Helping You Get the Most Out of Your Misery
Monday, December 18, 2006
Ups and downs this weekend. We had some good friends in town and I got to spend a bunch of time with them, shopping, playing frisbee, dining, checking out the permanent collection at MoMA, etc. My wife, however, was stuck at home for the entirety of the fucking weekend, working on a brief for her job, so I was missing her. I finally finished up my shopping for my wife, which was both an up and a down, as I had to brave the insane crowds on Fifth Avenue.
And, speaking of insane, my wife and I had our weirdest encounter yet with a New York stranger.
We were on our way to run in the park Saturday morning. We were walking to the 2/3 train (meaning the line on which both the Two and Three trains run, for anyone who might be confused as to why anyone would want to ride on two-thirds of a train) and were coming up to a building on our block that is currently being gutted and renovated. A male voice immediately behind us bellowed someone's name. Startling as it might be to have an unexpected yell come sneaking up on you, I've gotten used to sudden loud noises and wasn't really rattled.
After the yelling, a guy carrying a black plastic shopping bag came running past us and stopped basically right in our way. He was in front of the building which is being gutted and, as I prepared to step around him, he said, "I didn't know they closed this building."
Not concerned with his feelings about the building one way or another, I walked past him. As I did so, though, his arm brushed up against me and the black plastic shopping bag in his hand fell to the ground. As it hit, something made of glass inside it shattered. The man knelt down by the bag, from which I could now see what--from a quick visual and olfactory check--seemed to be water pouring out. The man looked up at me as if I'd just stepped on the neck of his aged grandmother.
He gave forth with something along the lines of, "What the fuck? You don't see somebody standing in front of you, you just fucking slam into them?" Now, having clear recollection of both his running basically right in my path and my attempting to step around him, I knew that this was not, in fact, really my fault. But, as the guy was clearly upset, I tried to be as polite as possible.
"I'm sorry, sir," I said, "I didn't mean to bump into you." The apology did little to assuage the guy's indignation.
"I don't care," he said, " I want my shit back!" In an effort to solve the problem and get going with the rest of my weekend, I told the guy I'd buy him another whatever it was. I asked him what had been in the bag. He pulled the label-free broken neck of the bottle from the wreck of the bag and responded he'd been carrying a bottle of Courvoisier. This is when I realized what was going on and lost any lingering guilt I might have felt about the guy's broken bottle.
Obviously, I was now expected to give the guy $70 for a new bottle. Remembering the clear, non-cognac-looking liquid that was pouring from the bag without the least trace of an alcoholic smell, I reached the conclusion that the guy had filled some random fucking bottle with water, steered himself directly into my path, brushed his arm against me and dropped the bottle on purpose. Not a scam as ambitious as The Sting, perhaps, but a scam nonetheless.
When he tried to tell me it was Courvoisier, I said something like, "I don't think so" and started to walk away. He got in my face and started yelling about "...want[ing his] shit back!" I stepped around him and urged my wife down the street. He came after me, still clutching the bottle's broken neck. He got once again in my face and demanded to know why I wasn't pulling out my wallet. I started past him again, but he shoved me back, at which point my wife yelled at him not to shove me. I said, "Sir, I'm not giving you any money."
He reiterated that this was not acceptable to him and requested, with much gesticulation and bellicosity, an explanation. I told him that, for starters, he was waving a broken bottle neck in my face, at which he tossed said bottle neck away and declared that he needed no such weaponry.
By now, a couple of women had come down the sidewalk and were watching the goings-on. One of them said something like, "The decent thing to do would be to buy him another one." My wife didn't take kindly to this and started to try to explain the situation to them. I nudged her down the street and said, "It's fine, sweetheart. Let's go."
The guy, who clearly felt that it was not fine, got back in my face and commenced with the name calling. There was "faggot" and "cracker" and other such delights. He shoved me again, which prompted my wife to reach toward him to maybe pull him away from me. He slapped her arm away and said something like, "Fuck you, bitch", which was really a step too far, I thought. I told him not to touch her. I grabbed her and walked her past him and down the street, listening to more "Cracker!" "Faggot!" and "Bitch!" along with the threat that I would not be living in this neighborhood for long (!).
Now, I won't say that my heart-rate didn't escalate during this. But, all in all, I think I did an okay job of keeping my cool. I didn't return the name-calling. I referred to him as "Sir" at all times; e.g., "I'm not going to pay you, sir, because you are trying to scam me." I did not give him money just to end the situation.
I think I handled the situation this way because I've been a teacher for three and a half years now and not only have I had my share of students get up in my face and act threatening, but I've also dealt with enough students bald-facedly telling me they'd spit out their gum to know when someone's trying to get over on me.
And, lest my parents read this post and begin to fear for my safety, let me clearly state that this was a scam. The guy tried to guilt me into paying him and, when then didn't work, he shifted gears and tried to scare me. He's not someone I see around here and I know he has no intention of making sure I don't live in this neighborhood.
If he really wanted me out of the neighborhood, he'd give me enough money to move someplace better. But I don't see him doing that.