Thursday, April 30, 2009

Eat Metal

After a week in Las Vegas and three days camping on a desert island with twelve other men, I arrived home to have my first serious conflict in more than a month.

I met friends in Chinatown for a face-flaming good time at Famous Sichuan. The dan-dan noodles were nuclear. The cumin lamb was succulent and searing. I cried real tears for the spicy tofu. After my second oversized bite of garlic greens, I froze, wiggled a strange, hard object forward in my mouth and isolated it between my front teeth. It was a staple.

I stood right up. My forehead was on fire. My palms tingled. I was trapped in a frenetic ravine, with narrowing, jagged walls. My shoulders drew up high and tight around my ears. Things looked sharper and sounds sounded louder. There were two other parties dining there, and three employees in various states of alarm, all looking at me. I could feel eyes peering out from the kitchen. I held the staple aloft, "This! In my food!" My dinner-mates, who remained seated, asked me to calm down. "Calm? There is a staple in my food! I nearly ate a staple!" I felt feverish, electric. A waitress ran over and politely asked, "Which dish?" I yelled back, "Which dish do you commonly put staples in?!" 

One of our party, not well-known to me, urged me to sit down. I asked him to shut the fuck up or step outside. My closer friends urged me to sit down. The walls were so narrow now I could hardly breathe. "Does no one see anything wrong with this?" I gestured to the other parties, staple held high, "All of you, stop eating! There are staples in your food!" I slammed my hand on the table and the cutlery jumped. My party must have looked shocked, but I could not see them. The ravine had closed in and everything was roiling black. I laid the staple down, gathered my belongings and stormed out, slamming the door with a gratifying boom. 

The night was cool and easy and I felt better instantly. I knew they wouldn't run after me, and they didn't. I immediately resigned to never speak to any of them again. On the bike ride home I was able to rationalize my actions, and I felt righteous and indignant when I arrived back in Brooklyn. Why had they not chased me down the street, after all? How could they sit, indifferent, when I nearly ingested a shard of metal?

I texted one of the party, a neighbor, and demanded he return my spare keys to me. I waited a long time, hunched at my window, and ran downstairs the instant he appeared. I opened the door before he could and snatched the keys from him, "How could you just sit there?" 

He said, "There are other ways to go about it."

I slammed the door.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mobile Update: International Lingerie Show

Dear readers,

I am at the International Lingerie Show in Las Vegas, but despite my best efforts, I can offer no conflicts. The best I got this morning was "Smart ass!" but the lady was smiling. People seem more friendly and calm than drugged-out and ranting—maybe I just have to get out of the hotel and hit the streets. Please accept the below boilerplate reportage as I continue my increasingly quixotic mission:

The show is full of overweight people,
like this lady.
The models tend to not be quite so fat.
Penis-shaped food is popular,
as are tit-cakes.
I am present and accounted for.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Mobile Update: Las Vegas

I'm in Las Vegas and hopeful for some content. This place is rank with drug-fueled machismo so something has to go down.

I tried a few provocations but nothing stuck:

Department of Motor Vehicles
A guy ahead of me was driving like kind of a douchebag. I rolled down my window and shouted, "You suck!" He kept going.

Copy That
At Kinko's I affected a weird speech tic, but the cashier was Hispanic and didn't pick up on it.

More as this story develops.

Bitch Please

Briefly Noted:

I was walking north on Madison Avenue at 27th street and saw the above lady. I presumed her to be homeless and alone. She was moving very slowly and putting all her weight on her creaking cart.

Homeless possibly, alone no: right after I snapped the picture she turned her head and shouted, "Keisha! Get your motherfucking ass up here right now I ain't askin you again!"

Friday, April 17, 2009

Casus Belly

I tried to go quietly to war with an Indian hostess but was beaten before my armies took the field.

I was in Hong Kong, it was late, and I was ready for dinner. We kept passing up perfectly good places for no good reason. Nobody there. Too crowded. Had sushi yesterday. Ready to settle for cuttlefish and MSG, I spotted our refuge in a glittering second-story sign: Bombay Dreams. We entered and boarded the closet-sized elevator. It opened on a dimly-lit dining room and time stopped. Countless forks paused before countless mouths, and countles pairs of dark, watery eyes held us in brief but profound thrall. The place was uniformly Indian. I was hypnotized by hunger. A sari-clad figure emerged from the shadows. 

 "Oh I am sorry sirs, we are finished seating for the night,"  she said, nodding urgently toward the exit.

Baffled by the obvious lie, I waved at a vacant area, "Are you sure there's no room for two?"

"I am sure."

"I see tables open," I said, smiling and raising my eyebrows.

"I am sorry sir, it's too late." "Too" and "late" were spoken with earnest enunciation and a kind of rhythmic leaning. She again presented the exit.

