Monday, June 7, 2010

Caricatures

Dave and I were sitting on the edge of my bed eating dinner and watching Breaking Bad when a gunshot rang out so loud and clear that it sounded as if it had been shot from our stoop. We both jumped to floor as a second shot answered the first, trying not to spill our rice noodles into our laps. Without discussing it, we finished the episode without getting up.

A couple months ago I noticed a bullet hole in my bedroom window. The shot had come in, not gone out. 'Round these parts you hear stories all the time about people catching bullets in their guts while sitting in their living rooms. A drive by, someone running and shooting (shots tend not to be very accurate that way), or the ever-present shoot-in-the-air-because-a-Philly-team-is-playing-and/or-it's-a-holiday stray bullets. This doesn't do much for putting one at ease in their bullet-hole speckled house.

Last week I was taking the train to New Jersey to visit a friend. I had just come from work (where people chew me out all day for asking them politely to wait in line. Example. Me: "Excuse me, would you mind waiting in line please? It just gets too crowded around the entrance if we don't have a line.Thank you!" Them: "Fuck you! I'm not in no one's way! I'm just looking! You're telling me I can't LOOK? You're unbelievable! You're gonna hear about this! Screw you!"), and I was purchasing my ticket at the ticket machine. A loud group of people came in screaming at anyone who would listen about how they FUCKING NEED TO KNOW WHERE GET A FUCKING TICKET and HOW THE FUCK MUCH IT COST and WHERE THE FUCK WE GET ON and blah blah etc etc.

Next to me an entire wall was plastered with a route-map which was also in miniature on the machine I was using. One of the guys from the group came over to me, still yelling back at his friends, and started touching the map that was inches from my face, totally ignoring the one that wasn't in my personal space.

"Yo dude, there's a bigger map right there." I pointed at the wall beside me.

"Yeaaaaah but I'm lookin at dis one." He said as he sized me up.

"Well I'm using this machine right now." I said, trying to maintain civility.

"YEAH WELL I NEED TO KNOW WHERE THE FUCKING TRAIN GO!"

Civility abandoned.

"YEAH WELL I DON'T WANT YOU IN MY FUCKING FACE SO FUCKING TAKE A STEP BACK!"

At this point I had turned to face him. I just dealt with a face painting line. This dude, however tough he was, was chump change to me. This feeling was obviously apparent in my tone or my body language because he quieted down. There's a lot to be said for size verses determination. (Determination usually wins.) We exchanged a few more (much quieter, but still unpleasant) words and I went on my way, uneasy as usual.

A few days ago I was sitting where I am right now, at my mustard-colored desk typing away on my netbook, when what sounded like a shoot out started happening. I hopped off my chair and sat on the floor, wondering if I should lay down, checking where my head was in proximity to the window. As shot after shot echoed down my block, I curled up with Ella (who had been napping at my feet.)

Yesterday I was attempting to come home from work. I was already 30 minutes into my wait for the bus (which never came), standing on the median on Girard Ave (not an ideal place to stand around), trying to sort out something frustrating on the phone with my roommate, when a guy on motorcycle to my right yelled something at me. Thinking he may need directions, I turned and shot him a questioning look. He shouted something about my tattoos. I was obviously deep in conversation, I had been pacing and gesticulating, and this guy thought that I would be willing to stop a call that I was so deeply involved in to answer his stupid fucking question about my tattoos?

Exasperated, I sighed and rolled my eyes, and started to walk away. Once my back was turned, he yelled, "Don't you (wompwompwomp) me!" I didn't catch what he said but the fact that it he sounded irritated with me (HIM irritated with ME!) and that he had spoken to MY BACK fucking infuriated me. I excused myself momentarily from my call , walked over to the dude on the motorcycle and said, "WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY TO ME?"

From there, all I can tell you is that I made a scene. In the street. Blocking traffic. Screaming, cursing, neck tendons bulging. Right as I thought, "I'm going to push this guy off his bike right now", he zoomed away, shouting his last idiotic word over his shoulder at me.

I got back on the phone to deal with my roommate, who had undoubtedly overheard that entire "conversation",  who said that mayyyybe we should talk in person later (why would he suggest that? I was being totally rational!) and I got off the phone with him, burst into tears, and grabbed a cab.

You develop a method being uneasy all the time, a way to make being unsafe feel kind of safe for you. It's more than just developing an instant diving reaction to loud noises. It's almost like you have to become a caricature of yourself. Your lessor points get blown out of proportion and you use those as a shield. So if you're naturally shy, you walk like a ghost down the streets, invisible. Or a mouse, scurrying in a panic, eyes darting around watching for cats. Or if you're like me (impatient, react without thinking things through, irritable) then you become a screaming lunatic who diffuses situations by escalating them to comic proportions, and I guess that's fine. I mean, it is what it is. We all gotta find a way to cope, right?

My problem is that I feel like my caricature and my undistorted self are starting to blur together indistinguishably. I mean, it makes sense to me that when someone interrupts me and gives me a slight attitude because I blew them off, that the reasonable reaction is to run into the street and try to push them over. I can't even think of another way to deal with that. And I'm having trouble understanding why getting in a guy's face and calling him idiot when he's with a bunch of angry thuggish friends and we're the only ones in the subway station isn't the best idea. What was I supposed to do? Ignore him?

I always liked how abrasive this city is. But, as yesterday demonstrates, it's taking it's toll on me. I can't imagine living anywhere else, but I can't begin to fathom staying.

In conclusion, I need a vacation.

2 comments:

  1. That's why I started moving further and further away from dense population, it's why I stopped working with the public, it's why I ghettoized my life with hardcore and now cycling. What you call a caricature of yourself is what became, for me, losing myself. Eventually that caricature became who I thought I was, and when I realized that, I started to realize society was winning and that, as an individual, I was losing (and the people I cared most about were also losing because they got this broken version of me). Seeing myself as a caricature of my worst elements is what made me who I am today.
    When the two of us were hanging out a lot, that was when I was fighting to shape that character and find a way to take those negative or reactionary elements and turn them into a part of who I was.

    Bramhall

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  2. bad cities when the weather starts to get hotter is a warzone

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