Monday, February 28, 2005

Keep Your Footing, and Keep to the Right

It’s not that they don’t like you or anything, it’s just that they don’t have time for your ass. They’re probably late to something, and they aren’t going to stop and pat you on the head. Their wife has been waiting for them for two whole hours while the uptown six has been delayed by a jumper near Union. So they’re really fucking late, and they really aren’t interested in giving you an explanation as to why they may have slightly nudged your shoulder after you exited Barnes and Noble. You aren't the center of the universe you know.

I remember seeing some messenger-biker-guy clobber some pedestrian down in the village somewhere. The pedestrian, a small-framed collegiate-type (probably NYU) was making her way across an intersection against a red light, and BAM! Bike to the back. This bike just flew out of no where, the rider even tried to dodge her with an evasive right turn. But no. Futility on parade. She walked right into it. The biker fellow made the hit, and then kept wobbling beyond the laid-out pedestrian for maybe ten feet before he ate it too. All crumpled up inside his bike. He was beyond pissed off.

The girl got up slowly, laughed for a second, and then continued back on her way. Some delivery driver was dropping off some magazines at a nearby bodega, and helped the biker untangle himself. But he abandoned the situation before the biker even got completely to his feet. Magazines had to be delivered, with or without the good health of your fellow man. And after all that, the four-minute ordeal was over, and the delivery biker peddled himself back into the direction he was originally headed. Clean hands.

So it’s not that they hate everyone. Or that they’re out to get each other. It’s just that no one has time for this shit. Whatever “this shit” might be.

A friend of mine told me of a particularly sad story that occurred somewhere in Manhattan. I was not there, so I cannot vouch for its absolute authenticity, but based on the combination of: the (trusted) source, and my own experiences in New York, this is entirely plausible. But still sad.

He was exiting a subway station somewhere in southern Manhattan, and turning on to a busy street during rush hour. As he was moving through the crowded sidewalk, late as usual, trying to bust ahead of the pack, an elderly woman (early 70’s he guessed) fell down directly in front of him. Just dropped. Her legs said "fuck it" and that was that. Apparently, she just could not keep up with the herd. And what with him being a capable part of the herd, and egregiously late, he just stepped right over her and kept on truckin’. Bygones. He looked back and felt absolved to see that everyone else had done her the same lack-of service. But it isn’t mean, per se. Cold? Yes. But malicious? Certainly not. Malicious requires intent. Intent requires effort. Perhaps negligence is a better word. I'll let you judge. But I don't see mean as applicable in such cases. Most New Yorkers don’t have time to be mean to strangers anyway. What can you do? Darwin and such. I don’t know, maybe she should move to Jersey or something? Somewhere that is a bit slower-paced perhaps? Maybe stay at home during rush hour?

Again, it’s not like she was knocked to the ground. She fell. She may have needed help getting up, but no one’s boss will believe that story at work.

"Why are you late, again, you putz? There's a line a mile long begging for your admin assistant position."

"Well, sir, there was this woman who fell down, and the crowd was so thick that I had to really struggle to help her get to her feet and..."

"Is that the best you can do? An old lady fell? Worst lie I've ever heard. And even if it did happen, I don't pay you to pick up old folks from the pavement. Let their lazy families take care of their own business. You'd be out there all day on my dollar doing that, if I allowed it. You're fired. No you've got the time to pick up octogenarians... all damn day. Putz."

I'm just sayin'. Bygones.

So, it’s either 1) help the lady or 2) maintain a hard-to-find job. One feeds the soul, but the other feeds bodily functions and therefore takes precedence. No one feels that they have the luxury of time to tend to her needs. She NEEDS to move to the nice-n-slow ‘burbs. It isn’t personal. Believe me, as cold as I describe it, it is not personal.


It’s just that on the sidewalks of NYC, your feelings are just as valuable as everyone else’s: approximately that of a used match. Floating in a public toilet. No harm, no foul. Even treatment for all. So buck up, keep on your feet, and keep to the fucking right.


Lisa said...

Ah, yes. Another reason I need to leave the city, if only for the summer. I'm turning 30 too soon and I don't know if I can keep up!
Loved the short story, by the way :) Keep at it!


Sean said...

Like dominos, her catastrophic fall would become his problematic fall if he were to help her up- this is the case because he would then be late for work. That would in turn become his employer's inconvenient fall if they were to accept his delay and the lost money he would have made for them.

And the shareholders wouldn't notice a goddamn thing.

I think all those buildings and walls everywhere you look can make people short-sighted in every sense of the word.

Truecraig said...

Lisa! Thanks for the nod on the short story thing. I plan to bother anyone dropping by here, periodically with others. Later on. Turning thirty is nothing compared to turning blue.

Sean-nah-nah - I am glad that you feel the way you do. It is absurd. The moral dilemma provided by the situation is academic to an outsider. But when you're there, it is hardly so clear. And if it is clear, you soon learn to ignore it as a form of defense against your own environment. Against your own reactions to it. I like your buildings-block-sight metaphor. Tightness.

It is absurd. But it is there, I believe.

Anonymous said...

I am well aware I'm not the type to join teeming metropolitan masses. Never done NY, but San Fran even made me claustrophobic. I know the city offers innumerable glories, but I think it would mostly make me sad. I'm comfortable in my "Suth-uhn gahl"-ness. Good deeds & all that yaddayadda. What do they tell the Boy Scouts there? Or do they wait for illusions to be shattered on their own? Any boss that got their undies in a bunch over helping an old lady could, well, kiss mah grits. As far as being without intent or malice, well, if you are a bitch, without trying to be a bitch, you are still a bitch. Without malice or forethought - isn't it somewhere in the definition for maslaughter - I didn't mean to bring death? I prefer to not be desensitized...

Truecraig said...

Anon: I hear you. The large metropolis is… not for everyone. I gravitate toward many wonderful aspects of living in a cultural epicenter such as NYC. But there are drawbacks. Tight spaces produce various neuroses and errant shared consciousnesses. Different mobs have different mentalities, and not all mobs agree with any other’s particular take on things. We southerners often times have no solid concept of what it means to live within a large, northeastern city. It seems so foreign, so we count the differences to try and reconcile it to our own lives. New Yorkers may be desensitized, sure. Maybe they’re more pragmatic? Perhaps they’re just arrogant? Did they figure it all out, and are just acting it through? Maybe they’re immoral or unethical as a population? Hell if I know. I just lived there.

I prefer to believe that they are simply dead-set on being self-reliant, and dead-set on everyone else being as dead-set on it as they are. Even the best of intentions can have disturbing side-effects. Look at the FCC.