In the Neighborhood

I wrote this post back in February when I was in production for Superstar. I didn’t finish writing it back then; finding peace in ambiguity wasn’t high on my skills list in the middle of tech. But it’s been on my mind lately because I keep passing the intersection where this happened.

New York has different vibes in different neighborhoods, and those vibes are time-of-day dependent. I work in midtown, which is packed full of office people during the day and tourists at night. I’m rarely there past 11pm. This week the show is putting me up at a hotel because we have a short turnaround during tech rehearsals. Last night I walked out after midnight into a very different vibe in the neighborhood. One that I can’t quite shake.

I was walking to my hotel and came upon two young guys with skateboards. I watched them move very slowly out into the street; they were looking intently at something in the road. I followed their gaze and saw a man lying in the bike lane, unconscious, next to a taxi, liquid spilling out on the ground away from him.

I asked one of them, “Did he get hit or is he drunk?”

(In case you haven’t been here, you totally talk to strangers in New York. It’s just what you do.)

“I dunno,” the young guy said. He looked really worried. The cabbie was standing over the unconscious man. His cell phone was in his hand, but he didn’t seem to be calling anyone.

“Has he called 911?”

“I doubt it,” the guy said. We were two blocks from a police station and about an avenue over from a hospital.

I moved closer. Other people, take-charge type people, suddenly appeared. A woman picked up the unconscious man’s cell phone from the ground and started looking for a contact that said home. A man asked the cabbie what happened as he pulled his own Blackberry out and dialed 911. The cabbie said the man hailed him and he hit him while he was stopping.

I saw that the liquid spilling out on the ground wasn’t urine as I had assumed, but Snapple. A broken Snapple bottle peeking out of a plastic Duane Reade bag.

An old man came up next to me and said, “Is he a doctor?” referring to the take-charge man on the phone. “I think he’s a doctor,” he said.

It was pretty to think so. Comforting enough for me that I decided to walk away though I didn’t feel good about it. But I wasn’t going to add much to the scene. The take-charge type people were there and I had half a brain cell left and I needed it to find my hotel.

The old man said to me, “New York. Always something happens here. You be careful,” and he smiled at me and we went off different directions.

That Richard Thompson song Did She Jump Or Was She Pushed was running through my head and I was wondering if the unconscious man was going to be okay when another voice interrupted me.

“Hey, you don’t know where the Hudson Hotel is, do you?”

A friendly guy in a suit. The only kind of strangers in New York I don’t usually talk to. Especially when we’re walking the same direction and that’s my fricking hotel that he’s asking directions to.

“Um, yeah, it’s just up here another street and then almost to the next avenue. You go left,” I said, and then I slowed my pace, hoping he’d pass me by.

“The weather said it’s supposed to be sixty-seven degrees tomorrow,” he said, matching my pace.

Crap.

I made some small talk back over my shoulder as I changed tactics and sped ahead. I hoped he’d lose sight of me. I had the extra assurance of knowing that there is no name on the outside of the Hudson Hotel. One of those swanky New York things that had always annoyed me up until this moment. You go in an unmarked entrance and up an escalator to get to the lobby.

CC was working early mornings and should have been sleeping at this time, but I hadn’t talked to him all day and the events of the evening had me raw and edgy. I hit speed dial 2 on my phone and it rang and rang and rang. I got his voice mail. I hung up and resisted the impulse to look over my shoulder to see if the suit was still right behind me. I tried to pick out his footsteps. Tried to judge how close he was. I was all twitchy.

And here’s why I love my husband. He called me back all sleepy even though he had to get up in like three hours and when I said Hey I just saw a guy that had been hit by a cab he stayed on the phone with me til I got to my room. Because he gets it. He knows from experience how messed up your head can get during production. He also knows the neighborhoods, how they change at different hours. How at some point in your city life you will probably walk away from someone on the street who may or may not be dying because help is on the way, and you are not it.

And because I get it- how when you’re the spouse at home while your other is away in production,  you worry- I didn’t mention the suit. I stayed on the phone with CC not talking much, me listening to him try to stay awake, him listening to me trying to get to my room.

Before I hit the elevator I allowed myself a shot across the lobby and saw that the suit wasn’t there. Me, in the clear. There never was anything to see here. All in my overextended imagination.

Imagine that.

In my room, I said goodbye to my husband and took off my work boots. I cracked the window above my bed and let the sounds of the city spill in across the windowsill, down the wall and onto the pillows.

The words of the old man came back to me: New York. Always something happens here. You be careful.

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7 thoughts on “In the Neighborhood

  1. I’m so glad you called your husband … your post made me nervous!! Although, like you, I’m pretty unfazed by most stuff, when you get a bad feeling (all twitchy, as you put it), it’s good to trust your gut and take care.

  2. In New York it’s hard to believe, but things can happen (and do) everywhere. I learned that the hard way too. But it does seem, in a city that never sleeps, that more happens, more often. I hope that man was okay. And I hope you were okay. In a way, it’s good that you are still thinking about it. Confirms your humanity.

  3. When I was 13 I was part of a group of student going to the east coast, and as “training” the took us to the city, gave us a map and dropped us off – alone and in pairs – to find our way back to the hotel. (Can you even imagine someone getting away with that, now?) My neighborhood, no less, was “colorful.” I distinctly remember coming upon two policeman around a guy bleeding on the sidewalk. When I asked what happened their were blase to the point of boredom about a fight that involved a broken bottle.

    Ah, memories.

  4. Hey, stop whining you’re a New Yorker now! Be glad you have a husband, a job, and that it wasn’t you under the cab!

  5. Yikes. Life in the big city. I have a similar weirded out feeling every time I drive by a bad accident here on these crazy Southern California freeways. If there isn’t already emergency vehicles there I think, should I stop? Call 911? I’ve never stopped. I’ve called 911 a handful of times if it looks really bad and has clearly JUST happened. I hope the guy leaking Snapple turned out to be ok.

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