At first, I couldn’t figure out why my iPhone began buzzing on the afternoon of March 26. I was teaching back to back classes, as usual, out on Long Island, at the Stony Brook University School of Journalism. Besides, my cellphone seldom rings anyway.
Little did I know at the time that an explosion in Manhattan had caused the collapse of 119 Second Avenue, as well as another building.
Finally, when I was finished with my teaching obligations, I checked the texts and voicemails. Loved ones and friends were checking to see if I was OK. I was fine, living far away enough as to not to be affected.
I had the same reaction I’ve had to crises here on 9/11 and during Super Storm Sandy: a wave of anguish for the people who lost their lives, homes and properties. There but for the grace of God go I. (During Sandy, I was “stuck” on a book-promotion trip in Santa Monica, so I had nothing to complain about.)
When I cobbled together what had happened last month in the East Village, I experienced the same reaction of sorrow. I was secretly proud of myself for taking a few moments from my momentous and incredibly busy life to feel sympathy for people I had never met.
And within a week, I was walking up Second Avenue — and when the cops redirected me to an inconvenient walking path, I muttered obscenities under my breath because I had been so incredibly inconvenienced. What a jerk I was that day.
But I suspect I am not alone in this melodrama.
We New Yorkers pride ourselves on remaining resilient in the wake of catastrophes. Whether terrorists attack the World Trade Center or Mother Nature punishes us, we stay strong and stoic. We help our neighbors and contribute some money to relief funds. And we pat ourselves on the back.
Then we curse the inconvenience the disasters had caused us. What a bunch of jerks.
So, which is it? Are we more resilient (good!) or creeps (bad!)?
New York City is a complex place. A hundred or more melodramas occur every day, even in placid times. I try to check myself when I become impatient or intolerant of someone else. But let’s face it: I usually fail. I’m not a very good go-with-the-flow kind of New Yorker. I’m more the type who pounds the taxi seat in total disgust whenever the unsuspecting driver carefully stops the cab at a still-yellow light.
What about you?
I don’t mean suddenly to get all Dr. Phil on you.
I guess this column is my way of whistling Paul Simon’s “59th Street Bridge Song” — Slow down/You move too fast…
I move too fast. I should slow down, especially when I’m overtaken with pointless anger.
Next time you see a jerk pounding the seat of a taxi at a yellow light, feel free to walk over and pound on the window and tell me to start feelin’ groovy.