The other day, I hopped on a bus and found and occupied one of the few empty seats near the front. As I was sitting, minding my own business- playing with my phone as usual, I notice that this relatively normal looking woman sitting next to me is mumbling in my general direction. I tried to understand her sotto voce mutterings, and got instant déjà vu upon realizing that she had pulled a similar “I’m lonely so I’m going to force a conversation on you” stunt while we waited at the bus stop moments earlier. She said something about being handicapped and held up her shopping bags. I tried to figure out the physical jeopardy she was expressing, but for my life didn’t have a clue. I gave my best smile and “Hey swell, good luck with that…” response, and went back to my Cyber-Solitaire game.
A few stops later she gets up to exit, but not before saying to me, in full voice now, “Nice, you are a real prince, making old people walk to the back of the bus at the holidays- real prince you are.” I’m not fully versed in the ways of the insane, but I’m pretty sure I detected a hint of disingenuousness. I gave her the finger, and went back to my game.
But I couldn’t shake it. Was I that much of a prick? Did I do something wrong? Should I change my ways? Were my fellow busmates thinking privately- “Yeah you are a dick, dude.”? I looked around the bus. No one was standing. There were people of all ages randomly distributed all over it. What exactly was Ms. Kookoo wishing me to do? Get up when an old person gets on the bus? What if they want to get closer to the back door? What if they are with someone and there are two seats in the back? Am I obligated to scan the ages and acquaintances of every person who enters at every stop and gauge the distance to my seat and calculate if my getting up and moving would make their trip more or less pleasant? Do these rules apply only at holiday time or year round? I’m not copping out here, really. When an old or pregnant person does not have a seat, I get up, every time. And if some poor parapalegic homeless person slides on the ice and falls out of his wheelchair into a puddle face down into oncoming traffic and can’t lift his face out of the water, I’m going to lend a hand, pretty much every time. But I was not aware of the apparent new “If you are in a seat CLOSE to an old person who is heading to a different one, you must abandon yours” doctrine.
In any case, I used the opportunity to reflect on helping others, my responsibilities as a member of a civil society, and the true meaning of Christmas. I came up with a list of folks I encountered that morning that may have been in need of help, and I had not offered any:
The flailing, yelling man on Madison Ave. who I thought was having a schizophrenic episode, until I noticed his Bluetooth earpiece.
The non-English speaking Moldavian family on 72nd
The dirty looking kid with ripped jeans in the East Village who I thought was homeless, till his dad picked him up in a Bentley.
Falun Dafa, The Salvation Army, Jews For Jesus, Young Republicans, Old Democrats, the Israeli Defense League, the Palestinian Defense League, CHIDOFOAM- Chicks for Darfur Who Can’t Find it on a Map, BAHKNaT Born Again Hare Krishnas Named Ted, etc…
51 Street musicians
The shuffling no-legged guy on the 6 train
The blind guy with the cats on Columbus Ave.
The deaf guy with the dogs on 8th Ave
The guy with the MTA Jacket and no pants on the F train
The 85 year old lady helping her 138 year old friend cross Lexington Ave.
The 29 yr. old mom who knocked over said 138 yr. old with her stroller
The young man on Broome St. who was either blind, hungover, or digging his new shades
The guy in the tailored suit at 49th and Broadway who loses his wallet everyday and needs a $2.50 for a fare from everyone he sees, for the past three years
The really fat white wheezing guy hailing a cab
186 lost tourists
9 crackheads, and a middle aged couple on Crystal Meth, and a gentleman in a tutu who was presumably on both
The rich lady who got her heel stuck in her Yorkie
The bald 50 yr. old lady who may be on chemo, or is really hip
The disheveled cute college chick stumbling around Washington Square Park who just woke up and left some random dude’s apartment
The woman with the stroller at the top of the subway steps
The woman with the stroller at the bottom of same subway steps
The guy with the T-Rex arms in the elevator
The lady in the mink coat and downpour who forgot her umbrella
The skinny guy on 9th who looked a bit chilly
The really muscular guy having difficulty reaching up to pick his nose
The stock broker who couldn’t change a hundred for the meter
The delivery guy with the flat Vespa tire
The lady exiting the cab who was either pregnant or genetically unlucky
The big Mexican guy with the broken foot.
I’m not going to make the excuse that I also have a rough life and I was too tired to help. I don’t, and I wasn’t. My point is, if we were all to stop and attempt to help everyone who we or someone else thinks we should try to help- no one would ever get anywhere. Life would consist of everyone looking around in a stagnant analytical paranoid state of “Should I help them?” Nothing would get done, and we would run out of cash before ever getting anywhere to actually purchase anything.
I concluded that while I probably play with my phone too much- I had done nothing wrong. The 90-something lady next to me concurred:
“That crazy bitch should get hit by a train,” she said, “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas to you too”, I said, as a huge smile came across my face and I helped her gather her bags and get off the bus.
And to all, a good night…