You’ve got to admit: you’ve really come a long way.
At work in the morning, there’s been scuffling with crazy people who want to fight you on street corners.
Then later on at night, screaming matches on the subway. With drunken Trump supporters throwing vile slurs.
Three years ago, your own legs felt too brittle to stand up on. There wasn’t enough gumption anywhere to push you into crossing swords with friends, let alone strangers. You craved approval like it was Poland Spring and you were dying of thirst. You dodged confrontation like it was a clenched fist.
But New York City is about learning how to deal with people by the millions and assertiveness training by necessity. You get into a scrap with one grumpy old fuck, you get into another. And then you’ve finally found something to fuel with all that angry bullshit you kept compartmentalized away into your mind’s Tupperware.
Now, when the “drunk at 10:30am” shirtless guy with missing teeth comes up to tell you how much he likes “white pussy” because he saw some woman buying coffee across the street and he really just wanted to let you know, you tell him to keep fucking moving brah.
And he does.
And screams some shit about screwing your mother while he slinks away.
Because he’s a punk-ass motherfucker.
The bonus also is that now you have a real reason to go to the gym: to make sure you don’t get your ass kicked. Or at least make it not so bad when you inevitably do.
The older woman in the tacky t-shirt, with a kitten printed on it, approaches. She looks like she must be around 70 years old or so. I have a table set up for giving out flyers and informational material but I can’t be bothered to sit down at it for too long because I’m so twitchy, so I just lean against the fence and stare down at my phone, like a good Millenial, to pass the time.
“Hey there, babydoll.”
I look up and there she is looking through the table materials. The tacky cat shirt, a face with dark sunglasses, and a somewhat wrinkled hand wave hello at me. She obviously drops off her food scraps with us regularly. I can’t seem to remember her by face though. I interact with hundreds of people on this street corner every day. She asks me if there’s anything new to read on the table that she should take with her. I respond that there’s nothing really new besides flyers for fishing events on the East River that my organization sponsors. She nods and takes some of those and drops off her food scraps into the collection bin. Seeing her finish up, I smile, nod, and wish her a good day.
“Thank you, angel-face”, her voice quavers in a weird near-falsetto. A flashing grin erupts beneath her hidden eyes.
She strokes her hand against my arm as she says this. I’ve rolled up my sleeves because of the heat and she touches bare skin. I try not to instinctually raise an alarmed eyebrow as she does.
“You take care now,” and there she goes to melt in the morning rush crowd from which she spawned, just quickly and eerily as she came.
It is the spring of twenty-oh-sixteen, in the Lower East Side of New York City, and this is what my life has come to: getting successfully creeped on at work by a 70 year old cat lady with an endearingly gaudy taste in fashion, in the surprisingly strong heat of a sunny Spring day in May, at 8am in the morning. For almost no pay.
But hey whatever: just roll with it.
You’re not getting any younger. And pretty soon you’ll take whatever you can get.
In a dimly living room in our dimly lit house, Tristan has opened up his laptop.
He’s just created his first Twitter account.
Alex cranes his head and peers to look at the monster he’s helped create. He coached Tristan on registering his account.
“Uh, so I see you’re following a ton of pornstars…?”
“No, look, it’s really just Sasha Grey and Madison Ivy.”
Tristan continues unabated. Glances are exchanged between the rest of us.
“Though, to be honest, maybe this isn’t a good idea. I don’t want my exgirlfriend to see.”
This has unbearably piqued my interest.
“Of all the things, why would you care if your exgirlfriend finds out you follow porn stars on Twitter?” I interject.
“She was hot”
“I’D LIKE TO HAVE SEX WITH HER AGAIN THANK YOU VERY MUCH”
The woman falls, face first, onto the pavement. Thump. It’s so sudden, so heavy, and she lays prone and flat for a long time. In fact, too long, and I’ve decided she didn’t trip or lose balance. Her groceries are scattered out from their bags.
“Excuse me, are you okay? Do you need help?”
The niceties tumble out of my mouth. Always ask, before helping. That’s something they drilled into you in Boy Scouts, but I’ve already crouched down to grip her shoulder and shake it ever so gently. She doesn’t react anyway.
Then I see the blood slowly pooling around her head.
Not the first I’ve seen in the past few months. Not even the first I’ve walked upon on a city sidewalk.
A few months ago, I stopped to help a Latino man, spread eagle on his back on the Jersey City street corner. He didn’t speak English and that made it maddeningly fumbling to help him, but a group of us had gathered and called the EMTs. One of them spoke Spanish and before they carted him off, said he had mentioned a brain tumor.
I’ve propped her over to her side. She’s much older, Chinese, with her hair greying and thinning. And she’s conscious. Her eyes stare out past me into the horizon of the Williamsburg Bridge, unblinking and glassy and glazed over, the left side of her face torn up and dripping ruby specks of blood. I prod her verbally some more but she continues to glance out far past me, though a hand waved in front of her face produces a nod.
Does she not speak English either? Or even if she could, would this be all she could say to me?
I feel trapped in not knowing and not reaching. The fear of being there, right there, with someone in need, and still having a gap.
My phone isn’t on me, it’s at the office, but a passerby calls the EMTs for me. An older Chinese man swiftly approaches from under the bridge and circles around me, speaking into his cell phone in frantic Cantonese, but doesn’t move to interfere as I hold her up on my knees and out of her own blood. I assume he is her husband but never find out.
Eventually, the EMTs arrive and strap her into the white rolling cot. Someone calling himself her son arrives as well, in his late 30s, shakes my hand, thanks me, and then having satisfied my anxiousness that I have done what I could, I head off.
Hours later, I cross the same intersection on my way home. The pool of her blood is still there, uncleaned and glistening in the Lower East Side sunset.