Careful introspection and investigation over the past week have led me to the following conclusion: If a nuclear holocaust occured and the world’s last remaining man and woman were residing in New York, the human race would be totally and utterly fucked.
Not because the guy would inherently be a giant foreheaded mongoloid travesty of a human being (he lives in New York, see last week), and not because she’d spurn the advances of her hunchbacked, knuckle scraping suitor. No, it would be because they would never ever lay eyes on each other.
At some point during the development of this city, eye contact became an offense punishable by death, castration and dirty looks. I’ve come to realize that I haven’t looked someone squarely in the eye since 1998, which happens to be the year I moved here.
Truthfully, I couldn’t tell you the eye color of most of my closest friends, I’m not even sure if they have eyes, let alone heads. I spend the majority of my day staring at either the pavement, or this, my computer screen. I would be about 300% more effective at recognizing people if I were given a line up of shoes. I know the difference between Prada shoes and Jimmy Choo’s, why on God’s green earth would I have any reason or want to know the difference between Prada shoes and Jimmy Choo’s? Because people in New York exist from the waist down only to most of us.
I remember, long ago, when my Mom would tuck me in at night, in my dorm, senior year, and she would regale me with stories of olden times. Apparently, back then, it was actually more offensive not to look someone in the eye, even when you talked to them. I had nightmares of unblinking pedestrians watching my every move and of them actually talking to me. This magical place was called, “Anywhere But New York.”
All of this rumination, self searching and pillow biting came to a head this morning, in the place where it usually does, the subway, on my morning commute. I wondered to myself, “Why are we New Yorkers deathly afraid of eye contact? What’s so bad about looking at someone and maybe smiling?”
Well apparently there is A GREAT DEAL that’s bad about looking someone in the eyes and smiling.
I decided to do a little experiment. One subway car, three subjects, one catalyst and eight eyeballs. I decided to toss all urban convention out the window and just give three random people the big old funky stink eye until I got a reaction, a smile, or we were magically transported to Pennsylvania Dutch country and we built a barn together, drank some mead and laughed at them city folks.
The first person was actually sort of a no-show. He was a mid thirties Latino guy who was sitting down right in front of me. He was staring straight ahead, with this sort of Krispy Kreme glazed look in his eyes. Like he was half asleep or concentrating on the biggest shit he’d ever taken. Fortunately for me, I was right in front of him, and his chosen zone-out field of view was either my chest or my crotch. For scientific purposes, let’s assume it was my crotch.
I stared at that motherfucker for about ten minutes straight. His eyes didn’t blink once. There’s some sort of joke to be made about genetalia and staring contests but I just can’t string it together. After I started shifting my feet a little to get him to notice me, we finally made eye contact for a brief second. Then he closed his eyes and went to sleep. Dissappointing to say the least.
The second subject was a little more lively. She was the cutest girl on the train, which, by J line standards, meant that she had almost a full 80% of her original teeth. She was standing a few feet away from me, leaning against a door. Her eyes flitted around the car like two bee’s humping on mescaline. She was going to be a winner, I could tell.
I locked in on her eyes and just waited until eventually they would come back and see me staring. They did, and she stared right back at me. I would say the moment was magic if she hadn’t instantly looked away. But I kept on staring. I wanted a smile, damnit! I’m charming, right? Why can’t I get a smile?
Well apparently what I think looks charming in the mirror looks like a pedophile to other people, because when her caffeine addled eyes made their way back to me and found me still staring, she launched into the most furious head wagging and non-verbal, “Oh NO YOU DIDN’T,” that I have ever seen. She looked me up and down, like she was choosing what part of me to take off first with her (I’m assuming, because I couldn’t see them) retracted canines.
I held her icy gaze until she spoke outloud, not giving me the “Good Morning, how are you today?” that I was hoping for, and instead got a, “What the fuck are you looking at?” I acted fast by pretending to have been half asleep and startled by her accusation. Thankfully, my stop had come and I ran out the door, saved by the bell. I can’t be sure but I think I heard, “Yeah, you had better run, bitch!”
It took me a little while to build up the nerve to continue the experiment, but by the time I did, I was speeding towards the meatpacking district. The new car, equally crowded, afforded me many chances, and I decided on a middle aged gentleman in a grey suit and dapper yellow tie. He had salt and pepper hair and seemed very clean cut. Surely, I would get the civilized niceties I was after.
For the final time I locked in on his otherwise occupied baby-blues and waited for him to notice me. I had a slight grin on my face, in hopes of urging him in the direction of a greeting. When he finally did notice me, he instantly smiled! I had found my link to polite society on the F train!
Or so I thought.
His smile turned crooked pretty quick and he went from offering me a “Hello,” to looking me up and down like a piece of meat kept-boy back-up-dancer. Once I realized what was going on I politely retracted my gaze and stared back at the amazingly interesting floor of the subway car.
New York is full of drugged up catatonics, semi-toothed violent females and horny, gay elder statesmen, with a margin of error of 50%.
Seriously though, when’s the last time you looked a stranger in the eye and told them Good Morning? I think the only reason people were as nice as they were during the blackout last summer was because IT WAS FUCKING DARK and they didn’t have to see anyone’s face.
I’ve made my attempt, this city just isn’t ready to be heads up and nice. I mean, if someone had done to me what I did this morning, hell I’d probably be complaining about the crazy guy who was staring at me all morning on the train to you people.