Strangers in Arms

Connection is our default.

If you are an avid reader of social media comments like me, it is tempting to give up on humans for their sheer pettiness. For example, recently, a woman waiting at a red light posted a video of a negligent driver causing an accident. People chided her for filming and not stopping the accident instead. Body shaming is rampant, and so is pet owner shaming; people seem to care for dogs and cats more than their owners. An army of “followers” invariably descends on these people, trying to raze them off this earth. 

That is why New York, the world’s melting pot, keeps my hopes alive about human goodness because even among the milling crowds, you find unjaded strangers always open to connecting, like some of the people I discuss below. 
  
The other day at the station, a drunk man was trying to climb up an escalator that was coming down. He could not get past the first step and kept standing there, his arms flailing wildly.  As I took in the sight, trying to make sense of which way the escalator was going, the man’s friend looked at me, and we both burst into uncontrollable laughter, like common friends of this man.

In another station story, I was waiting for the train with another stranger late at night, and they changed the platform at the last minute. The other man was more agile than me and ran up the stairs like a gazelle while I huffed and puffed up. Just as the man was getting on the train, he turned back to check if I, a stranger, would make it too. I gave him a thumbs up, and we smiled, happy we made it. 

Recently, at a hospital reception, a woman sneezed and coughed loudly, throwing up snot into her thin tissue. Another man and I looked at each other, united in our exasperation at her insensitivity; we were on the same page on our views about civic sense. Similarly, recently, a raving and ranting man suddenly got onto the train, threatening our calm journey. The stoic stranger sitting across from me suddenly locked eyes with me, concerned, his face softening, and I, too, acknowledged the danger. At the next stop, we both fled silently, nodding to each other; I was going to my destination while he moved to the next coach. Similarly, a woman behind me on the escalator gave me kudos for retrieving my fallen umbrella, although I could have tripped her over while looking for it. 
     
New Yorkers go to the extremes of respecting another person’s personal space, so I hesitated to help a group of teenagers doing some last-minute shopping for a party. They were getting desperate that the store did not carry any butter. At the refrigerated section, I spotted butter and wondered if I should tell them about it. I heard them still talking about butter, so I walked up and told them where to find it. Their glee was palpable; a party was saved.  

Influencers warn you not to overdo the apology, but it works wonders in disarming strangers. Recently, a guy’s bag was blocking my seat from reclining at the movies, but I said sorry. He immediately moved it, saying, “It’s totally my fault.” Or yesterday, when the Trader Joe’s friendly cashier ran after me to give me the flowers he had forgotten to bag, I said sorry for not remembering to take them. He touched his hand to his heart, apologizing for his mistake. A sorry transformed these potentially irritating incidents into connections. 

I saved the best for the last. I used to see a buxom bootlegger woman sitting on the sidewalk, although she has disappeared now. One day as I passed by her, she said, “Give me a dollar, and I’ll suck your pussy.” I heard a man behind me chide her, “Don’t say that” to which she replied, “No one loves me,” to which he responded, “I do,” and gave her some change. The man and I exchanged a smile, and I silently commended him for caring about another less fortunate stranger’s dignity. That is NYC for you. 
       
  

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