Thursday, January 26, 2012

NYC: Do I contradict myself? Very well then...


Tuesday was the first day of school, and a memorably trying one. I was running late after a morning appointment, missed the train I meant to take to New Brunswick, then hopped onto one scheduled to get me to the train station exactly fifteen minutes before the first meeting of my nonfiction workshop. After a bit of fiddling with the doors, and back-and-forth talk by the conductors over their intercom system -- which for some reason is designed to let everyone hear whatever they have to say to each other -- we pulled out of the station. Slowly. And we didn't get any faster. Then a halt in the tunnel. Start up, speed up, halt before the drawbridge outside of Newark. Start up, speed up, halt: the pattern will be familiar to all riders of New Jersey Transit, where such meltdowns happen at least weekly, to the point where it doesn't seem accurate to call them "meltdowns." They're the order of the day.

I was fifteen minutes late to class, no time to copy syllabus or hand-out, so we just winged it and talked, and the students were (not suprisingly) eager and smart, and happy to be there, so it was all fine.

Later in the day I showed up for my poetry workshop and began to teach a class while the students looked at me with rather bewildered expressions, a collective skepticism I didn't understand until their professor walked in. Pure humiliation. Much later, I sat on an A train -- the express -- while it was parked in Penn Station, watching local train after local train whizz by.

So I arrived home around ten in a thoroughly vile mood, having been out since ten that morning, and Ned and I headed out for a walk around the block. We were strolling on Sixth, under a new, Martian-looking arrangement of scaffolding and brilliant flourescent lights, when Ned decided there was something of paramount interest close to the curb, and ambled over to look. He didn't hurry, and there was no one near us, as far as I knew. But when we got to the curb, a middle-aged woman in tightish black sweats and a stocking cap walked by, and somehow I could feel hostility radiating from her, even though she walked right past and I could only see her back.

I thought, I'm just making this up. Then she turned around and said, with an anger that probably had very little to do with me as an individual, "You acting stupid."

My day had been rough enough to prevent me from thinking before I spoke. With no hesitation I spat back "Fuck you! Be polite."

She muttered something and kept going. It was only when I got around the corner that I started to laugh, realizing that I'd uttered, without thinking, a quintessentially New York statement, the paired contradiction just exactly the everyday sentiment of Metropolis:  Fuck you, be polite.  Couldn't be more New York, especially if it strikes you as funny thirty seconds after you say it.

4 comments:

Chandra said...

My first day of class last week was very similar (and my students are already complaining, great). Here's to hoping the rest of semester works out.

Elisabeth said...

In the heat of the moment, Mark, anything's possible but this sounds like a basic contradiction. It reminds me of an Australian 'friend' who once told my husband off for saying f..k. 'I hate the word 'f..k',' he said. 'It's such a c..t of a word.' Not only therefore in NY.

poietes said...

Such a horrid day, but just bizarre enough to be funny, especially the delivery to the wrong group of students.

Nin Andrews said...

I love this! Fuck you! Be polite!

I love reading about someone else's bad day. Here in desolate Ohio, I spent the day talking to local politicians about the dangers of fracking. At one point I managed to trip over my tongue and say--

"We don't really want to be fucked . . ."
" And this is why," I continued, pretending I hadn't said anything wrong.