New York City Diary

Words and pictures from my interesting life in New York.

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Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


It's 7:35 p.m. and I'm home now. There was an interesting parallel between something that happened on the street on my walk to the subway and an episode of the Simpsons that came on just as I arrived at home and flipped on the TV at 7:00 p.m.

I left the office and went past the bank to the subway entrance at 55th Street and Seventh Avenue. It was about 6:30 p.m. A man and a woman, they were either porters or messengers, were rolling portable clothing racks (the kind you see all over the Garment District) out of an office building and into a truck. Several thick black garment bags were hanging on each rack. The messengers must have decided to roll them all out on the sidewalk first and then load up the truck.

It wasn't a good idea, because the racks were almost completely blocking the sidewalk, and they were pushing them around all over the place, getting in people's way. After all, it was West 55th Street, at rush hour, right in front of a subway entrance, and they're rolling these things all over the sidewalk. The wind was making them even harder to control. I felt sorry for them and annoyed at the same time.

One guy who was a few steps in front of me was more annoyed than sympathetic. The woman messenger was dragging her rack around and it was flying everywhere, and it knocked right into this guy. It didn't knock him down, but it was certainly a "what the Hell?" moment.

The woman messenger ignored him, oblivious to smashing into him, so he said to her (not quite shouting) words to the effect of "watch what you're doing" and "the least you could say is excuse me." He was a little animated but not quite threatening.

But her friend, the male messenger, stepped in right away. (At this stage I'm just about two steps behind all three of them.) It seemed like part of his reaction was to stick up for his coworker but a bigger part of it was that he was itching for a confrontation. Maybe he didn't like wheeling those racks around in the cold and wind. But he got right into the coat-rack smashing victim's face, saying "anything you got to say to her you say to me." He said it twice, for clarity and emphasis.

But the coat-rack smashing victim wasn't about to back down. He was maybe 5'9" (my height) and the messenger guy was about three inches taller and a little bigger. He starting yelling back at the guy "All she's gotta do is say excuse me. Is that so hard?" And the woman was yelling too. She said "I didn't even run into you that bad."

It all happened in a matter of seconds. I slowed down but kept walking because it was the kind of obvious New York street altercation where you keep going but you definitely pay attention to what's happening, in case it spills in your direction. Also, I wanted to see if it actually became a fight, not so much for the crude spectacle but because, as a martial artist, I'm curious to see how so-called real fights really begin. Of course I was thinking "could I whip these guys?" (Maybe.)

But I wasn't that curious. I continued past them while they were still yelling at each other, basically the same things. They were loud. I had to step gingerly around all these clothes racks. Since they were basically at the top of the stairs to the subway, I could hear them all the way down the stairs, through the turnstiles, and down the next flight of stairs to the subway platform.

Then I hopped on a downtown Q train that was waiting to leave. I could even hear them arguing, faintly, from the train before the doors closed. As I took a seat on the train I thought to myself, every one of those three people, but especially the two guys, had a lot of pent-up anger and aggression. They both seriously overreacted to the situation, making it much worse for everybody. For all I knew they were physically fighting up there on the street, with cops arriving and such. It was going in that direction.

Sometimes I get frustrated too, and little things can trigger an overreaction, but I think I know pretty well to keep things in control. Those guys were losing their control. It was bad, but I'm a New Yorker, and I'm not getting involved. The situation would not benefit from my involvement, nor would I.

I arrived at the lovely Brooklyn apartment I share with my wife and, seeing that it was 6:58 p.m. I turned on the TV to watch the Simpsons.

It was the episode where a hurricane sweeps throught Springfield and destroys Ned Flanders' house. The town gets together and builds a new house for them, but it's an ineptly-built piece of junk that collapses.

Ned Flanders finally loses his temper after all the years of bottling up his anger. He lashes out at everyone in town, especially the Simpsons. "It's Lisa Simpson, Springfield's answer to a question nobody asked." Then he checks himself into a mental hospital.

I sat back and smiled. I had just experienced the human versions of Ned Flanders, yelling at each other on 55th Street. They didn't actually resemble Flanders, they were all three in their twenties or thirties, African American. But they had the same anger problems.

Ned's repressed-anger problem stemmed from the lack of discipline of his Beatnik parents, which necessitated excessive spanking therapy by a doctor that worked "too well." Homer talked him through it.

I hope those three people find peace in their lives, for all of our sakes.

Jenn's working late tonight. I'm going to heat up some leftover chicken fried rice.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This blog post was, in one reader's opinion, your best yet. It was beautifully-written, engaging, suspenseful, insightful, and ultimately hopeful and satisfying. It was very much in line with your blog's objective, in that it so vividly placed your readers on a Manhattan sidewalk at rush hour, but it also rose to the level of literature as it invited us to contemplate ourselves and the society with which we interact. And not a wasted word.

Well done!

-Märt Päntan

12:05 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

I couldn't say (write) it better. Nice posting.

2:49 PM  
Blogger Rob Horning said...

You ask "could I whip these guys?"
I suspect you could have kicked all of their asses and administered some swift street justice.

Who is to blame for these workers' bottled-up rage? A society that impels them to overwork and overstress? Just as road rage is an altogether rational response to an absurd system, so perhaps is it the same with workers. If every one loses their temper, makes obvious the contradictions and undue pressures that our culture papers over, perhaps the flawed systems will change. Or perhaps we should just continue to blow off steam in the privacy of our own home with The Simpsons.

4:10 PM  

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