Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Where Did All The Compassion Go?

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago - ©1961 Pete Seeger
Happy happy! - New York Bus People
I am immersed my usual reading daze, sitting on the bus. On my way home from work. Suddenly my concentration is interrupted. Someone has taken a seat one seat away from me, and clunked his backpack on the vacant seat between us. His backpack hits me, but slightly. Enough to wake me from my reading state and I look up.

There's something about the Q32 bus on the west-bound run; the run that transports people from Queens to Manhattan. It is always, well late afternoon at least, partly populated by some very strange people. I've never discovered why, and in the normal course of events it doesn't worry me. But this time it was disconcerting.

I'd seen the man before. He's got some medical condition that causes him to involuntary twitch and move his limbs any which way - inappropriately and uncontrollably. Today he's wearing a threadbare coarse woolen gray coat, and except for the gym shoes, he looks like a character from a Dicken's novel. No teeth. Badly shaven. Tortured. A wild look in his eyes. He has a walking stick. He's about 45. He's one seat away from me and muttering disturbing things like, "God help me I wish I was dead."

Bus Stop
I look around. The bus is three quarters full. Young women are chatting hands-free on cell phones, office workers are gossiping. A business man is reading "New York" magazine. The headline on the cover page is "Are You A Sociopath?". Perhaps I should treat the poor soul a seat away as 'normal'. Maybe that's the politically correct thing to do. His backpack is pressing into my midriff, but I persevere in reading my novel, acting as though all is normal. I have decided not to move to another seat. Why draw more attention to the poor fellow.

Yes, I've seen the man before, so I know the stop where he normally gets off. We are approaching it. I stop reading and look at him. He's trying to concentrate and to gather enough control to stand, to get off when the bus stops. The twitching overwhelms him and he collapses back in his seat muttering, "Please help me!" I pretend to read. The office workers haven't noticed a thing. The cell phone people text and talk.

It's the next stop. Clenching his gums the man manages to stand, and lurching uncontrollably, leaves the bus. It continues on.

New York Women on Bus
At Madison I change buses to go north. There's a line of people, waiting to go north on the M3 bus. I join the line. A few feet to my left is a blind man with a cane. He keeps yelling, "There is no one here; how will I know when the M4 comes?" No one answers. He yells louder. "There is no one here; how will I know when the M4 comes?" The M3 arrives and I'm about four people down-line waiting to get on. No one is answering the blind man, and he's getting louder and more agitated. Eventually I speak up. "We are getting on the M3," I explain. "There is no M4 yet, but one will come and someone will be here to tell you. Right now everyone here is getting on the M3 bus."

But instead of calming him, this just agitates him further. "There is no one here! How will I know when the M4 comes?" he wails.

Dakota Fence Gargoyles
I'm still the only sighted person, the only person answering him. But I'm hassled. "I'm sorry," I reply, "but there are no M4 people here right now; I just cannot manufacture humans for you!" I get on the M3 bus.

"My god," I think to myself. "I'm home. I am a New Yorker again. Compassion has flown out the bus window."

My next bus is a "crosstown". I get on and ask the driver a question, but he just snarls at me and at 72nd and Central Park West I get off. I walk north past the Dakota. It's dusk and for the first time, even though I've walked past it - the building that John and Yoko lived in - many times before, on the very sidewalk where Lennon was fatally shot, I notice for the first time, the gargoyles on its black wrought iron fence. They look evil. Threatening. I hurry on. Too creepy!

And then I arrive. At my therapist's.

Yikes! I am back. In New York.

1 comment:

Vanessa said...

Compassion? In New York?

Surely you jest!

Yes those gargoyles ARE scary.

Why do you go to a therapist? Oh that's right, you live in New York!!!!

Dumb question :)

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