When you’ve lived in New York as long as I have, you start to build up a sort of weirdness tolerance. As time goes by and you move from one overpriced shoebox to another, it takes more and more weirdness to impress you. Eventually, things that used to make you shudder strike you as totally normal. Elderly man with a long, gray ponytail wearing fishnets and a housecoat on the bus? I’ve seen weirder. Seemingly upscale lady carrying a discarded crappair down 77th Street? Meh. At this point, it is only the seriously bizarre that even registers with you.
Now I don’t know if this counts as “seriously bizarre,” but it was pretty hard not to notice. Is that a banana on your subway platform or are you just happy to see me?
As I noted on Facebook earlier today, I have a few theories that might explain what a random banana is doing here.
Theory 1: As my dear and swell friend Rich suggested, it occurred to me too that this was the equivalent of the collegiate “sock on the doorknob” code. Perhaps the closet/utility room behind this door is actually the shared domicile of two MTA employees, two rats, or one of each. When one of them brings a slutty date home – be it rodent or human – he or she hangs a banana on the door and the roommate – be it rodent or human – knows not to enter. Things this doesn’t explain: why a banana instead of the classic sock? Why is there a banana hook on the door in the first place? Who put accommodations for two grown MTA employees, two grown rats, or one of each on the subway platform? And more important, is this place rent-controlled? Unlikely.
Theory 2: For obvious reasons, “banana” is the international sign for some kind of lurid sex practice. Unbeknownst to dorks like me, there are hundreds of 1 train commuters who secretly engage in this lurid sex practice but struggle to find like-minded partners and have nowhere to go. Clearly, a filthy utility room underground is the perfect spot for whatever this practice may be. Nothing screams “discrete” and “erotic” like the New York City subway. When these poor, isolated souls see the banana on their way in to work, they know their days are about to get a whole lot better. Less unlikely, but still not so likely.
Theory 3: The city is running a public art project but hasn’t publicized it. The banana is some bullshitter’s take on dadaism. Possible, but doubtful.
Theory 4: Someone is conducting a psychological experiment (possibly for a new reality tv show) on hidden camera. What kind of hilarity will ensue when the average New Yorker sees … a BANANA? I prove to be a fascinating subject as I stare at it then take an iPhone picture of it. Possible.
Theory 5: Someone riding the subway has an extra banana in his/her bag and decides to hang it on the door in case a homeless, hungry person (or rat) wanders by in search of food. Probably.
When I lived in Philadelphia, I met an alarming number of people who were convinced that “Sex and the City” was a realistic portrayal of life in New York.
And so to all those who think I spend my days walking the beat in Manolo Blahniks, drinking cosmos and lunching on weekdays with my BFFs, I present to you a real typical day in New York.
Your alarm goes off in the small apartment you pay for with 75 percent of your salary. You are already awake and completely exhausted, having been unable to sleep due to the garbage trucks that made their way up Broadway at intervals reminiscent of the Chinese water torture. In the shower, you lather up and then realize too late that the building turned the water off at 9 am sharp for “necessary repairs.” You did not know, until that moment, that water could break. Thankfully, you’re able to get some of the shower gel off using a bottle of Poland Spring and a plant sprayer, which is not at all awkward and does not at all flood your bathroom.
Even though you’ve spent thousands trying to keep up with the (Samantha) Joneses, you have nothing to wear and end up hating your outfit. You head out feeling absolutely revolting, as you weren’t able to wash your hair and your skin is covered in a soapy film that’s causing severe pruritus. The good news is that you wore your new, high-heeled sandals to perk up the outfit you hate. The bad news is that it starts to pour on your way to the subway and you didn’t bring an umbrella. The new sandals, previously quite beautiful, are quickly ruined, and so slippery that you trip – but do not fall – on a crack in the pavement. No one asks if you are okay. Your foot lands in something you pray is DOG shit.
