Friday, April 22, 2011

Tracks of My Tears.

This recent piece on crying in public in The New York Times struck a chord. In the past I have noted that one of the advantages to living in New York is that you can cry with impunity on the streets. No one will care.

The writer of the NYT piece, Melissa Febos, also raises another public UncMo: tripping on the street. The public wipeout elicits a different response from open weeping: you’re more likely to be ignored on the latter, and you want to be ignored; but with tripping, people usually reach out -- and if they don't, you feel even worse. Somehow, this unspoken rule makes perfect sense.

I don’t cry while going about my business in public these days as much as I used to. There are many possible reasons for this: I don’t live in New York anymore, I’m not an emotional wreck of a twentysomething anymore, I have developed a new inner strength, and/or some tender, precious part of me has simply died. Take your pick. But on a recent day, a freight train of tears hit me, and it would not be deterred by the presence of strangers’ eyes.

It started in a yoga class, at the very end. There is a part in many of the classes between the resting period and sitting up, where the teacher tells us to roll onto our right sides and pause there. This is where I’m mostly likely to tear up, or want to. It’s a fetal position, and to me, there are only two things you do in a fetal position: sleep, or sob.

On this particular day, I couldn’t hold it back at fetal time. I’d been fussing and fighting the whole week, and it all finally overtook me. I barely got my quivering lip through the last of the class and had to turn to the corner of the room at the end. Hard to tell if anyone saw me. If they did, they decided to let me alone.

The jag continued along P Street as I walked to the grocery store. I once again composed myself (sort of) before walking into the store (because somehow, crying on the street is more OK than crying in an indoor public place) and walked up to one of the counters to get some meat. The guy took my order, and as he was wrapping the meat, he said, "Are you OK?"

I hadn’t expected this – I mean I knew I didn’t look OK, but in a city (and especially if you’ve trained in public crying in New York), you aren’t prepared to be called out on it. "Yeah," I said.

This did not satisfy him. "Are you sure?" he said.

I repeated the lie, but by this point the tears were coming again, because my pitiful guts had been reflected back to me, and there was no stuffing them back in now. But I wasn’t exactly going to get into a heart to heart on the spot with the meat guy. I wasn’t even capable of saying, "No, it's been a rough day." So instead, I said the thing that was completely untrue, but also less likely to increase my visibility. Another rule of public crying: As long as you don’t make contact with anyone, or acknowledge that anyone can see you, you are invisible.

I took my purchase from him, corners of my mouth turned down, eyes watering, feeling that I was now not only pitiful, but a closed-off liar. I weeped on through the rest of the store, getting it together for the cashier and promising myself I would really let it out when I got home. And here's where another truism about public crying comes into play: When you're finally in private and have the freedom to let it all out, you can't anymore.

There are many times I’m publicly happy, too: laughing or smiling to myself while I’m alone. But I get more self-conscious about that than I do about crying or looking sad. After all, I don’t want to seem crazy or something.

Music: "Tracks of My Tears"

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Week in Skirmishes..

Monday, 9:45 a.m. A random bumper lies forlorn on 16th St. near the Methodist Church and P. It looks like it's waiting to be picked up. By Wednesday evening, it will be stripped of its license plate, but still sit on the sidewalk as if it means to stay.

Tuesday, 9:30 a.m. A cop is directing traffic at 18th and Connecticut Sts. The World Bank and the IMF are meeting, so there are a lot of police blockades in place. People in D.C. are used to being interrupted by blockades and motorcades the way people in N.Y. are used to being interrupted by production assistants on film productions.

All the pedestrians on the corner are waiting through the "walk" sign for the cop to give us the go-ahead when a lone bicyclist emerges and crosses Connecticut, ignoring the cop, who yells at him to stop. Whether out of cluelessness or hubris, the man on the bicycle has made a grave error in judgment, but he does not know it yet. He vaguely smiles as he passes the cop, which could indicate anything from "Fuck you, cop" to "Whoops, sorry, it's too late for me to turn around" to "I am autistic and do not react appropriately in certain situations." He is a vision of pale: pale skin, white shirt, khakis. Helmet and glasses. Extra weight around the middle. Not threatening.

The cop, who is also pudgy, breaks into a sprint after the cyclist passes him. The cyclist has no idea what's about to hit him. As the cop catches up, he brings the full force of his weight, via his front forearm, into the cyclist and knocks him off the bike and onto the cement just as he's nearing the other side of the street. The cop immediately cuffs him behind his back and makes him kneel on the sidewalk. The guy obeys, looking both sheepish and shaken. All of us on the sidewalk are appalled.

I'd expected the cop to yell at the guy, or maybe pull him over by the wrist and give him a ticket -- not slam him to the pavement, cuff him and call the wagon. "I have one in custody," the cop radios his cohorts, as an older lady asks the cyclist if he is OK. He nods, but he's not OK. He kneels in shame. It's clear from all of the bystanders' expressions that we're in disbelief at what just happened, but no one knows what to make of it. As I walk away, two cop cars are roaring up to the corner, and the poor nerdy cyclist looks as if he might cry. Meanwhile, traffic has backed up without anyone to direct it. The traffic cop has become distracted by his big arrest.

Wednesday, 3:00 p.m. The CVS on Connecticut and L Sts. does not yet have self-service checkout, and it's hard to revisit this period in our history once you have experienced the self-service. A sizable line is forming at the cash register, but one woman has decided that she is going to jump the line by decreeing that there is a second line. The cashier does not accept the rogue customer's decision, and a battle ensues.

"There's no sign or anything saying 'form one line' or anything like that," the customer argues. "If they want to stand over there, they can," she says, referring to the silent majority of customers who have agreed that one line for all registers makes the most sense. "I'm getting behind this woman right here. I'm starting this line right here."

The cashier is inaudible from where I stand, but apparently is unmoved. The queue-breaker gets more agitated. "I am a paralegal. I know my rights," she declares. "I want to see the manager." Apparently she is talking to the manager, or the manager is unavailable. "Well is there a complaint form I can fill out? I want to file a complaint."

At this point, the rest of us in the consensus line start laughing. The cashier keeps calling people up, ignoring the line interloper while she talks about filing a complaint and leaving money for her candy without it being scanned, a proposal that the cashier refuses.

The paralegal is STILL arguing when I leave the store. In other words, she could have been through the line in the time she took to argue about it. And remarkably, no one on the CVS side decided this bird was not worth the trouble and let her pay out of turn just to get rid of her.

These aspects of human nature are why today we still have problems in the Middle East.