Here's a memory. I’m at a laundromat on the upper east side. It’s a quiet Saturday morning, I’m sitting in the window seat with a cup of coffee and a bottle of water from Tal Bagels, reading the Times.
"Excuse me...excuse me, miss...excuse me!"
I don't have many strict rules for my life, but one of the few I do have involves ignoring anyone repeatedly saying, "Excuse me!" on the streets of New York. No one in New York ever says "excuse me" for a good reason. But it's a small laundromat and there's only one other woman there and she's fishing things out of a dryer, so it's pretty clear he's talking me. "Excuse me, miss..." Fine. I look up slowly, eyebrows raised, lips pursed, NY Attitude on high. He's crossing the two or three feet that separate us, standing now right in front of me.
"You like hot and cold? You need hot and cold, too?"
"I never saw anyone else who liked hot and cold! I always have to have hot and cold, and there you are, the same as me!"
Why did I look up? Why?
But I'm curious. I follow his gaze. He's looking at the coffee cup in my hand and the bottled water sitting next to my newspaper.
"Yeah, hot and cold," I reply, finally.
"Yeah, I never saw anyone with both hot AND cold!"
I smile politely, just enough so I'm not a jerk. I understand now what he's saying, but he's still freak. Still, it's early, I'm barely awake, and I'm trapped in this place by my wet clothes in the washer and will continue to be trapped for at least 40 more minutes. Don't want to make enemies. I make a teensy little gesture of raising my cup to him, like "Here goes the hot, little buddy!", take a sip, and return to my paper.
Here's another memory. It's late on a Sunday afternoon. I'm on the subway heading home (downtown at the time) from the Port Authority. I've just gotten off the Academy Lines shuttle bus from Ikea in New Jersey. I have four huge yellow plastic Ikea bags stuffed full with crap, sharp corners of boxes and edges of brackets poking holes in the bags, holes that have spread and expanded on my walk from the bus to the subway. It's way too much stuff for one person to be carrying, but I have no money for a taxi since I just spent every spare cent at Ikea.
I board the sparsely populated C train and plop down on a seat in the corner by the door, noisily situate my huge bags around my feet, creating a deep moat of household crap around my body. There are maybe seven or eight other people in the subway car, among them a Spanish mother and her pre-adolescent son, a 20something blond couple back from an afternoon of sunbathing in Central Park, a black teen-aged boy in blue Knicks shorts holding a basketball on his knee. Everyone is either mindlessly staring at the inane overhead advertisements or dozing off.
I notice a woman sitting across the aisle and slightly to the right of me. She has the biggest, poufiest black hair I have ever seen, frayed and tattered from years and years of dye jobs and teasing, mangled strands pulled up off her face and back into a big barrette, long, drab locks handing down to her boobs. Her fat pink lips are in a pout, and the only makeup she wears is a thick outline of black around her eyes. She is holding a book on her lap and looking down at the floor.
I realize that she is Tama Janowitz, trendy author of assorted New York novels, former Friend of Warhol (before he, you know, died) and his frequent guest at The Factory, and general, all-around downtown hipster writer chick with strange but cool hair. I had a brief obsession with her in high school, not so much because of her writing (which was clever and funny and inventive, but not brilliant), but more so because I wanted to be
her. I wanted to be exactly
I still do, actually. But I digress.
So there's Tama sitting not 4 feet from me, and I realize that what is unfolding is one of those moments when I discover that I have relinquished control of my mouth to a greater force, some inner Susan who is either braver or stupider, depending both on your perspective and the ultimate outcome of the situation. Sure enough, I feel my mouth opening and words coming out.
"Excuse me! Excuse me! Miss? Miss!?"
Tama doesn't seem to hear me, although that seems rather impossible since everyone else, even the guy sitting at the far end of the car, has turned to look at me, the crazy, loud Ikea bag lady in the corner screaming at the nice lady with the unusual hair who is suddenly very interested in the spine of her book.
"Excuse me? Miss?"
We are approaching 14th Street and Tama gets up to stand by the door and wait to exit. But, see, now I've begun, I've already called out to her repeatedly and everyone is looking at me expectantly and if I want to save any face with these people (with whome I have to stay on this train for several more stops after Tama leaves), there must, simply MUST, be follow through! I cannot just leave my "excuse me" hanging! There must be some kind of closure. So...
"Excuse me! Miss? Miss?"
I'm leaning toward her now, nearly begging her to turn around, Tama please just turn around for one goddamn second, we're almost at your stop and you must acknowledge me before you leave or else I'm just crazy screaming Ikea bag lady! Every freaking person in the car is looking at me, looking at her, looking back at me, looking at the floor around her to see if maybe she's dropped something or has a piece of toilet paper stuck to her shoe – looking for any reason why a normal person might repeatedly shout "excuse me" at a stranger.
Finally, benevolently (or because she knows she's outta there in 20 seconds), she turns her head and that huge, ratty nest of black hair to face me and my protective moat of yellow plastic bags, and after almost 3 solid minutes of yelling at her, I am able to give my very, very important message:
"Love your books."
She smiles her tiny, yeah-I-knew-that's-what-it-was-you-stupid-dork smile before she exits the train to head home and drink gin and tonics with Viva and Lou Reed. I sit back in my seat, vindicated. See, people, I *did* have a reason! I'm not Crazy Excuse Me Bag Lady!
The middle aged woman in a blue jogging suit who has had the misfortune of sitting next to me this entire time asks, "Who was that?"
She clearly has no fucking idea who Tama Janowitz is. She probably thinks I just made that name up and that I think my backpack is a poodle.
But hey, I
know I had a point, and I can now continue on home with my bags of crap, secure in the knowledge that my spontaneous, totally pointless mission was accomplished.