I’m getting soft. Three weeks of traveling through the Midwest and down to Virginia has buffed off my city shell. My inner, unsuspecting, small town, southern gal is rearing her nasty, pig-tailed head.
It’s sort of like when you spend the whole summer walking around in flip flops, then spend a few weeks coddling your feet in sneakers. When you try to start wearing flip flops again, your toe-gina callous is all gone and the miserable thong chafing is as torturous as it was back in May. You’re suddenly faced with a dead sexy puss-filled blister smack in the middle of your foot’s precious place. The same thing goes when you spend three weeks away from Manhattan.
Lucy had ceased hurling, the sun was shining, and I had already devoured this week’s Us Weekly. I HAD to get out of the house, so I made plans to meet Rocco and our friend Danielle for dinner between shows. It wasn’t a full moon. It wasn’t Friday the 13th. No parades where scheduled. There was no reason to expect any weirdness.
I made it to Port Authority in record time, debarked the bus, and managed to make it down the first flight of stairs without even tripping. I side-stepped the sickeningly sweet (yet still so tempting) smell from Mrs. Field’s cookies and cruised towards the 9th Ave exit. I conquered yet another flight of stairs without incident, and then I saw the crazy lady…but I didn’t know she was crazy yet.
Her name was Susie, I later learned. She was wearing a tomato red t-shirt, brown capris, practical brown slip-on sandals…and an Ikea box three times her height on her shoulder. She made it all of three steps before the box toppled forward and onto the ground. She then proceeded to drag the box behind her the remaining length of the main floor.
Then she reached the escalator. As I got closer, I could see her blond, kinked-out, frizzified ponytail was only slightly less frazzled than she was. I picked up my pace as she pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose with the heel of her palm and bent towards the box again.
Before I could shout “Wait!” she was attempting to set the drag-damaged edge of the box onto the top step of the escalator. As I broke into a sprint, I watched the box split open and the long pieces of laminate dive from view. The clatter in the enclosed space was deafening. I rushed down the stairs and turned towards the escalator to watch a wailing Susie slowly descend.
She was inconsolable. “Why did I think I could do this on my own? How could my friend screw me like this? Did I break it? Why me? WHY ME?!”
I tried to comfort her as I collected the scattered debris. “It’s just nicked in a few places. You’ll never notice once it’s all assembled and you’ve got your stuff on the shelves.”
“You really think so?” she whimpered between sobs?
“Oh sure! That’s the magic of Ikea!”
By this time we’d attracted another concerned New Yorker. Tony was an older Hispanic gentleman employed by Port Authority. He’d rushed out of his office when he heard the commotion and feared Susie herself had taken the fall. He bent down to try and reassemble the box.
Susie meanwhile ramped back up her wails. “How am I ever going to get this home? I’m never going to forgive my friend for doing this to me. NEVER!”
“You might be able to get a cab,” I offered.
Susie mulled this over and I looked at Tony, slowly shaking his head and holding his arms wide. Too long. Damn.
“Where do you live?” I asked, avoiding Tony’s eyes.
“43rd and 10th,” she responded.
“Oh! That’s super close. I’ll just help you carry it!”
“Wait, don’t you have somewhere to be?”
“I’m early! I’ve got twenty minutes to kill. No worries.”
I gathered the shorter pieces in my left arm and moved towards the back of the long box. Tony beat me there.
“I’ll carry this box,” he smiled.
I was relieved. I mean, Susie could be a serial killer. Tony could have four felony convictions for kidnapping. But they couldn’t BOTH be whack jobs, right? Even Rocco wouldn’t be able to argue with that logic! I decided the situation was totally safe.
We ambled towards her apartment while Susie continued to ramble. “I don’t have any money. I can’t pay you. I paid for this with a credit card. I’ve got absolutely no cash.” Clearly Susie feared we also might be whack jobs.
“Don’t worry about it,” both Tony and I replied.
Turning down 43rd I overheard a group of older men playing checkers on the street. “Yes but the Israeli’s have a totally different word for it,” one said to the guy on his left. He turned to his right, cocked his head and asked the third guy, “How do YOU say Fuck?” I shook my head, giggling, and caught back up to Susie and Tony.
We got her all the way to the door of her apartment before Susie started to twitch.
“Um,” she hesitated and put her keys back in her purse. “You can just leave it here in the hall. I can pull it in from here.”
“I don’t mind just pulling it inside,” Tony offered. I elbowed him lightly in the ribs. I had no desire to see the inside of her home (doubtlessly filled with stuffed birds, toothbrush art, and a small child chained to her radiator) and I’m sure she had no desire to let potential robbers into her home, either.
“Great! We’ll be on our way then.” I took a step backwards towards the elevator.
“Well, I do have five dollars. You two could get a beer…”
“Yeah, Tony and I are going to sit down and split a single beer while he’s still working and I’m supposed to be at dinner,” I thought to myself. Instead I just called “No worries!” over my shoulder and held the elevator open for Tony.
Once the doors closed and our descent began Tony turned to me, raised his eyebrows and simply said, “Five dollars?” We guffawed all the way to the ground floor and said our goodbyes.
The remaining walk to the restaurant was uneventful. Dinner was fun and the food was ok. I shared my story and we all giggled about the weirdness that is NYC. After the meal we left the restaurant and paused on the sidewalk to chat a bit longer. Some crazy dude wandered across 9th Ave screaming obscenities at the top of his lungs and lurching at the passing cars.
“Ah…home again, home again, jiggity jig,” I recited.
“In a city of 8 million people, you’re bound to run into a crazy person or two,” Rocco observed as we three turned to watch which direction the whack-a-doodle guy would take.
“True. I’m just out of practice.”
We continued chatting and making plans for next weekend. Again our conversation was interrupted by the same guy walking back down 9th Ave. Now he was barking loudly at pedestrians and shimmying.
Rocco turned back to us smiling and said, “Stay in the same place long enough and you’re bound to run into that same crazy person twice.”
Home sweet home.