. He went on to explain that we had, at one point, ridden the same El train to work on a regular basis. He went on to speak of the community that forms when people's schedules coincide and they find themselves riding together on public transit. We do not necessarily know each other's names, occupations or life stories but, because we have shared a space together at a particular time, we know each other.

An erratic schedule defines a career in retail. However, when I work mornings, and I leave the house at a relatively consistent hour, I see the same people time and again., Because of the dress code I have to adhere to, suit, shirt and tie, I do stand out in the more casually dressed crowd of today's working world. Therefore I am fairly certain that I am noticed by "the usual suspects" on the El platform as well. The tall younger man with the unique sense of style. Comfortable yet slightly dressy, I have never seen him wear jeans, he appears fond of an occasional fun, almost whimsical print in some of his clothing. There is another extremely tall young man with a proportionally tall mass of black hair. His trademark skinny, stovepipe pants make his long thin legs look even longer and thinner. There is another who I acknowledge when we ride together. He works at a competitor. A bowtie is the daily standard of his professional garb. We met one morning, almost colliding nose to nose, running for a train as the doors closed and it pulled out of the station leaving us behind. There are the light skinned identical twin black sisters and the gay, yes it's that obvious, man with bright colored horn rimmed glasses, ludicrous handlebar moustache and garish clothing. I have not seen him for some time. Perhaps he has moved on, joined another community on another train.

At the gym the community changes with the time of day. Early morning before work I see the same group of people. If I go later, mid morning, a different yet none less familiar group inhabits the space. On weekends yet another. Some of us speak with one another, although the conversations are guarded and often banal. Even though there is a sizable number of gay men as members, when one is naked, or half naked, and unsure of the orientation of another, the subjects of conversation at hand tend towards the weather, the various supplements we take and their effects on our physical goals or the performance and payscale of the local sports teams.

These various communities might be described as tribes. Groups of people with a common goal. In these instances getting to work of getting fit.

There is another tribe I belong to, more seasonal in nature. My beach friends, my sandy band of brothers. A shared sexual orientation, plus our exposed amounts of flesh, makes the interactions with this group more comfortable than interactions with some others. A summer of unemployment led to my induction into this tanned gentleman's club. We tend to be over 40 with histories that make our conversations interesting and at times intellectually challenging. As they populate the beach on weekday afternoons they are not "9 to 5ers". They work, like myself, more random schedules. One man in his 60's is a personal trainer, taking up this new profession and reinventing himself later in life. Another is a bartender at an upscale restaurant studying to move up to somelier. Another, the one I know the best, is a public transit bus driver.

Over the past 2 decades virtual tribes have been created. Facebook as well as a number of other online networking sites link together large masses of people many of whom have never met face to face.

There are tribes defined by those one works with. By those that gather in houses of worship. Man is a social animal, desirous and even dependant on the company of and interaction with others. We form alliances, we form communities, we form tribes.


  1. Tribes are very important in Jungian psychology; the ones we are born into and the ones we long to join. Man has the paradoxical need to be alone but also member of a tribe - several tribes rather.

  2. When I first graduated from college, I worked in NYC but lived in NJ. I would see the same people on the bus every day, but never learned about any of them. I would make up stories about them in my head.