It was a dark and stormy night
Much of being a New Yorker means pretending that half of the people you see every day don’t really exist. It’s not narcissism or rudeness, although that’s what it often looks like from the outside. It’s just survival. If you actually had to process every person who walks through your life every day, you might lose it. For a lot of people, it means imagining rules for yourself to get where you need to go. Walk this way not that way, tune out the noise with headphones, look at the ground, don’t ever make eye contact, lose yourself in a book. It can help. But the problem with this approach is that after a while, you start to think other people should be following the rules too and you get annoyed or even downright irate when they don’t. But how could they know what the rules are? Well, except for the rule about walking on the right hand side of the sidewalk. Everybody should follow that rule, New Yorkers. It would make all of our lives better.
I am not by nature a dogmatic rule follower (I think I can hear my mother snickering right now). It’s both my downfall and my saving grace. So I’m not quite sure how I came to be one of these people who will choose the rule (walk on the right) over the practical solution (step left to avoid someone who is walking toward you). But I find myself playing chicken on the sidewalk more and more. I am not proud of myself.I’m not exactly sure why I’m telling you this story except to say that trying to figure out how to walk through the streets of New York without going crazy takes up a lot of my mental space. Which is why, at the age of 47, I tend to pretend I’m staring in a movie of my own devising while I do it. Jim White for the walk to the subway and a Southern Gothic pic; The Pixies or Fatboy Slim for an end-of-the-world action pic on the walk to my office. Home is easier. When it’s dark, Manhattan is film noir and anything moody will do. I pass a long string of neon-lit Korean karaoke bars on my way to the train. Even my 19th century Brooklyn neighborhood is noired after dark, porch lights striping the sidewalks through wrought-iron. Puddled streets coldly reflecting lingering Christmas lights. A car horn. A siren. A door slam. A bell. And if you’re lucky, a foghorn echoing up from the river.
Coping mechanisms have served me well this week. Nothing too terrible. A little under the weather. A little drama at the office. The nerves of waiting for the imminent results of high school applications. Sometimes it’s just easier to declare and defend your boundaries or just pretend you’re someone else for a while. What about you? How do you cope with the things that make you lose your cool?