Sunday, October 05, 2014

Ripped Apart By Sunshine

I'm ripped apart by sunshine
I'm ecstatic
I'm leaping
I'm cutting off all my limbs
I'm doing circus tricks with forks. - "Happy" Maggie Estep, slam poet, 2013

First Avenue Billboard, 2014
"That thing! I opened the laundry bag myself. It was old and very ugly. I think to myself, who is person own this rubbish. You should be glad we lost it! You should be saying thank you to me and not come into my store with complaint."

I stood speechless. I had walked to the dry-cleaners after discovering that instead of my lovely one-of-a-kind top, made of three different colored and textured fabrics, that I'd bought at an up-scale craft fair near Columbus Circle, my beautiful long-sleeved top, had been swapped out for a flimsy short sleeved piece of hippy muslin rag.

But the dry-cleaner woman wasn't finished with me yet. "Maybe other lady bring it back. Maybe you happy to have your rubbish return."

There's nothing like bad New York customer service when it's bad. No half-measures in this city.

There was no point in arguing. I was remembering a Seinfeld episode where Jerry gets the wrong jacket back, and someone explains to him that it is a New York custom - that if you get someone else's clothes then you should just accept it; it all works out in the end. You win some and lose some. But I wasn't going to take it lying down.

As Ms Dry-Cleaner turned her back on me I found my voice back. "That is so silly!" I said. Loudly.

She jumped, startled that I had spoken. "You give me big fright. Why you talk so loud? I think I sue you. I might have heart attack. Go. Go. Leave my store. You standing there give my business bad name. I lose money because you have bad clothes. I sue."

Being a seasoned New Yorker, I know when I am beat. I crossed the street and headed off for home. And then turned back. I needed to cheer myself up. A mani-pedi was in order.

I've been going to the same nail salon for years. There's something comforting about being in a room full of people who look like me, being attended to by people who talk to each other in Korean.  Total non-communication. Almost a zen thing.

I was at the manicure table, reading.  My mind transported to a POW camp in Thailand in WWII.  Australian soldiers being tortured by Japanese, dying by the thousands, building a railway that was planned to run from Singapore to what was then Burma. Short-listed for the Booker, Tasmanian writer Richard Flanagan's "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" prose is brilliantly evocative. My mind was a thousand miles away, in another country in another age.

I screamed. I wasn't in Thailand, and it wasn't 1942. The person holding my hand wasn't even Japanese. She had chopped off the top of my little finger. The pinky, as Americans like to call it.

There was blood everywhere. Someone else screamed. The manager of the place was screaming as she squirted some blue liqid onto the wound. The blood kept coming. I held my hand up high, so it was above my heart. Red dots stood out starkly on the paper mat where my right hand still rested.

The other patrons were looking decidedly nervous. On the muted  TV, the closed captions were explaining how viruses were transmitted. Doctors dressed like astronauts  were walking towards a disposal van.

I noticed my assailant was not wearing gloves. The red blotches on the white paper were growing. I tried to put my shoes back on, kicking off the cotton wool between my toes.

"Oh no, is not dry!" screamed Ms Nail-Place-Manager. "I don't care," I told her. "I have to go to the emergency room! I think I need a stitch. What a way to spend my Saturday night. Why do I care about my toenails?"

"There's a good walk-in clinic on 86th, one of the nervous-looking customers offered. "Yes I have been there," volunteered another. And in the way of New Yorkers - seizing any opportunity to talk about themselves to complete strangers, a conversation was started. And I was forgotten.

Somewhere out of nowhere, one of the nearby  fast food "Subway" guys was holding out a bottle of water. I thanked him. The world was starting to spin. There were band-aids upon band-aids, a veritable tower of them, on the end of my finger. I could still see blood seeping through but the flow had stopped.

I left the salon and the chatting women. I sat down on a plastic chair at the "Subway" fast food place. A man outside was begging. He only had one arm. He'd left the other one behind in Iraq. I remembered the Australian POWs tortured in Thailand.

I had it good. I should be so happy.

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