Running woman and madman

Two incidents mark my morning walk to work.


On Second Avenue, a long-legged woman in a short black skirt dashes past, late to an unknown appointment, her movements fluid and beautiful.

With every step, her skirt bounces, flashing legs at the avenue. Her left hand hangs at her hip, trying to keep the skirt down. But she fails at this, and the attempt only makes the male viewer more aware of the rhythmic, teasing visual.

The whole thing is unconscious. It has the visual semantics, but not the intention, of cheesecake. She is simply late, happens to be beautiful, and isn’t dressed like an Anabaptist. Nevertheless, her passage fractures the Matrix.

Even businessmen who dress like they never so much as take a breath without running a spreadsheet first can’t help turning back to get a second look.

She runs fast and is out of sight in minutes, leaving a trail of pheromones in her wake.

I want to thank her, but I would never catch up, and running after her is probably a bad idea.


Minutes later, approaching Lexington Avenue, I see a mentally ill man hurling racial epithets at the street.

“Fuck you motherfucking niggers,” he shouts.

Did I mention this part? He is black.

In his hand is a beer that a clerk at a nearby convenience store apparently thought was an okay thing to sell him.

He screws up his face into a horror mask and screams nonsense syllables as I pass him.

On the corner with several other people, waiting for the light to change, I feel him sneak up on us, and a moment later he defeats his own sneaking by shouting again.

“Don’t GIVE a fuck!”

A large plastic milk carton sits abandoned on the sidewalk. He grabs it and flings it into the street, just missing us corner-bound pedestrians. The milk carton touches down in a busy lane of traffic. Speeding cars begin changing lanes to avoid smashing into it.

Damn it, I think.

I think this because I know I’m going to get tangentially involved, and past experiences with mentally ill street people have not gone well. There was the guy in DC harassing women on the train. I interceded and he messed with me. DC yuppies, watching the whole thing, moved away rather than help. Then there was the guy— Well, anyway, enough.

I walk into the oncoming traffic, pick up the milk crate, take it back to the sidewalk, and push it down directly in front of the raging drunken mentally ill homeless man.

I look at him, he looks at me.

I don’t know whether my eyes are communicating toughness, compassion, or a kind of inattention—as if, by not focusing on him, he might not focus on me. I have no strategy. I’m moving on instinct and my plan is to disengage.

Whatever happened between us passes. I turn back to the street, the light changes in my favor, I move quickly into the intersection.

Behind me, he throws an abandoned filthy bath rug into the street.

I let him win that one.

[tags]cities, NYC, New York City, urban, living, urban living, street, life, streetlife, myglamorouslife, glamour, zeldman[/tags]

44 thoughts on “Running woman and madman

  1. I wish women could get as much pleasure out of the flash of a leg as men do. Commuting would be so much more fun. Instead, on crowded trains, I’m usually just reminded of how large, warm, noisy, fidgety, sweaty and cluelessly self-centered men are. Doesn’t seem fair.

  2. Jeff, you never cease to amaze me with your skills at taking the most pedestrian of experiences and turning them into something that makes my thought process a little different for the day. I’m sorry I missed AEA SF, simply for the chance to feel your words make an impact rather than just reading them.

  3. It seems like there’s always a sexy woman whose clothes are about to fall off. What I want to know is where are all the hunky men whose coat, vest, tie, button down shirt and tshirt are about to fly off? It’s really unfair.

  4. Jeffrey,

    What I find a bit oh, I don’t know the word…. or can’t seem to figure out the best word to use to describe it but, it pertains to what you don’t seem to feel.

    You don’t convey annoyance about the mentally ill man. You convey compassion, kindness. Complete lack of animosity. You tend to convey those qualities a lot.

    Certainly, you convey intelligence, warmth, and humor. But, it’s the ability to dice humor with genuine kindness and compassion in your posts as the reason I continue to come back, hoping to read more.

