Commuters in Lower Manhattan, 1973.
Urban life is full of glorious opportunities to hear people talking to themselves. I don’t mean mentally ill people; it doesn’t delight me to see somebody visibly ill. No, what I mean is the triumph of unself-consciousness that you can regularly witness on the streets, where all of us reliably utter short, throwaway remarks to no one in particular. We don’t do this for others’ benefit, but when someone else overhears such a remark, everything comes together and harmonizes and, for all the world, it’s as if life has a narrator. E.g.:
A man walked out onto the street on a beautiful spring day. He inhaled deeply, closed his eyes, and said, “That’s right.” It was.
Soon after, I was standing at a party with a couple of friends. A woman whom none of us knew rushed past and shouted into the ether, with a British accent, “Where’s Mr. Fink?”
It was too wonderful; there was nothing to say. We were all just glad to have been alive in that moment.
But the third was the best. It took place in the arrivals area of JFK, after passport control but before customs. There, on the floor, was a puddle of coffee. Looming over the spill was one of those yellow, A-frame, CAUTION! WET FLOOR signs. There was no one in sight. One might have lived off the wonder of this alone for a good week. But just then a German man walked by and said, “Slippery when wet!” without breaking stride.
I had noticed him earlier, because he was wearing a T-shirt that said, FUCK IT, LET’S GO TO NEW YORK.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.
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