Living in New York City, you’re going to get a heaping dose of crazy on an almost daily basis. It’s just how it is. It’s inconvenient, annoying, but it usually doesn’t get violent–especially if you don’t engage. For the past three years, I’ve slipped by and around lots of it, unscathed.
Until a few months ago when my luck ran out–and I found myself on the business end of a cold beverage.
My (then) boyfriend and I were walking down W 70th toward Columbus, in fact TALKING ABOUT CRAZY PEOPLE because we had just passed a known nutjob who’d recently caused a ruckus in a falafel shop. And I was telling him about a man who hollered at me at a bus stop a month earlier. As we blissfully meandered down the street on a lovely summer day talking about crazies in past tense, one showed up, hot on our heels.
“Get out of my way,” came a strange voice from right behind us. We turned to see a man looking warily at us, clutching a black messenger bag with one hand and a coffee in the other. “Get out of my way,” he said again.
He was a black man, maybe late 30s /early 40s, with very dark skin, in a navy t-shirt and workout pants, and big, bugged-out eyes. We made way, but he didn’t move. After a tense pause, I decided it was best to keep walking.
The moment I turned my back I was instantly doused head to toe in iced coffee. Cream and sugar.
WTF?! I wheeled around and the man started to retreat back down 70th the way he came. I was mad as a hornet (and got tougher the further he walked away). “What the fuck is your problem you fucking asshole you fucking–“ until Dru gently but firmly guided me eastward toward the post office where we were headed.
Now, if you’re ever assaulted in Manhattan or anywhere else, you can only pray that this is as bad as it gets. I was unharmed, if sticky. I had had nothing taken from me, and I wasn’t frightened. Just fuming. I called the police and filled out a report. I was lucky–it was 85 degrees out, and the coffee was cold.
(By the way, people get arrested for throwing coffee a lot. An extraordinary number of the instances I found occurred in the Boston area, and involved Dunkin Donuts. Having lived there for many years, I’m not surprised. Alec Baldwin cites throwing his 32 oz iced coffee at some hecklers in a cab the greatest moment of his life.)
What’s really the reason I was mad, though, aside from the obvious mess, the indignation at being attacked while minding my own business. This man wasn’t just insane, but threatening our way of life. Because you can’t do that. You can’t go around throwing things at people just because you feel like it.
The only real damage done here was to my ego. How dare HE do that to ME. As if his act of wacked-out behavior should somehow not have happened–because I’m what: Nice? Hard-working? Minding my own business?
And I was also envious. Because there are plenty of times when I want to throw things at people, but I refrain. This guy didn’t feel curtailed in any way by laws or social etiquette. He just did what he wanted.
But there’s also a lesson in there. While there’s nothing I could likely have done to avert the situation, except not leave my house, this shit just happens. It just does. Way worse things happen to innocent people all the time. It’s not fair that it happened to me, but also, anyone who was standing in front of this man would have been subject to his caffeinated rage. When things like this happen, you realize that there’s nothing actually special about you. Sometimes you’re just in someone’s way.
This single act was the manifestation of another fear you and I have, aside from being the victim of a violent crime: Rejection. Someone who doesn’t even know you judged you, hates you, and acts out on it (perhaps irrationally, but so be it). It seems unfair. Especially when I, like you, make a considered effort to ensure that people like and accept me–probably more than I should bother.
That iced coffee was in some ways a refreshing dose of reality. If I believe everything I do or say matters tremendously, that I control all that happens to me, including other people’s behavior, I might start to think I’m really important. That I’m fully in control. I might even have this idea that I’m powerful and good, and that Nothing Bad Should Ever Happen to Me. And that’s a high perch to fall from.
So for now, I’m duly humbled. My freshly laundered shirt is unmarred by the event. I’m reminded that I’m in a big city full of people with crosses to bear, scores to settle, neurons that misfire, and who are generally batshit crazy.
Fear of what people will think or do is never a good enough reason not to do something. Because you never fucking know what will happen, and you can’t prevent or control it. You may get dumped. You may not get hired. Someone may hate you for no reason. And somebody will waste their hard-earned money to nail you with a cool beverage just because. And that’s what happens. Next.