Friday, August 24, 2007

Catching More Flies With Honey

I've got three stories about why New York is a place that continues to surprise and amaze me.

Months ago now, I don't know why I haven't told you this yet, I was walking down Third Avenue away from work and I noticed a very large, perhaps even morbidly obese, man jaywalking across the avenue. He was using two canes and had his satchel hanging around his neck since he didn't have either arm free. It looked heavy. The light was with him but it was changing and anyone could tell he wasn't going to make it before traffic caught up with him. I noticed a police officer walking toward him. In Bloomberg's New York we have had crackdowns on a number of nearly forgotten laws, like jaywalking. A local actor was killed jaywalking a couple of years ago so it seemed, to some extent, to be a wise idea. Still, this poor man couldn't be expected to go even a few feet out of his way, I was already skeptical of his ability to reach the curb without a rest and this policeman was going to ticket him for jaywalking? That just seemed shameful. Then I saw the policeman raise his hands. He stopped the oncoming traffic so the older gentleman could finish crossing safely. Protect and serve, yes indeed.

This morning I was grocery shopping at a local chain on the Upper West Side. It's a family area and it's a popular store. When I got to the deli counter it was 3 people deep like a Williamsburg bar on a Saturday night. I dutifully took my number and moved out of the way to the opposite side of the aisle until they got closer to it. There was an older lady being served. She was number 77, I think, and she had a number of items to buy but that didn't stop her from helping to direct other customers in the proper etiquette of the deli counter. When she was finished she waded out of the group with her cart and came, quite literally, face to face with me. She looked up at me and I braced for being told off. I couldn't move back any farther, my back was already making spine imprints on a display of pita bread. She said, quite directly, "What number are you?" I told her, "91." She reached into her pocket and I began to rifle through everything my mother ever taught me to find something, anything, about how to politely decline a lint-encrusted peppermint from 1973 meant to occupy my lengthy wait. Instead she pulled from that pocket a small, pink, arrow-shaped piece of paper. We both looked down to see what number was printed on it. 82. She smiled mischieviously and pressed it into my hand. I was next and I was out of that deli crowd in 5 minutes.

Later this afternoon Teddy's Girl and I were headed home from Bittersweet with the creamy taste of ice cream still on our tongues. As we approached the corner near Who's Your Doggy we heard a man across the street shout and fall to the ground. the neighborhood is home to a few men of a similar age to this man who have schizophrenia or Tourette's or other disorders that cause shouting and odd movements. I assumed he was one of those. Teddy's Girl, always more appropriately interactive than I, picked up our pace a bit to see the man fully. He was seizing on the ground having fallen straight down on his face. I followed her across the street and took Teddy as she approached the man. The delivery men at Who's Your Doggy were close on our heels, a crisply dressed gentleman of about our age was already on his phone to 911. Everyone had advice, "Don't move him!" "Roll him over!" "No!!" A man from a work site down the block came running up, he knew the injured man and he just screamed "CALL 911! SOMEBODY CALL 911!" We assured him it was being done. The man calling 911 offered tissues, another woman passing by pulled a towel from her gym bag, the friend laid the man's head on his hat. Only Teddy's Girl was touching the man, though. She soothed him with gentle hands on his back, she gently rotated his head when he began to aspirate the blood from his clearly broken nose and scraped face, she tried to wipe some of the blood off so he could breathe and she reached into his pocket to find his phone and see if it indicated a family member to call in an emergency. The 911 guy got cut off. The injured man woke up, he panicked and he began to fight. A delivery man tried to hold him down. His friend kept telling him to stay down but refusing to touch him and telling us he was going to fight. Teddy's Girl spoke calmly to him, telling him that help was on the way. He couldn't hear or understand and he bagan to run away with his friend and the delivery man in pursuit. 911 Guy got 911 back and was able to use the phrase, "fleeing the scene." Here's a tip, if you're ever having trouble getting help at the scene of an accident use that phrase because a car full of burly plain clothes cops like an alternative cast of The Shield arrive in moments. The man had returned somehow and they helped corral him and were able to keep him down long enough for him to understand what was going on and that help was on the way. Then they immediately began passing around the hand sanitizer. Teddy's Girl asked for some and got a modest amount. As the paramedics arrived and the policemen clearly had things under control the crowd began to disperse. I stayed there with the dogs so Teddy's Girl could go inside to Who's Your Doggy and clean herself up. Before we left we were able to reinforce for the paramedics that the man had definitely had a seizure. He was denying it since he didn't remember anything, which seems unsurprising, why would someone remember anything that happened while they were unexpectedly unconscious. We walked off and, I'm sure, soon after the ambulance drove off with the man on a stretcher.

At the height of the encounter a woman walked through with her dry cleaning. Straight through, staring at the man who sat on the steps covered in blood, oblivious to the policemen with burly kevlar-clad chests and badges ablaze, seemingly unaware that she might be interfering with the paramedic trying to speak to the injured man. 911 Guy had to warn her off of stepping right into the pool of blood on the sidewalk.

So, sure, more than likely in another town or city you aren't going to see something like this much less be a participant in the drama. Here's the thing, though, what if it were you? What if you were walking down a rural road with a pastoral scene of afternoon sunshine ahead and you had a seizure, likely the first one of your whole life? Who would see you? More importantly, who would help you?

It's no surprise to anyone who reads here that I love New York. I have more to say about some FDNY issues that I've been thinking about all week so I am, admittedly, more open to the I Love New York moments this week but it's days like these where I can understand why it might not be your cup of tea but how can you not admire what it is, warts and all?

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