As we were walking out, the elevator disgorged a huge group of young Indian men and women arriving for dinner. They paused in their mutual chatter just long enough to regard us cooly. Before the elevator doors closed we could see them pulling out chairs, sitting down, and making themselves quite at home.

"Well, that was fucked up."

"Whatever we'll just get room service at the hotel."

We did not. Hunger had changed to raw fatigue and I hit the bed resentful, resolved to return to Bombay Dreams and get proper service—to make a stand.

The following weekend there were many more of us, and it was much earlier in the evening. We would not be easily turned away. The same sari-clad hostess met my gaze and my courage faltered; why had I dragged friends on to the battlefield? Her opening gambit was strong—we were seated at the doors to the kitchen. "Could we sit somewhere else?" I asked in a tone both acid and decorous.

It was easy to hear her say "No," as she strode away.

After we waited a half-hour for our water glasses to be filled, I became morbidly obsessed with the stupidity of my plan. If anything, she had originally done me a favor by refusing to serve me—she had fired a warning shot.

What followed was a lopsided war of attrition. The beer was warm, sour, and infrequently replenished. The waitstaff was cloyingly decorous when fielding questions like "How is it possible that other party has already been served?" We got some things we didn't order. The things we did order trickled to our table in a confounding sequence. After being asked what we wanted for desert, we were ignored entirely. I knew I'd lost before the check came, and would've prostrated myself before General Sari if she'd emerged, but she didn't. We were allowed to languish for one last eternity before the bill arrived.

A hostile reaction would have validated my campaign—her utter disdain was unconquerable. We paid and left in silence. As we approached the exit, she appeared for one instant, chirping "Thank you! Come again!"

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Help Is On The Way

I bore witness to a conflict and it's worth recounting.

A black SUV with fancy wheels cut off a bike delivery guy on 34th street and 5th avenue. A light gray rain was falling—the city was monumental and indifferent. The bike delivery guy, clad in a stained apron and baseball cap, slapped the window of the SUV with his hand to keep from being run over, and the SUV came to an abrupt halt in the middle of the intersection. The driver got out shouting, "Why the fuck you hit my car?" The way he said "hit" connoted collision, but there was in fact no damage. The two men pivoted around an invisible center, widening their stances and squaring off. After an anxious moment, the driver threw a quick punch and connected with the delivery guy's jaw. The delivery guy reared back with his bike lock and shouted, "Bendeho!" but did not strike. A girl emerged from the SUV, and the driver addressed her without taking his eyes off the biker, "Nah baby, get back in, get back in, I got this. Pull the car over to the side. Get back in." She did just that. A small crowd had gathered on the sidewalk, mindless of the increasing downpour. 

The driver cornered the delivery guy against a street sign, pushing him and demanding money. "You hit my car. I want my money. Gimme two hundred for the car right now. I want my money." The delivery guy tried to mount his bike, but his luck was out—the chain was off and he would have to assume a vulnerable position to perform the simple repairs necessary to get away. He gestured at the flashing bevy of NYPD squad cars parked in the bus lane in front of the Empire State Building, only half a block away. The driver spoke again, his tone both indignant and mock-surprised, "Oh you want them? Fine. You hit my car. You fucked up today. Oh no, you ain't goin' nowhere. I'll wait here all day. You fucked up today."

The driver loped in slow, determined circles around the biker, who was somehow completley beleagured by just one man. The biker's cheeks were flushed and strands of straight wet black hair stuck to his forehead. The crowd grew bored and dispersed. 

Thirty yards away the police sat in their idling cruisers, smiling and fogging the windows, protecting a very large building.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Teen Justice

I was once beaten up by a girl.

From seventh grade to ninth grade I rode the school bus. It was an ignominious affair and I'm not proud to admit I passed the tedium by either torturing or being tortured by my peers. One such tortured peer was Michael. Michael had been born death-defyingly premature, and was physically and developmentally impaired. Of the many outward manifestations of his condition, the warbled screech that passed for his voice was perhaps most salient. He was also slight, white, and heavily bespectacled. A group of us would tease him mercilessly, and one warm fall afternoon on the long ride home we were singing the theme to The Mickey Mouse Club, substituting "Michael" for "Mickey" in high, affected falsettos. The redder his splotchy, sallow cheeks became, the louder we sang.

On the bus there was a time-honored seating hierarchy. The older, cooler kids were in the back of the bus, the younger and/or meeker towards the front. My group was solidly in the middle, hurling insults forward at Michael who was perched alone in the very first seat. An older girl, grown tall and strong with the accelerated maturation that sometimes affects pubescent females, called me out from the back: "Wilson! Leave Michael alone!" I suggested (cogently) that I was not the only person involved, and invited her (foolishly) to kiss my ass. I instantly became the living symbol of all wrongs that had ever befallen the meek and friendless.