You have to swipe your wet MetroCard three times before it’s accepted. At the exact moment you walk through the turnstile, the train pulls away. But that’s okay – the platform makes an incredibly comfortable waiting area. There’s absolutely no air, your iPod is dead, a not-so-faint hint of pee lingers in the mist and a talented Mariachi band is giving a free concert.
Twenty minutes later, the next downtown train arrives, so packed that riders have their faces smushed up against the petri dish windows. You’re able to contort yourself into one of the cars, joined by the Mariachi band, but there is even less air inside and the 75-year-old man in glittered tights and a red Speedo just caressed one of your ass cheeks. Halfway between 50th and 42nd Streets, the lights go out and the train stops. You’re about to panic, but then you hear this reassuring message from Charlie Brown’s teacher over the loudspeaker.
“MWAH MWAH MWAH MWAH MWAH MWAH MWAH.”
After what seems like a smelly eternity, you are moving again. You sigh in relief as you approach your stop, 23rd Street, but the train flies by and doesn’t stop again until 14th Street. Apparently, the MTA has decided this particular train will make express stops only, but didn’t see any reason to inform the passengers.
You are now absurdly late. You race up and down two flights of stairs to get on an uptown train, pretty sure you’re going to pass out. You don’t, but you do come alarmingly close to puking from the sight and stench of the hairy-chinned homeless woman who sits down right next to you even though there are empty seats aplenty.
At last you arrive at 23rd Street, in desperate need of coffee. It is no longer raining, but the line at Dunkin Donuts is insane. Naturally, the person right in front of you is picking 64 Munchkins one by one and asking probing questions as she goes along.
What part of CHOCOLATE FROSTED do you not understand?! Is jelly filling SUCH a difficult concept to grasp?! And for the love of GOD, just accept that the Boston Kreme Munchkin is a figment of your imagination. No, they did not have it last week.
You do eventually leave with your iced beverage, but you’ve been trapped in there so long that another downpour is in progress. You run into the bodega next door and buy the last flimsy umbrella, which costs $12 and will be completely broken within five minutes. Just as you are about to drop everything you’re toting, you see that a douchebag you once dated, liked and got harshly dissed by is fast approaching. You dodge him, but there’s no chance he didn’t see you in all your drowned rat glory. There’s also no chance he did see your engagement ring, as it is obscured by the iced coffee, so you have no choice but to assume he assumes you are still pining for him 10 years later.
When you arrive at your office, there is a gaggle of hipsters smoking a foot away from the door, but nary a one offers to open it for you. To get in, you are forced to hold your umbrella horizontally and place the iced coffee under your chin, only to spill it over the soaking wet white shirt you’re wearing. But that’s okay. It’s always nice when your boss and the publisher of an important trade magazine with whom you are scheduled to meet can see your underwears.
At last, you make it to your desk. You plan to send an email apologizing for being late, but there is no internet connection. Your colleagues can all get online just fine, but you can’t. The IT guy isn’t answering his phone, and you have no more coffee except what is staining your shirt. But you’re in New York, where you can order in Burmese food at 3 in the morning! Why not order a replacement coffee? You do, and a mere hour later you get it – even though you ordered it hot this time, it’s iced by this point and the half-and-half is sitting in curdled swirls at the camel-colored surface.
You are now officially the unwitting protagonist in the 2010 remake of the classic 1972 children’s book “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” You curse the city. You wonder why you ever complained about living in the Midwest. You miss the ease of Arch Street in the City of Brotherly Love, where your commute was one block on foot and you could run home to use your own private bathroom any time you wanted. You don’t understand why your parents can’t retire to Florida like normal Jews of their vintage, giving you a warm, easy place to escape. You curse the city again and decide you are just going to sit at your desk forever, rather than go back out into concrete jungle.
