|A Collision of Forces
||August 10, 2003
Summary: Because of the population density in New York City, someone somewhere has dreamt up an idea, a movement, or a spectacle that you will find compelling.
This rant contains profanity or other offensive material.
|Because of the population density in New York City, someone somewhere has dreamt up an idea, a movement, or a spectacle that you will find compelling. It is a statistical inevitability that at least one person in the teeming millions here wants to do something that you will want to watch and in which you will take some enjoyment.|
I was alerted to just such an event in the form of an open call to fellow New Yorker's to participate in the 2003 "Step Out for Tourette" walk-a-thon. A flyer advertised the event as a way for concerned citizens to walk and raise funds for the Tourette Syndrome Association.
The curse of those unfortunate enough to suffer from this syndrome is that they are given to uncontrolled motor and vocal tics. These often take the form of facial grimacing, fist clenching, and most tragic - the involuntary shouting of obscenities. The disorder appears to affect men, mostly. It is a mental mis-wiring that is inherited, it is borne throughout the afflicteds entire lifetime, and there is no known cure. Treatments are mildly successful at best.
The image of this march for Tourettes was immediate and arresting. I saw scores of people milling about prior to the march, occasionally and unwillingly shouting profane and disgusting comments at bewildered pedestrians. Then the march itself, a threading thing that would last for miles, and at every step of the way random and haphazard obscenities hurled at the occasional building, the passing car, and the unfortunate witness.
The march was to start in a month, and there was little time to waste. I created a second flyer, much akin to the original in details (dates and times) but with an opposing and intersecting route. I changed the title of this new event to something more suitable for my purposes.
I made several hundred copies, and methodically posted them in cafes, taped them to lamp-posts, and scattered them as best I could over the five boroughs of New York. I even made trips to New Jersey and Connecticut. I posted a rendered form of my doctored flyer on every Internet venue I could find, peppering newsgroups and blanketing electronic bulletin boards.
Then I waited.
The day of the two marches arrived, the genuine one, and the one of my own design. I had calculated the conjectured route of the event I had created to meet and collide with the intended route of the Tourettes march. The demographic I had targeted with my campaign was not that of fellow sufferers of Tourettes, but rather another group of long suffering people. I knew that a concentration of Tourettes Syndrome survivors was like a latently volatile chemical. If one could add another, also latently volatile chemical, the mixture would most likely and spontaneously combust.
It was for this reason that I had carefully mulled over other potential groups for my invented march. I was not long in thought before I realized that the proper choice was both obvious and inevitable: Battered women.
I had stationed myself at an outside cafe on a street corner I had concluded would be the terminus of both marches. An hour after the starting time of the walk-a-thons, I saw to my left a growing straggle of men turn a corner. Each wore a white t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase "Listen between the lines!" As they drew near, I heard from them haphazard verbal outbursts. To my right, an orderly march of proud and defiant women approached. Some of them chanted "I'm out the door, victim no more." Both groups carried banners and placards sporting slogans of their respective movements.
The spearheads of the two throngs approached each other with a slackening pace. There was clearly some confusion in the air as the gesticulating and shouting men intermingled with the increasingly alarmed women. A growing knot of people formed in the intersection, faithfully fed by unwitting members of the rearguards who steadily marched onward and inward.
Amidst a growing murmur, I could hear an occasional epithet or profane word, first unwillingly from the Tourette's survivors, then in angry and willful response from the domestic violence victims.
The two groups mixed more fully, and while I could see an isolated incident of pushing and scuffling, it was clear that the sputtering flames of this potential conflagration needed fuel. I had prepared for this. When I felt that the overall tension in the air was just right, I leaned forward from my open newspaper and screamed "FIX MY DINNER, BITCH!!!"
To my mind, the words seemed to cast forward in a parabolic arc and land directly in the center of the mass of people, causing it to explode. Despite my calculations and intent, even I was surprised at the sharp violence that followed. The previous and anxious din rose to a high fever of angry screams. Fists flew. Placards swung down in arcs like heavy axes. People fell to the ground, scrabbling and clawing. Car alarms started to blare.
Others who had been seated at tables around me stood in ineffectual horror. A child struggled against its mother. In the rabble, I saw a blinking and stuttering man, besieged by several angry women, suddenly wheel about wildly and stammer "But, I d-d-dn't s-s-say any FUCK FUCK BITCH DIE TWA-" He was unable to finish as the women swarmed over him like voracious ants.
A well-dressed and middle-aged man at an adjacent table to my own demanded that someone call the police. He stepped away from his table. I was pleased with this, for I had tasted the alluring aroma of his expensive and visually delectable brunch. While his attentions were drawn elsewhere, I stole a few forkfuls from his plate.
A retail sales clerk from a vintage clothing store a few doors down ventured into the riot, and tried to calm those around him. He pointed at a small Asian woman who was repeatedly kicking a fallen man in the groin and demanded that she stop. This clerk was immediately felled by a Coke bottle that exploded on his forehead. It was an amazing and beautiful thing to see. It was as though the container sublimated into an aerosol form on the man's face, blooming forth in a fountain of glittering glass. I never beheld the arm that hurled it, and have even attempted to replicate the result myself by throwing empty bottles at brick walls. They either crack or break in two. This particular container was launched with a force greater than my own human arm can muster. While it is possible that it was fired from some sort of mechanical device, perhaps utilizing powerful magnets or an explosive charge, I have discounted this as unlikely. It could be that the bone in the clerks head was unnaturally dense. This seems possible, given the doomed nature of his intentions and his chosen method to achieve them. Perhaps it was a combination of both.