By the time we'd reached the usual stop, this brawny girl had organized a torch-bearing coalition of the willing, and they wanted blood. Michael's would-be avengers burned my ears with violent threats. I humbly asked the bus driver to stop right in front of my house, which he did. I ran inside and was overwhelmed with relief, the phone ringing off the wall with the governor's midnight pardon.

My father walked in talking. "There's a bunch of kids out there asking for you."

"I know. They want to beat me up."

"Awwwww—go out there and take it like a man!" 

I swallowed hard. My father had reversed the pardon, and was literally casting me out. What kind of test was this? I felt my body shrink. I walked out the back and heard the screen door slam behind me in the muffled past. Time inched wickedly by. I saw them: four older kids, standing in the street with Michael, and my three friends now cast as spectators, sitting in the patchy grass on the side of the road. It reminded me of stories I'd heard of the battle of Manassas, where the soldiers gathered in the field, and eager onlookers with parasols sat on the grassy embankments to watch the pitched battle. Rocks and sticks flew at me through the air. My legs were numb—the feeling was exactly that of creeping to the edge of the high dive for the first time—mortal trepidation.

It was three in the afternoon, at the intersection of my residential street and a narrow dirt road. One of the kids held an axe handle, another, a rusty knife. Where had they found these weapons? When I was close enough they seized me and held my arms. I could see my friends straining for a better view. The brawny girl sized me up and said, "This is for Michael!" right before punching me squarely in the eye. Everything became cold except my face, which was a hornet's nest of febrile heat and energy. I could feel it buzzing, growing, glistening—my heart moved from my chest and beat awkwardly in my cheek. Through the rushing pounding in my ears I heard them saying, "Shake. Shake. Shake his hand and apologize." I did. His fingers were cold and thin. Michael said, "Apology accepted." They let my arms go, and the group dispersed. My friends were already halfway down the dirt road. I half-ran the short distance back to my house, pleading with myself not to cry. I closed the door hard behind me. My father, still in the kitchen, was plainly astonished. "What on earth? What happened to you?"

"They punched me in the face."

Friday, April 10, 2009

Seven Non-Conflicts

I started writing DoNotReact to find out why I get in fights with people. Before putting any of it down, I foresaw ample source material—I was shouting at someone or being shouted at at least twice a week. But as soon as I began describing the whys and wherefores, I stopped having conflictive interactions altogether. Below, please see a quick summary of seven such non-conflicts:

Line etiquette 1
Lady in line steps ahead of me.
Me: Are you trying to jump me?
Lady: Why no!
Me: No problem.

Line etiquette 2
A girl in a different line backs into me. I say nothing. She backs into me again. I say nothing.

Insults 1
I am waiting on my bike in a crosswalk. A lady walks by me with an expression of venomous contempt.
Lady: Do you even know what you're doing?
I think: I know what you're doing—eating 5000 calories a day and sitting very still in one place.
I say: Nothing.

A three-year old on my flight to Los Angeles was speaking loudly the entire flight. She and her family were en route to Hawaii. Her parents' main strategy was stalwart disdain, which produced the sentence, "Mommy? Daddy? Grandpa?" roughly two-thousand times in a row, at the exact same pitch, cadence, and volume. Her father had a pronounced adam's apple and was wearing a baseball cap advertising a brand of dirtbikes. When she plead with him to be taken to the bathroom, he exhaled, grabbed her roughly from her seat and stood her in the aisle. On the way, her foot collided with his glass and spilled coke everywhere. He barked, "Good one, Heather, way to go," and dragged her off to the bathroom.
I think: You lousy meth-head cocksucker why don't you at least get her a fucking coloring book. 
I say: Nothing.

Consumer Affairs
I was in Los Angeles eager to get back to New York. It was 7:45am. I discovered at the ticket counter that Delta had bumped my flight ahead to the next day. 
Me: Change is: learning you're stuck in LAX for 24 hours!
Ticket Agent: what?
Me: There must be something available arriving in JFK today.
Ticket Agent: Let me call a supervisor.
(one hour passes)
Supervisor: How about 2:45, arriving tonight at 11:06?
Me: Ok.

Insults 2
A lady called me a jackass.
That's what happened. I said nothing.

Life & Limb
I was in the bike lane on 2nd avenue and a delivery truck began to park on me. I slapped the side of his truck with my palm and he came to a jerky halt. He was angled in toward the sidewalk, effectively cutting me off. I rode up to his window which was half-way down and rested my hand on it. His cheeks were acne-scarred and his teeth were small and spaced far apart.
Me: What the fuck? You were jut gonna run me down, huh?
Driver: Stares blankly.
Me: Well?
Driver: What do you want?
Me: An explanation!
Driver: Just get out the way, man.
He rolled up his window and buckled up. A few other bikers had gathered. I considered blocking his escape, smashing his window with my lock, or even calling the police. I rode away.