But lunch is inevitable. When your internet is up and running, your inbox tells you that there are three fabulous sample sales within walking distance. On Twitter you see that the Treats Truck, Cupcake Stop and Joyride Truck are all parked a block or two away. “Law and Order” is filming across the street, so you catch glimpses of the tasty Jeremy Sisto and also pass by McSteamy and possibly John Mayer. You can replace your still-wet white top with a more stylie one from your choice of Intermix, BCBG, H&M, Old Navy, Anthropologie, Banana Republic, Gap, Club Monaco, Lucky, Ann Taylor and/or J.Crew. Right on the street, you can buy a $12 necklace to jazz it up and then pick up gourmet hot dogs, sushi, Mexican, Chinese, deli, pizza, Mediterranean, comfort food, French macaroons, Cuban, vegan, kosher, Halal, soup or a smoothie for lunch. You can hear 10 different languages on your way back to the office. You can walk to the Metropolitan Pavilion and audition to be an extra in the next “Men in Black” movie (if you’re shorter than 4’10” and are comfortable wearing vintage alien prosthetics).
In your fresh top and new jewels, you head back to your loft-like office space and catch a glimpse of the Empire State Building. Just as you are contentedly remembering why you came to the Big Apple 15 years ago and why you missed it so much when you were gone, a taxi hydroplanes through a muddy puddle, covering your lower half in urban crud. You can’t help but conjure a slightly dejected tutu-clad Carrie Bradshaw in the opening credits of “Sex and the City.”
Perhaps those Scrapple-lovin’ peeps in Philly are righter than you thought.
“They” say that everyone has a special gift, and I have several: the ability to sleep Indian-style; a Rain Man-like memory; an uncanny awareness of strange genetic diseases; and a freak radar that empowers me to hone in on the most upsetting and disturbing individuals within my five-mile radius. On an alarming number of occasions, those individuals have been my friends and boyfriends. Most of the time, they merely leave me temporarily unable to eat or sleep. Other people seem able to block out or quickly forget about these unfortunates, but I remain haunted by lost, lonely-looking elderly people; spinsters; handicapped, retarded and cancer-stricken children; people eating by themselves in public; people riding the bus by themselves at night; mentally ill people; the homeless; and anyone I deem to be oppressed (Muslim women in burkas, Hassidic women toting eight kids and wearing itchy wigs, women who are 9 months pregnant in the middle of a heatwave).
This “gift” has plagued me as far back as I can remember. The earliest and most definitive example I can give you is the man from the Friendly’s on South Avenue, whose image is causing me to tear up even decades after the last time I saw him. Every single time I dined there – whether it was after school with Jan and Jamie, for dinner (the Early Bird Special) with my grandma on Saturdays, or late at night after a high school cruise through the Watchung Reservation – he was there too, alone. He was roughly middle-aged at the time, with dyed black hair, a dark complexion and a severe limp for which he used a cane.
It was bad enough that Friendly’s seemed to be the mainstay of his diet. It was bad enough he was crippled and bad enough he was always eating his sad little sandwich or hamburger by himself. But the clincher came at dessert time. Without fail, the smallest of the Friendly’s sundaes – the Happy Ending Sundae – would arrive at his table a few minutes after he finished his entrée. For reasons that I still don’t fully understand, this memory of the sundae’s arrival is among my most poignant.
Since then, anytime I’ve witnessed something of this nature – something sad to me but not tragic – I’ve referred to it as a “Happy Ending Sundae Story.” This categorization is often misunderstood, because its inclusion of the word “happy” does in fact imply an element of “happiness.” But make no mistake: there is NO mirth in a Happy Ending Sundae Story.
Jan claimed that she saw the man from Friendly’s driving around town with a wife and children, but I think she just told me that to make me feel better. I do wonder though, from time to time, if he ever went home to this theoretical family and said, “Every time I go to Friendly’s there’s this creepy little girl there, staring at me with a look of pity on her face …”
Another tale from the ice cream freezer … in the next, slightly more upscale town over from where I grew up, there was a brand- spankin’ new ice cream purveyor called Haagen-Dasz. And Haagen-Dasz, being all foreign and shit (or so we thought in 1982), was faaaancy. I mean people, they sold BOYSENBERRY ice cream. This town also had its own resident schizophrenic. I didn’t know he was schizophrenic – I just thought he was odd – but that’s what Lew told me when I’d sadly watch him lumber around the town center. The man was bearded with pocked skin, had a very clumsy gait and always wore too-tight, too-short khakis, black orthopedic shoes, a short-sleeved plaid shirt, and Coke bottle glasses.
