The stock market is crashing, the sky is falling and the wheel of fortune keeps turning.
Was the little morality play I got swept up in a couple months ago a reflection of the heightened economic tension in the city? Or just another iteration of the age-old war between the classes? I myself can relate to both the white collars and the blues. Back in the day, I did some time as a wage slavemost memorably in my hometowns K-Martbefore becoming an office type after I graduated college.
Since I left my full-time job a few years ago to write a novel, however, Ive been making a hand-to-mouth living on the fringes of the magazine world. And given the dour financial situationwhich is translating into fewer ad pages, slashed budgets and smaller staffsI fear that, soon enough, Ill no longer get enough writing assignments to survive and Ill be forced to consider retail. Or phone sex.
Not surprisingly, like so many other New Yorkers, I was fretting about money on Oct. 16. The Dow had taken another huge hitlosing 733 points in one of its worst days in history and the full-time freelance gig Id been doing was about to end. I didnt have much else lined up. After checking the headlines one last time, I shut off my computer, left my cubicle and headed over to Ess-A-Bagel for a snack before an evening session with my shrink.
As I ordered, I kibitzed with the baby-faced Bangladeshi man who works there. The talk was about our recent run-ins with the law: Hed gotten a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt while waiting for his wife outside a grocery store. Id gotten a summons for riding my bike on the sidewalk in Bumblefudge, Brooklyn.
Id clearly been doing something wrong. My friends situation was a bit more Orwellian: Hed been innocently idling in his car when one traffic cop told him he couldnt be parked in that particular spot; and it was as he was moving a few hundred feet forward at five miles per hour that a different cop pulled him over.
Wed finished trading tales of woe and my friend had just popped a multi-grain carb-ring into the toaster for me when some young woman wandered in, mumbling into an iPhone. Though she was wearing casual clothesMick Jagger–inspired spandex and a hoodieher shearling boots and monogrammed Vuitton purse made it clear she had dough. My friend asked if he could help her. She seemed somewhat irritated that hed interrupted her call and even more put out by the tiresome task of actually having to communicate what she wanted. (The expression on her face as she looked at my friend seemed to say: When are you people going to learn to read minds?) Butgood sport that she wasshe managed to bark out some kind of barely discernible order regarding salad before returning to her very important conversation.
My friend held up a small plastic container and pointed to it. Do you mean something this size? he said quietly. Or on a sandwich? I want a sal-ad! the woman shouted, in a way that seemed to indicate she assumed he had trouble understanding English. He doesnt. With tuna! Oh, I see, said my friend, polite as ever. You want tuna salad on greens? His attempt at clarification sent her over the edge. You know what? she said. Forget it. Just forget it. I dont have time for this. And out the door she stormed.
The whole thing went down so quickly and I was so shocked by her unexpected torrent of rudenessthat I didnt have time to tell her
what I thought of her behavior. But as soon as I managed to shut my gaping jaw, I apologized to my friend on behalf of humanity. He brushed it off. Clearly, hed seen that kind of thing before.
The incident was still fresh in my mind the following evening as I headed off to a party at the Paris Review. I was supposed to meet a friend on the steps of the literary journals office, and I was runningor, rather, biking late. At the intersection of Park and E. 19th, I pulled up to a red light, vaguely aware that another biker was on the other side of the street.
When I stopped, my attention was drawn more sharply to hima Latino delivery dude with a thermal food bag in his basket. An altercation was beginning on the opposite corner between him and an unnaturally tan guy in a navy Polo. There was a frat-boy arrogance about the prep as he grabbed the delivery dudes handlebars and said, Think youre going to get away with that? Though the delivery dude was more muscular, he backed away, hands up. He couldve taken the prep easily, I thought, but was trying to avoid trouble.
The prep shouted a few unattractive things and threw more shadow-punchesonly because it was so clear the delivery-dude would never actually pummel himbefore calling the cops to report that a biker had crashed into him. Upon hanging up, he announced smugly that the NYPD was on its way. The poor guys just trying to make a living, I shouted over to the prep. I cant just let it go. Dyou see what he did to me? No, I admitted. But you dont seem hurt. And I know he wasnt going fast. But how many times am I supposed to let them get away this? the prep asked.
Them? Theres only one of him. Nah, but these guysre always running people over. He was slurring his words ever so slightly. I cant let em get away with it. The delivery dude, who did not seem to speak English, turned to me and put his hands together prayerfully. He was nodding his head like he agreed with what I was doing.
I pressed on, asking the prep. How many times have you let this guy get away with anything?
Look, the prep said, I know where youre coming from
But do you pay taxes in this city? People who bring up taxes in the midst of any kind of street altercation always seem slightly deranged to me. Of course I do, I replied. And Id like it if the police whose salaries I theoretically contribute to concentrate on fighting criminals, rather than wasting time pestering some hard-working guy. Sorry, but no deal.The prep shook his head. Theyve got to learn a lesson.
We seemed to be at an impasse when an attractive man in a suit approached. Hey buddy, he said, addressing the prep. You ever done anything you shouldnt have donelike, I dont know, jaywalking? Of course, the prep said. But come on.You know where Im coming from. Have you been drinking tonight? Mr. Suit continued.
Of course. But you know how it is. Mr. Suit lifted the bottom flap of his jacket to reveal a shiny badge attached to his belt.Waving his hand like he was shooing a pigeon, he said to the prep, Why dont you be on your way? The prep walked off, head held low, and Mr. Suit dismissed the delivery dude too. Thank you! I called out. He waved at me, and I biked off, pleased with myself.
About three minutes later, I was biking down Broadway when a well-groomed young woman darted into the road without looking. Watch out! I screamed as I braked. It was no good: On impact, she was thrown to the pavement.
My goodness, Im so sorry! I circled back to her. Are you OK? Without answering me, she picked up her iPodwhich must have prevented her from hearing my warningand walked off with scraped palms and wounded dignity. Shed been in the wrong, technically, for crossing willy-nilly like she had. But in a city like New York, where the rules arent always reliably enforced and we so often have to make our own in order to survive, I couldnt blame her. C
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