I experienced a couple of unnerving incidents the past few days.
Yesterday, on 5th Avenue around 50th Street, with sidewalks still relatively sparsely populated compared to pre-pandemic days, a thin, derelict-looking woman walking the opposite direction suddenly and, by my estimate, deliberately changed course, veering directly toward me.
Her face, locked in a serene frown, never flinched, nor did she make eye contact. I don’t know if she had seen me coming and decided to target me, but for as long as I had her in sight her eyes looked down, at the sidewalk.
I leapt to my right to avoid what would have been a certain collision, and kept walking, not looking back.
The encounter spanned all of two seconds but that was enough to communicate to me the troubled, shaken look about her. Barely clothed her half-unbuttoned shirt revealed one of her breasts when seen from the side, while her right foot had a shoe on it, the left only a sock.
It might be the closest I’ve come to touching a woman since the suddenly celibate day in late March when the pandemic made dalliances too risky. But in that instant, as she lurched toward me, I briefly welcomed the nearness, imagining how beautiful it might feel holding a woman, crazy or not, in my arms.
But such primal thoughts arise no more quickly than sanity quashes them. Her troubles looked beyond anything I could manage, and I did not want to give such a person any reason to recognize me.
Strangely enough just moments earlier I had recalled my encounter with one of the “you broke my glasses” guys several years ago. On 6th Avenue near Central Park South a very tall, burly black man deliberately walked right into me, nearly knocking me over, feigning that I had walked into him when anyone could have seen he intentionally targeted me.
In the same gesture of semi-clobbering me he threw a pair of glasses to the ground, pointed at them and yelled “You broke my glasses! How am I gonna see where I’m going?” The glasses, clearly already broken before he dropped them, scuffed and mangled far worse than possible had he genuinely just dropped them, had obviously been used many times over in this little bit of street theater.
I didn’t fall for it but did feel intimidated by an angry dud twice my size. I walked off to him shouting stuff like “I’m gonna find you again and get my money! Calling the cops on you!” I think he demanded $100, which I didn’t have on me anyway.
This was the guy, by the way: Con Artist Who Used Broken Eyeglasses in Street Scam Gets Up to 7 Years . Search on his name and you might find photos showing how big the dude is.
The other incident occurred last week, near a GasTrac station on Northern Boulevard at Newtown Road. A dude rode his skateboard right up the middle of the boulevard, oblivious to the dangers of doing so on a piece of road which regularly sees cars drive at Interstate-highway speeds.
The person on the skateboard, clearly addled on something, slammed his fist on car windows and hoods as they drove past, and hit driver-side windows when cars stopped at the red light.
He shouted stuff like “Open your fucking windows, you damn fagots. I wanna punch you in the head.”, and “Next fagot driver with his window open gets punched.”
He had a big but not-joyful smile as he taunted the drivers, repeatedly shouting “OPEN YOUR FUCKING WINDOWS, FUCKIN’ PANSIES!”
I turned away as he rode off the boulevard, toward me, and onto the sidewalk. He stepped off his skateboard and stepped within just a few feet of me. It suddenly seemed my day could quickly turn into a sea of shit.
After turning away I did not look back, but felt how close he came to me. A breeze blew the rank smell of his body odor in my direction.
Apparently losing interest in me he remounted his skateboard and rode onto the boulevard, turning his attentions back to pounding his fist on the cars driving past.
I contemplated calling 911, but feared reprisal should he witness me make the call. It would have made most sense to make a call while I still had him in sight, as he was not stationary. I chose not to, thinking later in the day maybe I should have. But then I thought, with antics so brazen as these someone else probably called.
It’s a big bad world, I know, and these are hardly the weirdest incidents of street shenanigans I’ve experienced or heard about in the past months.
Still, too-close-for-comfort physical encounters like these, with disturbed individuals especially, remind me that a perceived cocoon of personal space in a public arena can instantly and unexpectedly vanish.