    So, about the woman… did you at least take a photo, you know, cause it would last longer? :-)

  5. I’m glad ii didn’t turn bad on you. My tendency is also to get involved when someone is being harassed (by street people or others — “others” usually meaning drunks), though it drives my wife crazy. Riding the train in Chicago provided many an interesting experience with street people. One guy walked through the car asking for spare change, then got off yelling “motherf***ing white people never gave me a DIME!” Which, in Chicago, is most certainly not true. Somehow I don’t think he was helping his cause. Another, who was of the stronger-smelling sort, saw me reading a Bible and asked me to pray for him and put out his hand. My hesitation to shake it (though I did) told me a lot about myself, and led me to take a closer look at my attitude toward street people — and people in public generally. Oh, and he didn’t ask me for anything, not even a dime.

  6. The sad thing about the woman is she will, most likely, never know the impact she had on you and by extension us, the sadder thing is if she did she would probably be creeped out.

    The sad things about the man are too numerous and frustrating to explore.

    The happy thing about it all is life. Living it, sharing it, taking a minute to stop and appreciate it in all it’s terrible beauty.

    I think I’ll try and enjoy this next bit of it more thanks to you and they.


  7. Wonderful story. And so NYC. Mornings that start like that are great. Gives you mental fuel (and makes for entertaining posts, too). Thanks for sharing.

  8. To all those bemoaning the lack of a male analog… I have this to say: in very large measure, the allure of the woman was our seeing something we weren’t “supposed” to — and in her grace in addressing that. With men, there’s very little that we’re not “supposed” to see. When we’re naked, we’re naked on purpose — and where’s the allure in that?

    No, with men, these elusive moments come with different packaging… 

    A strong man being tender (daddies with babies, anyone?) … a weaker man being confident in the face of strength … those rare times when a man will slip into his own thoughts and it’s just his body sitting there (the student staring out the window on the A train). These are the moments that correlate, I think, to the running woman.

    Just sayin’ … 

  9. wait… don’t tell us you didn’t have your camera with you!

    I wanted to see a picture of the milk crate!

  10. This reminds me of a scene straight out of the Wall Street movie, where the Gecko character (Michael Douglas) is talking to the Charlie Sheen character, and ruminating on the two opposing forces: a businessman and the homeless guy.

    I just love reading what Mr. Z has to say!


  11. Everything I know about Anabaptists, I learned from the latest William Gibson novel, so: not much. But it kind of suggested they might not have been dressed at all.

  12. Wow I can relate with both incidents from another perspective. The most compelling incident relates to #1- the cute girl: Earlier this summer I was walking my dog. Wearing a pair of shorts and having long pale legs, I drew the attention of a passing car\’s driver. He wanted a second look- drove around the block.
    Just as I crossed the street he stopped at the stop sign. To show his essential maleness via driving technique, a squealing shift change with much gas spun him straight over a fire hydrant and onto a school\’s front steps. Boom.
    Water spouted up 30 feet. Neighbors streamed from their homes watching the street go ankle deep in water. I am stunned! As my mind grasped the reality I thought about the driver. Is he OK-hurt?
    Me and another person went running up to the car.
    It was still running, lights on inside. The guy was gone- he took off!
    About that time the cops were arriving. Forces that be did the turn the hydrant off thing, even though the whole hydrant was far from the place it belonged. I answered questions for the cops, made friends with some folks.
    I finished the dog walk. Scrappy hadn\’t answered his pee mail yet since I picked the little guy up as the water level rose. I got home and excitedly woke the hubby up to tell him WHAT HAPPENED. I still see that ejaculate-like tower of water spewing when I walk past the corner. What a demonstrative compliment. Whistling would have been less expensive though.

  13. Wow, I really enjoyed reading this!

    I believe the dumbfound pleasure of incident i had a strong influence on the haphazardous courage portrayed in incident ii, no?

    She must’ve been something.

    I wonder – where was the freakin’ iPhone camera?!

  14. Wow, you’re hardcore! I deal with the mentally ill homeless every single day on my travels to downtown L.A. via the subway. I also deal with hot chicks every day.
    On both topics, “deal with” means “ignore”. One is because I’m married and the other is because, well, I don’t carry cash, and I can’t resolve their issue.

