I’m really very big on social experiments. Krazy glued quarters, electrocuted pacifiers, the whole deal. I’ve been known to stand on street corners and look straight up until I’ve gathered a crowd around me looking for some phantom jumper. Maybe it’s an insatiable curiousity with the workings of the human mind that made me want to commute all the way home last night without bending my knees once.
Actually, it was guilt, and as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself. Yesterday, Thursday, I excused myself from the office to head over to my local Citibank branch office to handle some rather painful student loan issues. As in the people who loaned me money take issue in the fact that I don’t have any to pay them back.
In making my way to the always emasculating experience I hopped on what is the closest real world metaphor for dysfunctionality, the 14th Street crosstown bus.
I say dysfunctionality because I can walk from 9th Avenue to 1st Avenue faster than the time it takes to load that double sectioned tin can of stupidity. The only reason I don’t is because I am a lazy, lazy person. Additionally, for some reason, in my mind, an avenue is equal to a mile. I’ll walk twenty blocks up one avenue, but if I have to go cross town two avenues and down one block, fuck it, I’m taking a cab.
So there I was, loading up on the corner of 9th and 14th, and it was taking a looooong time. I’d forgotten my iPod, so I was only accompanied by the sounds of what appeared to be a tuberculitic Korean War Veteran behind me and that goddamn air conditioner that always seems to be on full blast, even when it’s 30 degrees out. Then, I heard the hum of the wheelchair elevator.
For anyone who’s ever ridden a New York City bus, you’ll be very familiar with the feelings that I experienced. At first, you notice the hum, realize that it’s going to take an hour for that thing go down, load up, and then come back, re deploy and turn back into stairs. Maybe you look at your watch, you’re late, you wonder why you took the bus, you’d probably be there already if you had walked, then you feel it. At first it’s like a tiny little tugging feeling in the back of your head, like a tiny mouse in your brain with piece of sandpaper, a mental itch.
Resentment. That’s right, you just resented a handicapped person. You despicable person, you. For a brief second you’re thinking, “Why can’t they take a special bus?” or “Why my bus? Pilates starts in like fifteen minutes.”
I actually resented this handicapped person for getting on my bus, the very bus that a second ago I was questioning it’s usefulness.
And then just like that, my feelings of resentment were gone, washed over with a clean sheet of guilt. I had gone flush, I felt like my anger had been visible, like I’d been a real ass hole.
Eventually I made it to my appointment and handled what needed to be handled; blood and sperm were sold, first born naming rights given up, the usual. I went back to work and finished up the day, with the itchy mouse on my brain now bearing the flag of guilt.
Around 6pm I came up with the experiment. Whether it was an infantile way for me to deal with my guilt, or an actual experiment I wont know. However, I decided to try and make it home without bending my knees, not once.
Well, I actually decided to start once I got downstairs from my office. Working on a fourth floor walk up is pretty intense, even if you’ve got the use of your legs. From the door of my office building to the door of my apartment building, I was going to walk like a stick man.
Let me tell you, the first thing you get over are the looks. Since I didn’t have any crutches, and was just walking down the sidewalk like a siezed up metrosexual zombie, I got a lot of looks. You get over the fact that people smirk when they see you, or instantly start wondering if it’s just your legs that are broken, or if you’ve got that slack jawed, glazed look that warrants the pity reserved for the mentally handicapped. You get over that pretty quickly.
What you don’t get over, and pardon the horrible play on words, are stairs. If you can’t bend both of your knees, there’s pretty much no way you’re going to make it down into the subway. When I got to the 14th Street A,C,E station, instead of misusing the elevator, I hobbled down the stairs by bending one knee and hop scotching along.
I’m not sure if it would have been more humorous or offensive to someone watching if they knew what was going on. It was extremly difficult and more than a little cathartic for me.
The most memmorable moment of this little hike in the knee braces of someone else was while I walked down the platform at West 4th Street. Due to excessive contruction, much of the middle of the platform is covered up by painted blue ply-wood. As I wobbled back and forth through the sliver of open concrete, I crunched shoulders with a passer by and started to get a verbal reprisal.
“Hey! Watch where you’re going, motherf-”
Right around when he was about to compare me to Shaft, he must have seen me fumbling stiff-leggedly away from him. I didn’t get the look in his eyes, but I’m sure it was very similar to the one I’d had earlier on the bus.
By the time I made it home, my knees were aching. Keeping them locked almost non-stop for 45 minutes is a pretty painful task. Kind of like doing a kegel through an entire episode of Seinfeld. My conscience, however, was amazingly clear.
I’m starting to think that at some point in my childhood I fell asleep during a Lone Ranger episode and then the tape broke. I was then continually hammered with that whole walk a mile in someone else’s moccasins line. It’s always been my way of handling my differences with people, and I wholly endorse the method.
Although, perhaps you might want to take a more figurative approach to trying on someone elses shoes, I’m thinking anyone who recognizes me as the cripple from Thursday and sees me skipping along today might start to think I’m crazy. While they may be right, I most certainly have a new found respect for those who trial daily with the simplest of human locomotion, and I’m going to avoid the bus like the plague from now on.