One day, my friend Bethany and I were partaking of a frozen afternoon treat when the man got on line behind us. At the time, the custom-ordered ice cream bars, dipped in warm milk or dark chocolate and then coated with your choice of crumbled candy toppings, were all the rage among the tween set. But for an adult?! Unheard of. Yet that’s what he ordered. This in itself wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world – it was the way he ordered it. I can still hear him to this day saying, “Uh … uh … a vanilla bar please.” Needless to say Bethany enjoyed both hers and mine that day.
At the Bagel Chateau in the same town, a soft-spoken college girl with a severe under-bite and noticeably skinny wrists worked at the cash register. Snotty customers were always snapping at her, and she would get flustered, which made me feel sorry for her. Her cash register post also called upon her beverage preparation skills. Every day that summer, Jan requested a fresh-brewed ice tea, so finally, the kindly girl poured said beverage ahead of time and had it waiting for Jan when it was her turn to pay. That, of course, was the day Jan wanted a Diet Coke.
On the train coming back from Washington just last week, my Spidey sense located TWO Happy Ending Sundae stories. One was the geriatric woman sitting next to me. She slept most of the way, but woke up every 20 minutes or so, pulled out a Tupperware container, took two bites of what smelled and looked like blondies and zucchini bread, sipped from a Tupperware/Rubbermaid water bottle, then went back to sleep. Someone had obviously put her on the train and made sure she had sustenance for the whole ride. The other was a man, also with a severe underbite, who couldn’t close his mouth all the way and chewed extra loudly as he ate a giant bag of generic Dorito-esque Party Mix, most of which ended up in his beard. He, obviously, couldn’t afford name-brand Doritos and had probably saved up his whole life for this one train ride.
There was the girl in my class who had no bladder control. I don’t mean she was a 1st-grader still having accidents. I mean she was 10 and had some sort of condition – involving a third kidney, it was rumored – that left her unable to know when she had to go to the bathroom. You can imagine how nice the other kids were about this. To make matters worse, she chose to go by a nickname that just about HAD to be paired with “Wetsy.” The kids truly tortured her, and one day, it got to me. I guess I couldn’t help but feel there was a little bit of her in all of us, and while I wasn’t strong enough to stand up for my picked-on self, I could do it for her. So I stepped out of line on the way to the playground and told one of the 4th-grade bad asses to shut up and leave her alone. It was the first and only time I ever had detention. The next day, the girl came up to my desk and asked, “Would you like a green apple jelly bean?” I remember being very touched by this gesture and accepting the bean, but then being afraid to eat it because I thought it might have had pee on it.
My sensitivity to the sad-sacked didn’t always result in kindness or appreciation. Around the same time that Peegate went down, a particular group of girls took to ganging up on me for no apparent reason. Let me tell ya – it’s real nice when girls gang up on one another. Real nice. I’m just thankful we didn’t have Facebook back then. They took turns being “the boss” and declaring who in the class should be ostracized. It was always me. (Remember, this was pre-braces, flat-iron and undereye concealer.) One time – ONE LONE TIME – they turned against a girl named Susan instead. Recognizing the pain and horror of Susan’s position, I disobeyed the “no talk” decree and made an extra effort to be nice to her. It was great for about two hours, at which point the gang reinstated Susan and returned to their hatred of me. I assumed that Susan would stick up for me, now that I’d stood up for her. But I remember her running away from me and saying, “I don’t know what to tell you Traci. No one likes you now.”