    You’re awesome, man. From the web to meatspace, you’ve got it covered.

  15. BurlyQ – To answer your wish, I really wish men with nice legs would wear short skits and sprint by me. Unfortunately in our society, most men cover up way too much. ;o)

  16. There’s something I fear about people like the Lexington Avenue man. Not really a fear for my safety… but more of a fear that they understand something I don’t and I missing out on some important message from the universe.

    That their incoherent babble and frustrated cursing is some raw level of communication that we’re all too busy to learn.

    Or maybe they are just batshit crazy and I tend to romanticize too much.

    I once saw a man walk right down the middle of Broadway @ Spring screaming “F$#k you and your f$#%ing addiction to OIL!” as cars whizzed past him. That. was. awesome.

  17. Such a good writer, you don’t do enough of it ;)

    In college I was jumped by a crazed mentally ill person while taking out the trash. I reacted on instinct and smacked him across the chest with a big metal pole I had in my hand. Still feel bad about that. He looked so confused.

  18. What a beautiful post. Since I\’m obssessed with the election, the convention, and where it sits in history–Katrina, 45th anniversary of MLK speech, the voting rights of 1965–I\’m struck by your small act of random kindness and how much it represents what we all need to do right now to heal the country. We got to this moment–a black man on a stage in front of 75,000 people accepting a Presidential nomination—through millions of people standing up, doing the right thing, having courage, helping people they didn\’t know.

    Then somehow we– me most of all– sat back and let people hijack our country. So I\’m inspired by the ricochet effect of one small act, translated into hundreds, thousands, millions…of good deeds done for other people.


  19. Ahh the joys of crazy. I’ve had my run in with quite a few of the homeless, mentally ill types. One to many honestly, so I’m not so kind/helpful as I used to be.

    I’d be interested in seeing how he would have reacted to the same energetic shout of a reverse racial slur. Fight crazy with crazy, not your fists. It’s safer and much more entertaining.

    But speaking to the near confrontation… glad you didn’t have to kick him in the head with your crocks and then beat him into submission with a brand new copy of DWWS.

  20. What I want to know is where are all the hunky men whose coat, vest, tie, button down shirt and tshirt are about to fly off? It’s really unfair.

    That’s because when women want to dress up, they put on something revealing – i.e., the cocktail dress. When men want to dress up, we put on something that covers every possible part of our body but our face and hands – i.e., the tuxedo. What, are we hideous? I don’t know, but them’s the rules, as far as I can tell.

    In practical terms, it means that men are miserable outdoors in summer and women are cold indoors year-round.

  21. @Nathan,

    Couldn’t agree more. There are theories in psychology that men are more visual, and interested in the literal nature of what they are looking at (i.e. a young, fit, healthy, beautiful woman) while women are interested in what it implies about the man they are looking at (wealth, power, sophistication, the dexterity to tie a bow-tie).

    It obviously isn’t as black-and-white as all that, and everyone is different, but that’s the general idea over the population at large. I’m also talking about immediate attraction, rather than full-on relationships.

    The gender differences in erotica would seem to suggest that women just don’t get the kick out of purely visual stimulation that men do (again, on average, population wide).

  22. In our shit-brained society, a woman showing off “leg” (or whatever the case may be) is sexy (unless she’s overweight, then it’s considered cheap) while a man showing off leg (or whatever the case may be) is generally chalked up to assumed homosexuality. So sorry, girls. If you see a man running down the street flashing some leg, you’ll probably assume he’s a fag and disregard the image, anyway.

  23. C’mon, surely you’re not the kinda guy who’s assuming everybody out on the street is straight, are you? As a butch dyke who likes femmes, it’s not just the males of the world who deeply appreciate the long-legged woman running in her short black skirt. Plus, some males aren’t even looking at her.

  24. Thanks for the word sketch. Well done and aptly put. I Stumbled in here, so I’m giving you the “Thumbs Up” on the way out. Good writing … carry on, carry on!

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