I once interviewed a good man who had made a fortune in the business world, but stayed with his wife in a small house, lived frugally and gave away much of his money to worthy causes. He referred to himself as a “predator” in business. I found the word too strong and shocking to use, even if it was in a direct quote; I didn’t want people to get the wrong idea about him. He was a good man, a shrewd businessman — but a predator? Surely not.
So, here I am in New York, with all my Southern ways of ultra-politeness and bright smiles. I’m not shy, but I’m also not used to interjecting myself physically into crowds. Instead, I’m always thinking, Oh, no! After you! You go first!
I may be polite and all that, but I’m not a complete dolt. It’s become clear to me I’d never get on a subway car ever if I kept up my After you! mantra and didn’t propel myself forward at some point, preferably sooner than later. Too, once on the subway, I’ve learned another lesson. If it’s crowded and I’m standing, I closely watch the seated passengers for imminent departure. Once someone stands up and moves, I swoop in and claim the vacant seat as quickly as possible.
As I settled into a still-warm seat over the weekend, I realized what I had become: A subway seat predator.
* * * * *
Overheard on the downtown-bound 1 train on Saturday afternoon: A conversation between two well-dressed middle-aged men.
“I tell you,” one said to the other, “my clients can smell ambivalence. They’re just like horses smelling fear.”
* * * * *
We looked out our front window Saturday morning to find a celebration being staged. Just like that — a parade was forming.
Downstairs and out the door, the cops had cordoned off a couple of blocks that were quickly becoming crammed with floats and decorated pickup trucks. As it turned out, it was the Twelfth Virgin Mary Parade of the Archdiocese of New York — something God knows I’d never seen before.
Bands played. Singers belted out songs danced to by young women in long, colorful full skirts. Joseph and Mary huddled over the baby Jesus, flanked by a couple of overweight angels with big wings. Girls walked past in lacy white mantillas and tennis shoes. A group called the Anointed Warriors marched along, dressed in camouflage uniforms. Anointed Warriors? Anointed by whom and for what?
At the front of the parade, I counted 23 flags, give or take a couple, mostly from Latin American countries. The American flag preceded them. Among the other country flags, we noticed the Lone Star flag from our own former republic.
Everyone, in the parade and out, was cheerful and good-natured, even the Anointed Warriors. It made me think what a great country this is. It also made me think it was too bad that stumpy little ethnocentric twit Lou Dobbs didn’t show up.
* * * * *
The woman running our subway car on Thursday evening had had it. “Get away from the doors!” she ordered. Evidently, somebody didn’t move away fast enough. “GET AWAY FROM THOSE DOORS, PEOPLE!” she yelled. “I MEAN IT!”
Shared glances and eyebrow-raising throughout the subway car. “She’s had a bad day,” one woman said. “I know just how she feels.”
“But you’re not screaming,” I said (I am unable to ditch another Southern habit of striking up conversations with everyone I encounter).
“No, I’m not,” she said. “But I’ve had a bad day, too. I’m screaming on the inside.” She exited at the next stop, too soon for me to find out why she was silently screaming.
* * * * *
Finally, for some reason, I should say I had thought our apartment in New York would be some kind of genteel, white-glove place. Don’t ask me why. I just get these ideas.
Anyway, it’s not. Sunday morning, we were treated to the dulcet sounds of two people — a mother and a teenager, I am betting — leaving one of the apartments close to ours.
“I told you I wanted you here by 11,” the woman shouted. “Eleven! Do you know why I wanted you here by 11? It was so I WOULDN’T HAVE TO RUN AROUND LIKE A LUNATIC!” More screams and slammed doors, then silence. Good to know, even if this isn’t one of those white-glove places, that our fellow tenants aren’t screaming on the inside; they let us in on the problem, too — so we don’t have to wonder why.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read about why you shouldn’t mess with metaphors