Sunday, August 22, 2010

Strollers and Subway Stairs

There are few people I feel more sympathy for in this city than mothers pushing baby strollers over badly cracked sidewalks and through systems of public transportation. 

Those in crutches also get a vote of pity, I suppose, but not as much of one because at least their situation, if extremely difficult and painful (I've heard horror stories of blistered armpits), is not impossible. If a person propped on crutches puts his or her mind to it, he or she can, eventually, hobble down those subway stairs or over that horribly uneven curb one carefully calculated movement at a time. For mothers wielding strollers, this is another story.

When I see a mother with a baby-carriage standing either at the top or the bottom of several flights of subway stairs, her face is always the same: a mixture of pure exhaustion and aggravation, with a touch of forlornness around the eyes for good measure. And then the searching gaze commences. She anxiously scans the faces of people passing by, looking for someone who will offer to help her carry it up the stairs. 

This is something I come across often. Lifting a stroller up subway stairs is a two-person job. One person takes one end of the stroller, the second person (for whatever reason, usually male) takes the other end, and they walk carefully up or down the stairs, baby still in its bed either sleeping peacefully, completely unaware of the precarious state of its life at the moment, or screaming bloody murder, seemingly absolutely positive that it will be dropped at any moment and plunged to its death at the bottom of the station's stairs like so many cigarette butts.

After the man tagged for the job has completed his task, he sets down the stroller and accepts whatever quick thanks he gets with a curt not or a quick "you're welcome." 

There is no big show of gratitude, no exclamation of "Thank you so much, you just saved my life, I don't know how I would have gotten out of that subway if it hadn't been for you and your life-saving muscles!" Hell, sometimes there's not even a thank you--and the man isn't expecting any ostentatious show of praise.

The action is treated in much the way as when a when a someone opens a door for a person whose hands are full, holds an elevator for a someone else, or scoots down on the subway bench to make room for somebody else to sit.  It's an ordinary act of politeness, always nice to see but nothing to write home about.

But every time I see it, my hope in the inherent goodness of humankind is renewed.  Or maybe not the inherent goodness, but at least societal-conditioned goodness, which I'll take, even if it's not as pure a virtue.

Whether he helps out of the goodness of his own heart or the voice in the back of his head that tells him he will look like an asshole if he passes by this woman with the forlorn eyes and doesn't offer to aid her with his man-skills, doesn't matter so much as the fact that he helps. And that woman's day is just a bit better because of it. 

On the selfish side, when I see things like that the city seems a little less cold, so it does something for my day, too.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Today, I struck a small child...

It was an accident, but nonetheless, it happened. The most disturbing part about this is I didn't feel badly about it. At all.

Let me start from the beginning:

A few weeks ago I received a package at work. It was bright red and shiny and contained about seven YA (young adult genre) galleys--for those of you not in the publishing biz, a galley is a sort of preview of a book before it's been completely proofed and published. They're usually sent out for the book's promotion and have a lot more typos than the final product, but reading them is basically the same as reading the final book.

Now, because I work as an assistant in book production rather than, say, book promotion, and I work on accounting and business titles as opposed to teen books, it makes next to no sense that someone sent these books to me in hopes of promoting them pre-pub date. Unless, of course, this person was aware of my wildly popular blog (ha...ha) and the off-chance that I'd name-drop some books in a post. Well. That person is damn good at her job. Let the name-dropping commence!

At first, I snubbed my nose at these titles. YA novels indeed! I'm a twenty-two-year-old woman and well beyond the angst and melodrama faced by high school teens, thank-you-very-much.

And then one day, I'd finished my current subway read and needed something to take on the commute home. I dug deep in my office drawer where I'd buried these books, never to see the light of day, and picked out Bloodthirsty a novel by Flynn Meaney about a teen boy who fakes being a vampire to impress girls. It was hilarious.

Next was The Duff (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) by Kody Keplinger about a girl who doesn't realize she's beautiful until she finds out that every girl in her high school has considered herself the DUFF at some point and, logically, they couldn't all be the DUFF, so it goes to follow that nobody is, really. Just heartwarming!

After finishing that and admitting to myself that YA novels were now my crack and I was totally hooked, I picked Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan, the book that I was thinking about today, the day I struck a child.

The premise of this book is that immortals roam the earth alongside regular humans, only the immortals are totally jaded by their own immortality. These people are literally forever young, totally bored, and borderline sociopaths. They've felt so much over so many years, seen so many deaths, lost so many regular human friends, husbands, children, that they've taught themselves how to not feel anything, a sort of defense mechanism.

