Wednesday, October 24, 2007

can i be excused from class?

this city is making me tired.

today i had one of those days that i think you can only have in midtown manhattan. not that individual components of them couldn't occur elsewhere, but to experience them all within the same few hours is a testament to new york's special brand of insanity - one that runs deep and broad.

for example, you've got your subway paranoiacs.

everyone's got their subway story, and i imagine more than one, but today was the first time i experience the hostile variety. usually the crazy people i meet in the subway, while admittedly deranged, are either strangely benificent - 'all our problems are because of the rich. there were no rich people in the time of the isrealites; that's why the israelites were the people of G-d' - or promoting some cause, their own, rwanda's, the devil's, whatever.

but today, as i was on the train from work to school at about 4:45, completely wiped, crammed into the car with 47 other people getting out of work like so much playdoh in a jar, a man leaning against the door across from me took one look at me and pronounced loudly: "WELL, aren't YOU nosy?"

it took me awhile to figure out he was talking to me, because ironically enough, i had not really been paying attention. like most people on the subway, i was trying to figure out how i was going to get where i needed to be on time. and i was also sort of exhausted and starting to daze. i guess i must have been staring at the package this man was holding in his arms, with the name 'JEDI PRINTING COMPANY' emblazoned boldly across the front, in what he interpreted as an offensive manner; i don't think i realized at the time that i was looking at it.

so the man specified. "Yeah, that's right, YOU. i'm talking to YOU, nosy girl. glasses girl. YOU."

at this point other people began to stare at me, shifting to glance over their shoulders or, depending on how they were packed, beneath other people's armpits. the man did not look crazy. he was an african american in a relatively clean and well-pressed suit, some dark sneakers. and he spent the rest of our five minute ride enumerating my sins.

"you think you're smart, don't you? you think you're better than other people. who do you think you are?"

i never said anything in response, but man, it was a looooong ride.

fortunately, my class that night guest-starred a firefighter who had worked at the scene of 9-11. we were supposed to interview him about his story. he didn't need much help; he is a natural storyteller, the kind of spell-binding recreationist who makes you jump in fear when he describes an explosion or the thick black debris coating his eyelids. yet this was not enough for my teacher.

'tell them grisly things,' my teacher said. 'tell them about the bodies. tell them how you found the bodies.'

and he dutifully told us, in gratifying detail. perhaps i do not have what it takes to be a professional writer. he teared up. we were supposed to be asking him questions, and my professor kept pushing me, 'fudge, what aspect of this would you like to focus on? what do you think his narrative should include?' as though the fireman's story was just another example in a textbook to be dissected and analyzed.

but a long day culminating in several very well-told anecdotes about finding a woman's hand with a diamond ring on a curb or yanking a man out of a hole in the wall by his small intestines did not, in my case, make for clear-thinking. the longer he talked, the lower i sank into my desk. halfway through, i became very cold and put on my coat; when he had been speaking and mercilessly interrupted and cross-examined by my classmates for no less than forty minutes, i was something like a puddle on the floor. 'you're probably already thinking about what kind of profile you can write about this,' my professor said, 'and this is your only chance to ask this firefighter about the details, so ask him something!' but i did not want to ask him anything. my brain refused to process the material he had presented to me. it just sat there in my head, grey and useless, whimpering a little. i wanted to take a week's vacation. i wanted to go sailing on a nice white boat in a bright blue harbor on a beautiful summer day. i did not want to write any story about being a firefighter picking up body parts, and apparently, i did not really want to think about one, either.

i experienced a similar feeling of dread earlier this week after stumbling early out of ripley's believe it or not, a museum here which features, among other things, a life-size wax figure of a 1400 lb. man and a woman who, due to a birth defect, had a sort of bill instead of a mouth. the plaque in front of the woman read 'Ugliest Woman in the World'? the people around me were laughing, and their laughter and the expression in that woman's eyes gave me one of the worst bouts of nauseau i've had since i was eight. i felt like i never wanted to do or see anything ever again.

i was feeling a little bit like this too as i walked home tonight, bits of the firefighter's story (and even the man in the subway's rhetoric) floating around and sticking in my skull like things that wouldn't go down right. i didn't want to live in a city where so many people experienced such excruciating sadness. i didn't want to think about the sadness this firefighter woke up in the morning to confront every day, as part of his job. i didn't like a world where people were mean and cruel and dead. the feeling i was left with was a vague, not-feeling-well-at-school kind of sentiment. 'i want to go home,' i thought.

