A city is really an organism. Though made up of millions of independent pieces, it acts and behaves as a collective, cohesive thing. What affects one urban dweller effects them all, because their mood and actions ripple outward. For instance, when the weather negatively impacts a place, that place, as a whole, goes a little nuts.
In New York, this typically happens in the summer, when the humidity is 110 percent and every corner smells like microwaved landfill. The heat pisses people off, and the inescapable nature of the situation turns that anger into mania, thus causing people to do crazy stuff like stab each other or think buying a cabin in the Catskills is a good idea.
For the first time, I see something similar happening in the winter. This particular winter has been so brutal–in terms of both temperatures and storms–that the entire city is gripped by a kind of madness you usually only see during a heatwave in August.
Maybe it’s from being cooped up inside far too much. Maybe it’s because the unmelted snow has narrowed the sidewalks, pushing everyone in close proximity to everyone else. Whatever the reason, everyone in New York is on a knife’s edge right now. You can feel it in the air. It’s like a subzero version of Do the Right Thing.
Just within the last week, I have been witness to two separate incidents of insane, maddening rudeness that stood out even against New York standards of selfishness and disregard, and which are usually seen in the brain-melting dog days of summer.
INCIDENT NUMBER 1: Evening rush hour. I’m walking uptown on Sixth Avenue toward the West 4th Street station. Thanks to the high-piled snow, the remnants of a Christmas tree lot, and a few vendors’ tents, this block is a pedestrian pinball machine. There is very little room to maneuver, particularly if you have a slowish person in front of you, because there are only two lanes of comfortable traffic.
One woman decides she must break the social/urban contract and forge ahead
any way she can, damn the torpedoes. She first comes to my attention by clanging my elbow with a heavy, pendulous bag. I see the bag before I see woman; it’s a Garden of Eden bag with a clamshell deli container in it, presumably the remnants of her lunch. Next to that bag, another bag, clanging against the first one like the halves of a maraca.
The bag hangs from the crooked elbow of a woman in a large, billowy fur coat. Whether it was real or not is beyond the point; it was meant to look real. She has a black skirt that barely extends below the bottom of her coat, trailed by black hose that extend down to even blacker high heels. This is not high heel weather or terrain, but clearly she does not care, since she’s also neglected to wear a winter hat on top of her ultra red, ultra straight hair. She appears to be someone who has red hair, but dyed it the same color as the natural hue, just in case anyone wanted to see her head from space.
She is a person on a mission. She desperately tries to pass me, even scaling snow mounds to do it, but she’s not quite fast enough. The available sidewalk finally widens just before the stairs leading down to the subway, and she finally slips ahead, stomping down the steps as fast as she can.
In the station, I go through a different bank of turnstiles than her and somehow get ahead of her, but she bursts through her turnstile so quickly that she catches up. Once again we are neck and neck, her deli bags running interference for her. She seems very annoyed that she can’t get past me yet again, but I’m not about to lose sight of her. For one thing, she’s being such a jerk that I don’t mind making her crazy. And also, I’ve decide that I must trail her for as long as possible, because I’m convinced that her combination of pace, purpose, and disregard for others is going to lead to something amazing.
As we reach the ramp leading down the A train, we meet up with young, college-age couple walking at a leisurely pace and chatting. Big Red has had enough of waiting, and she forcibly parts the couple with one arm and zips between them. The male of the couple, stunned by the rudeness, does a fake kick-in-the-ass mime in Big Red’s direction.
Without stopping or turning around–because NOTHING can stop her now–Big Red crooks her free, couple-parting arm behind her, as if giving herself a chicken wing, and shoots the guy the bird. She stomps forward 10 more feet, then does it again for good measure, only this time with an over-the-shoulder move.
I sped ahead to see if I could follow her some more, but she was gone with the wind. It was too bad, because I really wanted to see her elbow someone in the throat to squeeze onto the A train.
INCIDENT #2: Morning rush hour. I am waiting for the bus to take me to my train. The bus is, as usual, taking its sweet time. It is bitterly cold. The only people waiting for this bus are me and one woman bundled up from head to toe. Her face is buried in the hood of her coat and wrapped in a scarf.
The bus finally arrives. The first hint I get that this woman has had it with society’s rules: she not-too-subtly tries to worm her way ahead of me on our queue of two.* I calmly but firmly forge ahead anyway and board the bus.
* I know this is not the case everywhere, particularly in Brooklyn, but in Queens bus lines are serious business. You line up in the order you arrive at the bus stop, and woe to anyone who tries to weasel their way ahead.
It takes me no longer to mount the bus and pull out my wallet that it does any other day–roughly, five nanoseconds. Regardless, this must have seemed an eternity to the woman behind me, because she did something I’ve never seen before, let alone experienced. She reached over my shoulder to drop her MetroCard in the scanner.
I am not often stunned, but seriously, I was stunned. And this woman wasn’t any taller than me, so this move took some effort. She was really determined to be a total dick.
My reaction was to adopt a defensive posture I learned from certain sea creatures. I widened myself as much as humanly possible, putting my arms akimbo and spreading my legs a bit, almost cowboy style. Basically, I made it impossible for her to move past me while I scanned my card. And I also slowed my movements just a hair so that the process of taking out my card, then scanning it, would take as long as possible.
The best part: The scanner seemed to sympathize, because it took an extra long time to read my MetroCard. It slid the card up and down five times before it gave me the go ahead. Thank you, inanimate scanner, for helping me be a dick right back.
And these are only two incidents of the millions that are occurring in the city every day. Spring better get here soon before Mookie tosses a snow-filled garbage can through the Sal’s Pizza window.