It won’t come as a surprise to learn that I’m not comfortable dancing. That’s exactly why last year, for my wife’s birthday, I signed us up for dance classes. The gift was not me learning to dance, it was my willingness to put up with the humiliation of taking dance classes.
Category Archives: Strangers
There I was, in a crowded 4 train on my commute to work in the Financial District, reading another horrifying story about the ravages of neoliberalism, when something caught my eye.
As I do most nights (and as she described in this lovely article), I was reading to my wife in bed. This time, it was a very strange story about a community of people who believe a ’90s children’s movie starring Sinbad has disappeared, possibly due to a crossover with other dimensions, a glitch in the computer simulation we’re all living in, or simply a conspiracy (read it yourself, it’s amazing). Then the doorbell rang.
This morning I crossed paths with the elderly Indian gentleman I see most mornings on my way to work. We went through our usual routine: I smile and say good morning, and he smiles back, performs an elegant flourish with his hand, and responds, “and a very good day to you.”
Not only is his greeting unique, the fact that I willingly interact with a stranger is itself exceedingly rare. Whenever I hear that Will Rogers quote, “A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet,” I think, “That simple-minded Okie clearly didn’t live in New York.” I figured that out the first year I lived here.
A girl in college once told me she thought that people who liked the same bands could probably be friends. Her sentiment struck me as terribly naïve, but it’s taken me two decades to question my own assumption that people who like the same books share a sensibility.
Last week my wife and I went to see the formidable Barbara Ehrenreich speak at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn. You might know Ehrenreich from Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, her much-celebrated and controversial book about the ordeals of blue-collar workers, but I love her for Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, in which she stomps all over our country’s favorite panacea. In short, Ehrenreich’s a bad-ass. Which is why I was so surprised by the kind of people who made up her audience.
As I wait for the train at Queensboro Plaza I see a young woman on the platform trying to make herself heard over the noise. I can’t make out what she’s saying, but it’s clear that she’s asking a question and everybody is ignoring her.
I notice that she’s holding a few brightly colored cords in one hand that seem to match the colors of the subway insignias (green for the 456, yellow for the NQR, red for the 123, etc.), and assuming she’s asking something MTA-related, I walk up to her.
The whole thing started off badly. I forgot that Fran Lebowitz had rescheduled her talk at BAM when I scheduled a visit to my parents, so Sabine had to give away my ticket to a friend. The day of departure I woke up at 4:30 in the morning and arrived at the airport an hour and a half early. Then as I stood on the security line half asleep I overheard three college bros behind me talk loudly about beginning their day with a beer in that unmistakable douchey accent of theirs. I was on my way back to Texas.