but for me, for now, home just happens to be in one of manhattan's posher neighborhoods, and as everyone knows, you can't walk two blocks on halloween weekend without accidentally ruining an elaborate and expensive costume party. squirrel-haired and completely wiped, i propelled myself vaguely over a red carpet, several men in Victorian suits and top hats and gold-knobbed canes, and a few women wearing glittery ice-skating dresses with feathered tiaras and precipice heels. i plowed through them like so many bags of garbage along the curb before thinking, hey! that was actually sort of cool! and glancing back over my shoulder once or twice at their bright blur of color on the dark, drizzly new york street.

which, at last, brings me to my reason for writing this post: tonight, i had my first encounter with an actual falling-down drunk man.

i don't know why this surprised me as much as it did, but i guess that while i've seen people drunk, they've either been people you would expect to be drunk (ie, on purim, in shul) or they haven't been as drunk as all that. this guy was a model. he was long, thin, and tall. he was wearing what i conservatively estimated to be a six-thousand-dollar suit, and he had the long, glowing golden hair of someone who cares for it fastidiously.

he was also rolling along the gate of my dorm like a shipwreck at sea.

at first i couldn't tell he was drunk and thought that possibly he was ill, or dead. he stood with his back to the gate and his head up toward the sky, unmoving. i almost plowed into him too, but then smartly jumped back; i figured he must have escaped from the costume party down the block. he lunged forward along the gate, one arm grabbing wildly, but he didn't quite make it and swung face-first into it instead, sliding down onto his knees. he stayed there in a mess of angular limbs on the loor for awhile, then, just as suddenly, lurched up again and propelled himself toward the street, only to fall face-flat on the sidewalk.

i winced as his priceless, immaculate suit hit the mud.

whereupon he proceeded to crawl past my security guard. inch by inch. it was kind of a half-hearted crawl. he just sort of laid there after awhile. girls stepped around him and over him, some minding, some, i guess, not. the security guard took notice of him, apparently decided he was not a threat, and left him there.

and so did i, although i thought about him in the elevator, and i wondered whether he belonged to the glamorous, happy side of new york, or the underbelly.

7 Comments:

Blogger PsychoToddler said...

Well, there you have it. All of NY in a nutshell:

Rude subway riders

Brave firefighters

Callous reporters

Glittering Glitterazzi

Drunken rich bums

Oblivious Jewish girls

Bored security guards

And a squirrel-haired girl meandering through it all.

7:15 AM  
Blogger RaggedyMom said...

Wow. Just wow.

When you say "the crazy people I meet on the subway" do you mean the people you observe? Or are you actually meeting them - like introductions and all. If it's the latter . . . don't. Never make eye contact. (Kidding, of course, I know you know.)

I've totally been there with the guy yelling at you on the train. Except I'm pretty sure I started tearing up. Like when someone started yelling at me at a bus stop on Union Turnpike - "So how are the Irish doing? How ARE they?! HOW!!! ARE THEY?!?!"

Must be a redhead thing. Maybe that's why I was stopped for a random security check when we flew recently. Me. Must be because I'm Irish.

Growing up in the shadow of Manhattan, a lot of my friends longed to live in the city (and my mother still does!). There were times when we'd take the F train in to the city almost every Sunday to walk around, look for a particular style of boot she wanted to find on West 8th Street (a.k.a. street of endless shoe stores), or go down to the Lower East Side to my father's store.

For me, the best part of the day was coming back to Queens. It's great to get that close to the action, but it's great to go home too. Manhattan was thrilling, but I always felt the need to wash up really well afterward. Home is where the trees are.

9:47 AM  
Blogger LittleBirdies said...

RaggedyMom: It's funny that you call Queens the home where the trees are. Based on the statement you're obviously from NY. My perspective is that Queens is the most out of town area in NY city, but still very NY--where there are barely trees and 2 foot back yards (if any at all). Or maybe I'm just from out of town!

12:50 PM  
Blogger RaggedyMom said...

Little Birdies - Growing up in KGH, our driveway had a patch of grass just about large enough to bury the hamster in a shoebox. I still miss you, Winston.

Still, I'd love to have even that much outdoor space for my kids to splash around in a kiddie pool on a hot day. Or space for even a small sukkah. Or a parking spot that is exclusively mine at 10 p.m.

Which may be out of reach forever now that I'm staring at real tuition for Ann next year.

Sheboygan, here I come.

5:30 PM  
Blogger SJ said...

Wow. Intense. Living in the city is never dull, at least there's that.

Boy am I glad I dropped that class. Grisly things make me physically ill. Best of luck with that.

6:45 PM  
Blogger Ralphie said...

Mental note:

Daughters not allowed to attend school in new york, not allowed to take journalism courses...

11:39 AM  
Blogger Erachet said...

Whoaness! I am SO glad I dropped that class! I don't think I'd have been able to handle the fire fighter's story and I can just hear the teacher pressing the people in the class to ask him more and more questions.

9:56 AM  

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