This is a story all about how .. Nuh uh .. Not going to go there.
Or so you thought!
I’m kind of wary around people this week.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve just gotten a job. My boss is very nice and I generally like all my co workers. I’ve had minimal training so far, but that’s because I’ve been given fairly minimal responsibility. It’s a minimum wage job, and they know it. My manager isn’t ridiculous or stuck up about it. She doesn’t act like it’s the end of the world when mistakes are made, but she does make it a point to lead by example. I like her already.
Intentions are at the heart of how people seem to operate at this place. People intend to do things a better way. My boss goes into a task believing that she will do it to the utmost of her abilities. She fully expects that she will instill this value into her employees. Most of my co workers (as far as I’ve seen) are young, but they are decent, hard working people. It’s actually a rather refreshing change from some of the other jobs I’ve held in terms of the environment that is fostered.
But we’ve already had a couple of snafu’s in terms of understanding the intent behind certain actions. Communication errors have been made. Tempers have flared. It happens, but I personally wish it wouldn’t.
People intend to do things, and their intentions are misread. It’s an easy thing to do. Perhaps it’s too easy.
How often have you walked down the street and wondered what the person who is staring at you is thinking? How often has that same person turned out to have been staring at the person behind you? I had to learn not to wave back at strangers who appeared to be waving at me in NYC, especially when they were attractive women. I know I’m decent looking, but I should have been able to discern that I didn’t know the women in question. Still, some part of me misunderstood the intent behind the action.
That’s a relatively simple example. And in my particular case, the argument can be made that I wanted their intent to be focused on me. Perhaps that’s true. But that was just last summer. This summer, I’m sort of different about people here. I’ve settled into the swing of things here in NYC and I find that it’s actually not as likely for me to be as open with the people I meet on the street. I’ve made too many mistakes as far as the social graces are concerned. I still feel awkward around women .. It’s weird, but it’s true.
When it comes to someone you’ve not met or been in contact with, it can be extremely easy to pass a snap judgement about their intent. Perhaps the little girl with the large, blue eyes and the pig tails really is going to the park to play with her sisters. Maybe the large man with the over-sized pea coat on a summer’s day is carrying a blood stained ax or a sawed off shotgun under there.
What if the opposite were true? What if the bedraggled looking man with the long pea coat were actually carrying flowers or bread to feed the pigeons in the park? Couldn’t Pippie Long Stockings be carrying an ax behind HER back?
These are the things that make you go hmm. These are also the things that I think about because I live in New York city and I am a writer of horror among other things. If you want to twist your readers perceptions of reality, the easiest way that I can think of to do it is to lead them down one path with one set of expectations and then find the sickest way to turn those expectations on their ear. Ripping a hole through time and space is not the only way to make the sky fall, my fine feathered friends.
New Yorkers, I feel, put an interesting twist on the reading of people’s intentions. It’s widely known that New Yorkers are notorious for coming to snap judgments about someone’s intentions. It can be hairy out here when you’re surrounded by city dwellers and tourists alike, and you’re trying to keep track of your surroundings at all times. I’ve been living back here for over a year now, and I find that I move faster than I used to. I have a hard time slowing down when I need to these days, and part of the reason may lie with the mistaken notion that time is not on my side, and neither is the “average” New Yorker. It’s all too easy to fall into the pattern of believing that New Yorkers are desensitized, detached, aloof, or otherwise jaded. Sometimes it’s actually a fact that we New Yorkers wear like a badge of honor. I’m not always sure that it’s a good thing to be viewed in this way.
Yet I’ve never been a typical New Yorker when it comes to how to act on those judgments.
The reality of the human condition as far as I’ve seen is that people are generally not one way or another until a connection is somehow established. I can’t possibly know what to assume about an individual unless I somehow reach out to them and await a response. As a rule, you can’t really do this within New York City for every single person you come across. You’d never make it across the street without learning the life stories of at least thirty different people. New Yorkers are in fact dying to talk to you, but for some reason, not one of them seems to feel like time is on their side. Weekends are precious to most New Yorkers, and they WILL talk your head off at a Sports Bar or a baseball game. These are some of the venues at which a harried New Yorker might feel more at ease.
Urban men have a unique way of trying to read each other while trying not to give away their masculinity. It’s called street chicken where I’m from. We walk toward each other, give each other the narrow eyed stare, and if there’s a particular surge of testosterone, both men will puff out their chests like pit bulls and essentially dare the other one to move into their personal space bubbles. Young men are especially prone to this. For some reason, I’ve been a target for young men trying to impress their girlfriends. It never goes well for these young men, but that isn’t because I puff out my chest and threaten them or crack my knuckles. It’s usually because I smile at them and wish them a good afternoon ..
If you want to throw a young bulldog off their game, smile at them and wish them well. For some reason, it stops ‘em in their tracks every time. And in case you’re wondering, not one of them has ever called me gay. But would it matter if they did? It wouldn’t really change what I did.
I won’t lie about being born and raised here. There are moments where my paranoia shines as bright as the midnight moon. Groups of young men scare me. I was once mugged by a group of college aged men and essentially had my eyes kicked over and over again. Both lenses had to be replaced when I developed traumatic cataracts.
Needless to say, I won’t ever allow that again. But if I intend someone harm, it’s kind of hard to miss it. Fortunately, that’s never the case.
The most ironic part about all that isn’t that I came home to have the surgeries. It isn’t even that I’d just had my second surgery and could see the twin towers when they were struck by two airplanes on that fateful September 11th.
I was born and raised in New York City and lived here for seventeen years before I went away to college. I got mugged in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Intentions are a dicey subject for most city folk when it comes to strangers, but I would like to believe that in a world replete with xenophobia and ignorance that I could take a step back and at least attempt to meet someone halfway. I would like to believe that I don’t profile, that I do not misjudge others.
But that would be arrogant presumption.
The truth, as far as I know, is that we all HAVE to make snap judgments about so many things in our daily lives. If we could not do that, we would forever second guess ourselves into inaction.
So where do we make the distinction between normal interaction and egregious errors in judgment. Maybe we could ask Rodney King what he thought of that notion when cops were kicking his ass on camera. Perhaps we can ask the cops on the street how long they’ve got to decide whether or not the person in the dark is holding a real gun or a toy? Would it be possible to ask the three thousand or so people who were killed that day in the Twin Towers?
Or maybe you’d like to speak to the last owners of the middle eastern business down the street from me. They had their lives threatened by several New Yorkers before they closed down.
I’d like to pose several questions to the readers of this blog. Where do you see yourself in that spectrum of reading intent? How good ARE you at reading others and their intentions? Are you easily misled, or do you have an eagle eye and a pair of ears to match? Should we be trying so hard to read each other correctly? All comments are welcome!