Well, the main character is out partying in London with other immortal friends one night when scary shit goes down, one regular mortal gets really hurt, and Nastasya decides she doesn't want to be so awful anymore and runs away to some sort of immortal rehab in podunk, Massachusetts. There she learns the importance of being in the moment, of appreciating the little things like the feel of the soapy water while washing dishes, and the joy of kneading one's own bread. She also meets a Viking god and proceeds to fall madly and hopelessly in love with him despite the fact that he irritates the hell out of her and apparently the feeling is mutual...but that's not what I was thinking of before I struck the child.

I was thinking of the first part. The importance of being in the moment and appreciating the little things. That morning, I'd gotten up at a reasonable hour, eleven a.m. I made my own coffee and cooked breakfast, eggs, bacon, and toast. I'd savored this breakfast slowly and tried to enjoy every bite of bacon, every sip of coffee.

Afterward, I'd showered, put on a pair of cheap sunglasses, and headed out to Bryant Park. 

On Canal street outside of my apartment the tourists were everywhere. I couldn't move without my skin coming into contact with someone else's skin. I tried to focus on the fact that this was the nicest weather we'd had in a while, and even if that man's hairy arm had just grazed mine, the day was lovely.

I arrived at the subway platform literally two seconds too late to catch the first train, mostly because this asshole in front of me wouldn't hurry the hell... I mean, as I waited to catch my train, even though the subway station was unbearably hot and I could feel my recently applied makeup melting down my neck and onto my new white tank-top, I was very grateful for the fact that I was in New York at that moment, taking the subway, and that I got to do it everyday, because after all isn't that why so many tourists came here, for that experience? It was a privilege, really.

When I finally got to Bryant Park, I sat down at a table in the shade and it was lovely. Granted, within ten minutes the park maintenance people decided that right in front of my table would be the perfect place to start depositing bags of trash and I had to move to another section of the park and it took me another five minutes of walking around to find an open seat...but once I found that,  I could focus and can honestly say I started really enjoying the little things this Saturday. Until I had to pee.

I would bet big money that Bryant Park has the nicest restroom facilities out of all of New York's public bathroom options. I think they've even won a few awards for the niceness. I'm pretty sure that the closest the other public restrooms have come to winning awards is just not being condemned and shut down...and several subway restrooms can't even say that.

So, I wasn't too irritated about being in the park and having to pee, except for the fact that I knew there would be a long line. There always is for those restrooms; their niceness has made them a sort of Mecca of restrooms. I'm convinced that some New Yorkers make pilgrimages to them from far away blocks simply because they have to go and they know the Byrant Park ones will a) be open and b) be bearable. I myself have been known to make such pilgrimages.

But when I got to the restroom, something was amiss. There was the usual line of women out the door and the just as usual (and always infuriating) lack of line in front of the men's restroom door, but there was a commotion. A woman was screaming in front of the restroom.

"Was that a rat?? That was a rat!"

"No, no," a man replied reassuringly, "that was a mouse. Smaller."


At that point all I could think was eff the little things! Taking joy in the more simple pleasures  in life was impossible when the universe is obviously out to ruin this Saturday! To spite me! Because the universe was out to get me! Well, universe, it's on.

I stood in the line, which, as a testament to the determindedness of New York women who need to pee, had not shortened in the slightest as a result of the rat/mouse sighting. 

When it was finally my turn, I went to the restroom not even being a bit thankful for the no-touch flush, sink, and blowdryer, or the nearly-clean marble counter tops, or the floor which completely lacked paper towel debris, or the noticeable scent in the air of smells that were not urine and filth. Who cared? Even the nicest public restroom in all of New York City had rats. And for some reason that reality crushed a tiny corner of my soul.

 And that's why, when the inconsiderate mother of five boys under the age of seven (how dare she procreate at such velocity?!) allowed them to stand dumbly clustered in the doorway, and I said "Excuse me, excuse me. I'm trying to get by here" and they didn't even acknowledge that I had spoken words, I shoved my way through.

In doing so, my purse, which was large but not heavy, struck one of the things in the head.

Just so you know, I did apologize to the kid!...but my heart wasn't in it.

My brain recognized that I probably should feel some sense of remorse. I understand that it is morally abhorrent to strike a child and not feel some tinge of regret at having done so...but the only sentiment I could muster was one of vindication. Well, I thought to myself, maybe next time he'll know to get out of the  friggin' way!

And this is why I'm glad I'll never have to go to immortal rehab like Nastasya. I clearly couldn't hack it. New York has forever ruined me for achieving total zen and nirvana and perhaps even basic human decency...but at least when it comes to taking care of my business, I'll never let a silly thing like a rat-sighting get in the way.