But I digress.
The pandemonium spread and appeared to overwhelm nearby pedestrians. I noticed people both running away from and into the heaviest fighting. A heavy set man, one of the Tourette's march judging by his blood stained and tattered t-shirt, stumbled into the cafe. Three women hung from him and clawed at his face while he spewed forth a set of obscenities in a language I could not identify. He shook one of the women off him, casting her aside like a puppet. Then, like a great beast finally overwhelmed with exhaustion at the end of a long hunt, he collapsed onto one of the tables, splitting it in two.
I noticed a teenaged girl who sat near me and saw that she wept openly. I helpfully offered her a glass of water and patted her on the arm.
The enormous window of a department store across the street seemed to shimmer for an instant, then collapse like a sheet of water heretofore held by an unseen force that was abruptly removed. Fights broke out around and inside nearby shops. One bedeviled man from the Tourette's side had the unfortunate tic of swinging his left arm around him with his fist clenched. This caused a thin, gaunt woman in front of him to kneel and whimper, but one of her neighbors saw this, and enraged from a memory brought to life before her, she hurled herself at him. Her mouth seemed to engulf his face. Her teeth bit into his forehead and lower lip, and it seemed to me that she had every intention of actually eating his face. I lost sight of them.
I could now hear the oncoming approach of sirens. After a few moments, I saw a police car turn a corner. As it a approached, a garbage can, the contents of which had been set on fire, flew into my field of vision and collapsed on the hood of the patrol car in a flower of flaming debris. The driver lost control and the car swerved into the curb. The vehicle hit a fire hydrant, hewing it off cleanly. A plume of water rose quickly into the air. The hapless car and driver smashed into a vintage record store, sending goateed and be-sandaled shoppers running for cover.
Then I felt a sharp thud, and all was blackness. My part as instigator and spectator was at an end.
I'm not sure what hit me. In the moments before I lost consciousness, the air above and about was filled with flying matter of every sort - a shoe here, a hubcap there. At one point, I thought I saw a large dog arc over the crowd, its apex a full fifteen feet in the air, but I still have trouble accepting this mental image fully. Perhaps it was a stuffed animal, or a hefty toddler dressed as an Ewok. It is impossible to say.
When I came to, an ambulance attendant crouched over me, wiping blood from my forehead. He helped me up, and once I had assured him that I was okay, took flight to attend the other, more grievously injured. He promised to come back for me when he could, but I never saw him again. I stepped into the street, gingerly navigating over and around broken tables and the occasional supine or mewing wounded. I nearly tripped on a broken brick, but righted myself by catching hold of a dog's leash that hung uselessly and curiously from a street lamp.
Police had barricaded the area, and were loading handcuffed men and women into separate vans. A large crowd of onlookers stood outside the barricades and whispered amongst themselves. Many people were seated around ambulances sipping coffee from Styrofoam cups, while attendants took their blood pressure. The blades of a helicopter beat the air overhead. Several TV news reporters were speaking into microphones and looking into cameras. The shops across the street were in ruins, and I imagined the same to be true of those on my side.
Several parked cars were in flames, and firemen were just then putting out the blazes, one by one. Some of them were warning people away from one vehicle in particular that was smoking ominously. Their caveats were ill timed, for the flames finally reached the cars gas tank, and it exploded, sending a base surge that rocked the entire street. A fireball curled up and over its hood. A piece of flaming debris swept by a well coiffed TV news reporter. I suspect that his chosen brand of hair gel was made of some petroleum product, because his head burst into flames. He ran wildly about screaming, beating his head with both hands, one of which still gripped his microphone. Its foam tip caught fire, yet he still maintained his hold on it. In the grayish smoke and greenish haze, it appeared as though the Statue of Liberty had been brought to life and shrunk to man-size, and was there on a New York street, casting vengeful fireballs at its citizens. His cameraman maintained an admirable and steady hold in his lens of the poor fellow until two firemen appeared. They emptied the contents of their fire extinguishers on the mans upper body, and his brief torment and charade were brought to an end.
I wondered briefly if his news station would edit this part of his coverage out of the final copy that would undoubtedly air on the evenings news.
I turned my back on that place, and limped away slowly and in some pain. In addition to a deep cut on my forehead, I had a sprained wrist that I cradled gingerly. Just as I walked out from under an awning, it collapsed to the ground, killing a pigeon. This great crash sent me skittering into the street. Rising slowly, I once again saw the ruinous result of two victimized and well-meaning groups of people, brought together in one place, albeit out of context. But for the smoldering and rent Prada bag to my right, a windowless, dented Mercedes on my left, and the unconscious and tattooed twenty-something sprawled under me, this aftermath this vision of destruction could have been any street in South East Los Angeles circa 1992. Or some crossing on the Israeli/Palestinian border, today. It could be a photo of Belfast. A memory of Saigon.
It could be a vision of a struggle yet to be.
I was immediately saddened at the nature of the human condition, but at the same time, I felt a direct connection to the rest of humanity and to its history, and this was softly heartening. Perhaps the others, too when they had regained consciousness and were fully healed would feel it.
I was also gladdened. I realized that the experience was reproducible should the memory of the connection I had just felt eventually wane, or if some day my fellow New Yorkers needed a fresh reminder.
Those plans would have to wait. My work was, for the moment, done. It was now time to hobble home.
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