I’m quite sure that not one of the Happy Ending Sundae Story victims I’ve described here has any recollection of me. But I’ve never been able to forget them. And there are MANY more.
But every now and then, almost always in New York, it goes without saying, I’ll witness someone so odd that the rest of the world notices too, and for whom I just can’t conjure any feelings of empathy. I don’t like when this happens, because it makes me feel like a terrible person, but it’s beyond my control at times. Yesterday on the subway, I sat across from the creepiest man I’ve ever seen in my life. He was in his late 60s or early 70s, thin, muscular, and bald on top. The hair that he did have, on the side of his head and in back, was silver and very long. He had secured it in a ponytail with a leopard-print scrunchie, and his fingernails were freakishly long. The set of his lips made him look like he’d just tasted a really sour lemon. He was sporting the following: a skin-tight, polyester tank top with images of Marilyn Monroe silkscreened all over it. A polyester, skin-tight Speedo-shaped bathing suit or undergarment, black, with a neon polka dot motif. Knee-high running socks with stripes at the top and vintage sneakers. A dozen colored, plastic bracelets and rings. And ginormous Dame Edna glasses like the ones pictured here. He really wasn’t bothering anyone – in fact he was intently reading the New York Times – but the two women on either side of him got up, preferring to stand than be contaminated by his creepiness. I could see that everyone in the car was looking at him. I wished that I could feel bad for him. I certainly wouldn’t want people to run away from me like that. But I just couldn’t.
Please excuse the rather banal nature of these last few “demi-posts.” It’s just that I haven’t had time to craft an official post but don’t want to suffer a relapse of ablogorrhea. I am currently waiting out the painfully slow process of uploading email lists to our e-marketing program. I really can’t do much until the process is complete, so I thought I’d share two concerns that are now plaguing me.
At approximately 10:28 a.m. yesterday, I was enjoying a Greek yogurt/honey/granola parfait from Starbucks. Just as I finished the last bite, I espied the Google News headlines about the pistachio-related salmonella outbreak.
Phew! I am so glad I never eat pistachios!Salmonella totally sucks!
As I trashed the empty plastic cup that had previously contained my breakfast, I noticed something terrifying.
Frick on a nut-dipped stick! What is that small, green, sunflower seed-shaped item clinging to the side of the cup?!
I began to hear the faint strains of the slow, foreboding music that always preceded trouble on the “Brady Bunch.” The music grew more ominous as the reality hit me: I had, in fact, just consumed at least a handful’s worth of the very nut that was caught in the maelstrom of public discourse. I might even be Patient Zero. OMFG.
But wait. There’s more. Before boarding the subway this morning, I noticed with shock that, while there were no seats, of course, there was a reasonably comfortable amount of standing space. I secured a spot and was delighted that no one was exhaling garlic-breath directly in my face.
I thought too soon. A foul-smelling homeless man came stumbling down the aisle, holding a half-eaten Boston Kreme donut in one hand and a filthy-looking tissue in the other. (In case you’re wondering, I did NOT try to bite into his donut, but I did think about it.) You can guess which spot he chose for his commute downtown. That’s right — the same spot I was occupying. I tried to gently and subtly relocate, but was not able to do so on account of the the train’s rapid, bumpy motion.
Fine, I thought. I’ll just move at the next stop.
Unfortunately, there was enough time between 86th and 77th Streets for contamination to occur. The homeless man, about to lose his balance after a particularly violent lurch, went to grab the pole with his tissue-holding hand but instead grabbed MY NAKED HAND.
Ew! A thousand times, ew! Blech! Yuck!
I had intended to wash my hands — under boiling water — immediately upon arriving at work. But then I got sucked into the vortex of professional Twitter use and absentmindedly began to eat my yogurt-blueberry muffin. It was a good few bites before I realized which germy, disgusting, filthy, amputation-worthy hand I was using to serve myself.
So I ask you, my loyal readers, this: what are the odds that my death (and/or Ebola, and/or severe illness) is not imminent?