Imperfect Strangers

by

09/07/2009

60 Wall Street, New York, NY 10005

Neighborhood: Lower Manhattan

There’s a low of five degrees today, and a woman gets off the 2 train with no hat, gloves, or scarf. An older man offers her some space under his umbrella, and she graciously accepts.

I walk ahead of them, keeping my eyes down and forward to keep from slipping. Having underestimated the snow, I left my boots at home and am wearing sturdy slip-ons whose color reminds me of dry fall leaves.

The man asks the woman why she isn’t more bundled up. She says she wasn’t prepared for how cold it would be, much less snow. That makes many of us this morning. We were waiting for night when we’d be out of work, at home or some other place warm and pilled as an old sweater.

“But I’m from Canada,” the woman relates. “I’m used to this.” The man reckons she is. They stand close together under the umbrella. He towers over her protectively.

The kindness of strangers often has designs. I’ve had men offer to help me carry heavy boxes from the subway to the street and then ask for some money. Or fawn as they give me directions or make room for me on a bus, concluding the exchange with offers of a date or requests for my phone number. I’ve purposely misplaced a number of business cards.

In college, I found a guy’s wallet once. There’s wasn’t much in it, but I gleaned plenty of information. His student ID had a small photo, but I couldn’t determine whether he was handsome or not. I was attracted, however, to the schedule of classes he’d registered for recently, printed, and folded into a neat square, sharper than the one with his picture. Engineering, Japanese, Government. The courses suggested someone with abilities I don’t have who likes to challenge himself.

I looked him up in the school directory and sent an email. He replied immediately. I told him he could catch me between classes later at my dorm, which had the convenience of having the school’s nicest cafeteria on-site. I mention this not because I considered lunch at Kinsolving to be a classy date, but a meal together could be an option if he was dreamy and whether or not I was hungry.

When we met, I saw how much of a nerd he was and how much of a nerd I am on paper. Maybe he was really inspiring and brilliant, but he just wasn’t my type, which was then something like indie-looking boy-bander. He seemed kind of interested in me, but I said something like, “You’re welcome. I’ve gotta study now. Bye.”

It would’ve been a sweet way to start something, though.

That’s why I slow my pace to eavesdrop and root for the man with the umbrella. The woman talks about the forecast. “Partly cloudy with a 30% chance of a phone number,” I think.

She indicates her destination is near, so the man turns in the right place. “Would you like me to walk you to class, too?” he jokes. She laughs and thanks him outside the office building. He wishes her a good day and smiles. His stomach crawls into his throat.

The man takes two quick steps to cross the street and turns back. “Hey, do you wanna have lunch today?” he calls out. I wonder if other people on the sidewalk think they knew each other and are unaware how bold he is.

The woman is holding the door by now; it’s heavy in her shivering hands. “No, thanks!” she answers. She walks in the building and doesn’t look back.

My heart falls a little, as I imagine his does. But it is nothing compared to the snow around us, a bunch of strangers who every now and then try not to be.

 

Amanda Green lives in Manhattan on the north side of Central Park. Her writing has appeared in New York Press, The Guardian, and The New York Times City Room blog. She writes about her misadventures in the city at www.noisiestpassenger.com.

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