I was standing on Broadway near Rector Street on Thursday night waiting for an overdue bus when I heard someone shouting.
Hostile voices are such a part of life in New York that you need a pretty severe set of pipes to get anyone’s attention and whoever was behind this particular commotion had wind power to spare.
It took a few seconds for the gibberish to gel into language, but all at once the words came into sudden and brutal clarity.
This might be a traffic dispute. The streets downtown are chronically congested and rush hour in this town could easily provide the backdrop for a French Connection reboot.
Or maybe two losers had bumped into each other on the sidewalk and were now pathetically standing their ground in a nose-to-nose effort to prove who was the bigger idiot. I’ve seen this kind of thing before and I would gladly award them both the top prize.
Whatever it was, I thought, it’ll blow over in a few seconds and we’ll return to our regularly scheduled cacophony.
Then again, I might be wrong.
The yelling was getting louder; the offending party was getting closer. Given my foul mood, the voice could have been coming from my mind.
I was physically tired and emotionally drained and I just wanted to get the hell home. My bus, however, had apparently decided to go to Brooklyn via Toronto and so I stood with an ever-growing chorus line of irate people watching every conceivable type of motorized transport pass by except the one we wanted to see.
The shouting was extremely loud and incredibly close now and I thought the perpetrator might be a deranged homeless man in rags defiantly shaking his bag of cans at a heartless world.
However, when I looked across the street at the source of the swearing I saw a clean-shaven middle-aged man wearing a suit and tie and a tan overcoat. He smiled broadly as he waved at the people on the street.
“Fuck you!” He cheerily shouted. “Fuck you!”
Hold on a minute. Ranting rejects are supposed to dress the part—torn clothing, wild hair, a body in serious need of a diligent delousing. This man did not begin to fit the profile.
He looked like he could have held a respectable position at any one of the thousands of companies in the vicinity. But he sure didn’t sound that way.
And he appeared to be so happy. He wasn’t doing the enraged loner shtick, none of the Travis Bickle “you-talking-to-me” madness. He grinned and waved like a politician greeting his constituents on Election Day.
Is This Straitjacket Taken?
He didn’t seem drunk or high, or particularly dangerous. But that’s easy for me to say since I was safely positioned on the other side of Broadway. I noticed that anyone who came in contact with the cursing man gave him a wide berth.
History has taught us that some of the vilest villains in creation were once considered harmless—until the shooting started.
This man’s mind might have just freshly snapped. Maybe he had gotten laid off from his job after decades of loyal service and decided to share his displeasure with the world.
Perhaps he had misplaced his medication. Or it could be that the psychos are dressing better lately because, as we all know, every girl’s crazy ‘bout a sharped dress loon.
The guy disappeared down the street, happily hurling F-bombs like they were Mardi Gras beads, and I went back to hyperextending my neck in hopes of spotting my bus.
Just another day in New York, I thought. Whatever his story was, that nutbag was out of my life. But I had called that one wrong.
My bus showed up, but it was so full of people that I decided to wait for the next one. The weather wasn’t too harsh and I absolutely refuse to pay six bucks for a stand-up commute. After all this misery, I deserve to sit down for the ride home.
And then I heard a familiar voice.
I looked across the street and there he was again, coming up Broadway, the Obscene Machine himself, making a return engagement. He was like a duck in a shooting gallery or a soldier on patrol, merrily swearing at one and all.
I’m sure this man is a tortured soul with a whole closet full of problems, but he looked strangely liberated as he casually crushed society’s rules of behavior.
The last I saw of the foul-mouthed fellow he was briskly heading uptown. I was hoping he would run into my bus driver and give him a piece of my mind.
When the second bus finally arrived, I managed to get a seat and I even half-heartedly offered it to a woman who was standing right over me.
I have to confess here and now that I was fervently praying to all the commuting deities that she wouldn’t take me up on my pathetic proposal and she must have seen the fear in my eyes.
“No, that’s okay,” she said. “I sit down all day.”
So do I, lady, but that didn’t stop me from nailing my rear end to the first available chair.
It turned out this woman knew the bus driver and he told her that everything was fouled up because an earlier bus had gotten into an accident.
“Was anyone hurt?” the woman earnestly inquired.
“No,” the driver replied. “But you’re the first person who asked me that. Everybody else just complains that there’s no seats.”
I sunk deeper into the cushion I had so desperately craved. Was I such a terrible person for wanting to get home at a decent hour and ride in relative comfort?
I like to think that I have nothing in common with that ranting man on Broadway, but sometimes I look at myself and I see how angry and impatient I get and I have to wonder. There’s nothing liberating about rage. It is a heavy, fearsome chain that comes straight out of your mind.
And that’s how you’ll end up if you don’t get your anger in check—out of your mind. Then you’ll be the one waltzing down the street, terrorizing tired office workers with crazed cries of “fuck you!”
That’s one bus I don’t want to ride.