Christmas SPITE; How Nasty NYers Get during the Holidays, and One True Story that means there Might Be Hope
That's it. I have to address this because its getting out of control. In the last 2 weeks this city has started to make its annual and apparently inevitable turn for the worst; as we get into the holiday season, the people of this city turn on each other. From time to time throughout the year isolated incidences of nastiness occur, but, with suffocating irony, never are they as frequent or as abhorrent as during the Christmas season.
Last year on Thanksgiving morning I was waiting in a line at Port Authority, and a young woman ahead of me in line was taking out an impressive amount of aggression on the window attendant. As she asked question after insipid question and the line grew restless with bus-missing panic, the middle-aged woman behind her suddenly ran out of patience and said “Could you hurry up? You're holding up the line. We're all trying to get places too--” at which point the young woman turned her head and spat over her shoulder (with breathtaking nastiness) “Shut up, you old hag. I'm trying to--” to which the older woman said “How dare you! How DARE you say that to me 'old hag', you little bitch--” and the younger woman “Shut the fuck up! Just shut up! No one cares what you say, soon you'll be dead!” and then “Oh my God! I can't believe you! You get the hell out of the way! Get the hell out of here--” at which point “LADIES, ALRIGHT LADIES, THAT'S ENOUGH, WE'LL GET EVERYBODY THEIR TICKETS. THERE'S NO REASON TO SPEAK LIKE THAT, IT'S THANKSGIVING” came screeching over the loudspeaker drowning them out.
Few days after Thanksgiving THIS year, I was riding the subway, when the doors opened, letting new people on. As they were closing, a young guy wedged himself in, and then proceeded to squeeze himself through the door, bumping into a man with a cane in the process. Of course as he righted himself, the doors opened (I think conductors do this as some kind of power play, just to remind everybody who's boss) and then the older man turned to him and shouted right in his face “You gonna stand right on top of me! Huh? Well?” and then SHOVED THE MAN off the train, followed him out onto the platform and started to BEAT HIM WITH HIS CANE. This was no feeble man, he had an ARM, and he wailed on this guy. The entire train car watched on in horror as the doors closed and the train started to pull away.
Today, when riding the subway home with my lunch in a bag, a woman approached me and in a rare moment of lapse, I wasn't in Resting Bitch Mode, so I looked at her when she said “Excuse me.” She asked for money to buy food, and I said I'd just bought my salad and that was all the cash I had. “I'm sorry,” I said. She stretched her face toward mine and said “I hope you choke on it.”
We're a city of strangers. I've lived in the same building with the same tenants for almost five years and I don't know a soul except for my best friend downstairs. We don't address each other by name, we barely make eye contact and nod, and sometimes not even that. It feels like a survival mechanism; you learn very quickly here that if you keep your head down, eyes blank, stare straight ahead, and walk too fast for anyone to really get a look at you, no one bothers you. And if you don't, you are constantly harassed by beggars, buskers, boozers, and worse. It is a barrage of people who want your money, your attention, your body, and God knows what else, and it is absolutely exhausting. Are we jaded? Wouldn't you be?
But sometimes, when we least expect it, people are human, indeed sometimes more than human. Instinctively, without premeditated self-interest, sometimes New Yorkers surprise me. Last year two days after Christmas I was coming back to New York. It was very early in the morning and the streets were deserted. I was leaving Port Authority with a bag full of presents, which was too small a bag, and was stuffed to its limit. I was smack in the middle of 41st Street with my arms full of stuff when, with cartoonish explosiveness, the bottom of the bag blew out, spewing gifts all over the street. Green light, cars barreling towards me, and who rounds the corner but three notably large, lumbering men. There was no time for me to collect even half of anything on the ground, and no way to carry it. Sketchy part of town, idiot tourist-looking girl alone, no one around on the street; I was absolutely resigned to being robbed. In the moment it took them to reach me, I had almost made the decision to run, and then they shocked me. The biggest one, with plastic bags over his sneakers, immediately ran to stop traffic. Another with a winter coat at least two sizes too large said “oh, no, here you go” and hustled to bring back everything I'd dropped, and the third, with a moth-eaten, gray beanie and no coat, ran to the bodega around the corner and came back with a giant trash bag, into which we three put all of my stuff. We got out of the street and I just stammered “thank you” over and over. Then the Mama in me took over, and I asked if they'd had breakfast, because the bodega makes good sandwiches. They hadn't, and so we did. I've never seen them since. My mother says they were the three Magi. That still gives me goosebumps.
What we have in this city is an opportunity not shared in smaller communities where many of the inhabitants know each other, or at least have considerably less close contact with strangers. Without suggesting that we all kumbaya together, I think we have to be more gentle with each other. We're all go-go-go and get-get-get, me worse than plenty, but there's a line we've trampled over for so long we can't see it anymore. If there exists in us a capacity for basic human decency, it must be nourished (or force-fed, if need be). And while it would be grand if we could practice brotherly love toward the strangers we walk alongside, wait in line with, ride trains smashed against, I would be satisfied with brotherly tolerance.
And so I'm making a vow. Hope the cynics are holding onto their hats (if they haven't jumped ship already), because my promise is this: my fellow New Yorkers, even on my worst days, I will endure you with as much grace as is possible. On most days, I will commit to you my basic respect and decency. And on my best days, I'll be more than human; I'll surprise you.
This blog is about the things that move me as an artist, musician, human, woman, friend, sister, daughter, American, New York City resident, Primal Blueprint follower, yoga practitioner, shoe-lover, dog-lover, cupcake-lover and fascinated observer of the human condition.