This past Tuesday I had a near-death experience.
Well, I can’t prove that it was near-death, but in the moment it felt potentially fatal.
It was a co-worker’s last day of interning for the summer, and so we all decided to go out for dinner together after work. We tossed around a few restaurant names, mostly all located downtown, until we all agreed that getting on the subway in the ninety degree heat was too daunting of an idea. Luckily, being centrally located in Midtown East, we realized that there were quite a few low-key places around that we could go to–one of which being a promising neighborhood sports bar with good Yelp reviews across the street.
We packed up our things, locked up the office, and made our way across 2nd Avenue to a lovely little table in the outdoor seating area.
I never sit outside to eat. (Mainly because the sun and I have a mutual hatred and hot weather does not excite me.) But, seeing as this was a special occasion and I was clearly in the minority, I decided to take one of the two seats facing out to the sidewalk so that I could at least people watch to my heart’s content.
I absolutely was not prepared for the incident that followed.
After spending quite a significant amount of time in the city throughout my years, I understand that there are some strange people here. But, I never anticipated being targeted by one while enjoying my favorite activity of the day (eating dinner).
We opened our menus. I, having looked at the menu online before, already knew what I would order, so I looked down the street and watched the world go by. New York can be very intriguing during the evening rush hour.
I noticed a presumably homeless and clearly troubled man making his way down the block towards the corner the restaurant was located on. Whatever, I thought, nothing to be worried about. Typical NYC. As he walked, he was yelling and blabbering about something–government-related, I think–unintelligently and angrily. He tried to make eye contact with passersby but didn’t get the attention he sought. That was when he got more forceful, more direct, and, quite unfortunately, more violent.
He stomped right on up to our table and leaned over the barrier that separated the seating area from the rest of the sidewalk. He continued ranting, becoming more and more haste and frustrated by the second. I was petrified. I studied my menu with such intent that I could probably have burned a hole in it if I had superhuman abilities.
We all fell silent, a response which probably provoked him further. To my horror, he stuck his head right between my two friends’ heads and screamed, “Go ahead, slap me, slap me! Slap me as hard as you can!” maniacally, and began hitting himself in the head until his glasses were hanging off one ear.
All four of us were glued to our seats, unsure of how to react, what to do. I surreptitiously glanced at the rest of the patrons at other tables a few feet away from us. They all stared back with faces full of equal shock, immobile.
When he got sick of slapping himself, he ran to the trashcan in front of the restaurant and yelled and overturned the whole thing into the street and all over the sidewalk. Then he continued down the avenue, never ceasing his exclamations.
We all stared at each other, thankful that it had ended, and couldn’t even find words to say.
After the incident, and, more importantly, after we ate, I couldn’t stop thinking about what had just happened. I wanted to talk about it but there wasn’t much to say. We probably did the right thing by doing nothing–who knows if a word or a glance could have provoked something much worse–but unfortunately, no one else did anything either. I wonder how it could have unraveled differently, but I suppose I’m glad that it didn’t escalate any further.
Not wanting to annoy my fairly new friends by bringing it up multiple times, I shared the story with a few other people the next day. The reactions were surprisingly similar: a concerned comment or question, followed by a nonchalant laugh, and a rendition of the ever-famous saying, “Only in New York!”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Usually, “Only in New York!” has a positive connotation. There’s a great street performance of a Cirque du Soleil act by Central Park? Only in New York! Oh, did you see that crazy, niche-oriented bar themed after Dr. Who? Only in New York! What about the fact that you can go and order any type of food no matter what time of night and have it delivered to your door in 20 minutes or less? Only in New York!
But what about when you’re having dinner and nearly get assaulted by a crazy person violently lamenting political issues? Apparently, that’s only in New York, too.
I’ll be sticking to the musical theater version of the saying, thank you very much.