The grouch man cometh

Yeah, well, you smell funny! (courtesy of

Yeah, well, you smell funny! (courtesy of

The subway station wasn’t crowded, particularly for morning rush hour in Jackson Heights. The main section is wide open besides, to accommodate the swarms of commuters who weren’t there. I swiped my fare card and moved toward the stairs. An old man – probably in his 80s, but probably not Wilfred Brimley – approached the turnstiles from the stairs. A middle-age woman followed at a short distance. There was no one else within 20 feet.

The old man lowered his shoulder and thrust forward – like an arthritic running back might – trying to plow through me. I stepped to my right to avoid him, giving with my left shoulder out of habit as New Yorkers do in fast-moving crowds. But there was no crowd and nothing fast-moving. And we weren’t in any danger of colliding, until he initiated it. He missed, but I was still stunned. The woman walking behind him met my eyes with a commiserating ‘what the f**k was that’ look. There was no obvious reason for him to run me over (or want to). She shook her head in disbelief and passed as well.

People act crazy all the time. A guy dressed as a clown and riding a bike with a live parrot perched on his head almost ran me down in the crosswalk today too. I had the light, and he was going the wrong way on a one-way street. But I couldn’t manage more than a look of disbelief as he zoomed by. New York subways, in particular, seem to be where frustrations and tempers – set alight somewhere else at some other time – boil over. Who knows why?

Strange and inconsiderate behavior normally doesn’t bother me much. It comes with living here and makes for interesting conversation. All in all, my views are pretty reasonable and pretty accepting, or so I thought. But this wasn’t the first time in recent history that a senior citizen attempted a body check; an old lady tried to take me out last week on the sidewalk a few blocks from my apartment. Moreover, a friend of mine called me out last week for complaining too much about the things around me. He said I was turning into a grouch, and this bothered me.

My memory of that exact conversation, and the stories I’d told over the weekend to prompt it, is fading. I do remember mentioning that litter in my neighborhood is a personal pet peeve, and giving an example. I was standing on a street corner just the week before when a woman threw a piece of chewed gum from a passing car that landed right at my feet. I probably also held forth on poor subway etiquette – standing in open doors while people try to board, leaning against railings and, as a result, the people sitting next to them and so forth. That also gets on my nerves.

My complaints – attempted body checks included – seem to be pretty standard New York City fare. Everyone who lives here has a store of stories and a cache of complaints at the ready. Most of us are not bad or negative people; we just see and experience a lot everyday. There’s no shortage of things happening around us at every moment. This moment-by-moment barrage on the senses helps make us who we are.

Seeming to be a grouch may indicate that I have nothing good to say… about anything. Has unemployment made me a one-dimensional Debbie Downer? Is my friend right? I sure hope not. I do have bad days and comparitively less patience overall. But I can be positive sometimes too. Admittedly, it’s getting a little harder as the jobless days drag on and rainy Spring turns into hot and sweaty (and not in a good way) Summer – my least favorite season. The bruised self-esteem probably makes me more susceptible to the perceived wrongs coming my direction. But the coming days and weeks will yield some positive stories too. Maybe the next geezer hell bent on knocking me over will really just be rushing to hold the door. Let’s hope he gets there before I punch him in the face.

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  1. GD-405er wrote:

    Keep your chin up Norm! We’ve met and I can atest you are NOT a Debbie Downer!


    Tuesday, May 26, 2009 at 10:46 pm | Permalink
  2. ROZ wrote:

    And I promise not to knock you down next time we pass in the street.

    Wednesday, May 27, 2009 at 12:04 pm | Permalink