Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hiding Out

I've been hiding the past couple of days. After all that talk of refusing to hide in my apartment upon my return to New York, here I am hiding nearly all weekend.

I find myself simultaneously understimulated and overstimulated in New York. When I do leave my apartment, I feel that it needs to be for a big adventure or, at least, a big all-night-long party - that simply going to the gym and the grocery store and Madison Square Park just isn't enough. I spend days speaking to no one, neither in person nor on the phone, and then when I do find someone to talk to or someone who insists on talking to me, it's all just too much.

After a late night with Michelle on Friday night, I spent most of Saturday hiding in my apartment until I could drag myself to the Meatpacking District to catch a lazy sunset on The High Line. Once extracted from my apartment, I didn't want to go back, so I wandered into Rodeo Bar for a snack and a quick happy hour drink. One seat available at the bar, mine. I noticed a man to my left with wild gray hair, refusing a fork and pulling out a set of chopsticks, which he drummed on the bar erratically, perhaps drunkenly, but still, professionally. I imagined him an aging East Village rocker who'd wandered too far uptown and stopped in to get his bearings. I watched him out of the corner of my left eye.

His order arrived - a small plate of extra-crispy onion rings - and the bartender asked if he wanted hot sauce. "You got Grey Poupon?" he asked and, surprisingly, they did.

At first, he used his chopsticks to pick up the onion rings, both large and small, which seemed terribly genteel for a place that encourages you to throw your peanut shells on the floor. Then the chopsticks were dipped in a highball glass, swirled feverishly, jettisoning ice cubes out and all over the bar. Chopsticks down, hands start working. Fingers tear apart onion rings, peel the battered coating off, dip in mustard, throw in air, pick back up. When plate is empty, forefinger and middle finger scoop up the remaining mustard, to be licked off between mutterances.

My eyes wide, spying and hoping to remain unnoticed, I tapped out a text message and sent it to Twitter. In the back of my mind, I was thinking it could serve as evidence if something terrible were to happen. I was terrified he'd been watching me too.

When the bartender refilled his drink, my eyes grew even wider and more worried. His first drink a sangria, there were still wine-soaked pieces of fruit in an otherwise empty glass when a new red wine arrived. He mixed them together in one glass and then transferred to another, sloshing the mixed drink back and forth, angrily. He was still muttering, but I couldn't quite make out the words: a few f-bombs, all accusatory, an attack.

The bartender came back over and asked if she could get him anything else, and his demeanor switched. His hands stopped shaking. His gestures were ginger and once again genteel. He did not growl when he said, "No thank you, miss, just the check."

My God, what was I sitting next to?

I kept my eyes focused on my own drink, on my own phone, purse, person, waiting for him to find a reason to turn on me. I thought I was safe when the bartender ran his credit card and gave him the slip to sign, but he didn't sign it right away. He examined the yellow carbon copy carefully, closely, holding a votive candle up to it. He threw that receipt down and picked up the black and white one. The bartender was ringing someone else's order up when the man to my left, with his gray hair and his bony hands, hoisted the Bic pen like the chopstick before it, and smacked it into the votive as though crashing into a cymbal, sending the candle across the bar and wax flying into the air and onto the bartender.

I didn't think my eyes could get any wider.

The bartender turned around, her tattooed sleeves bulging, and she picked up the candle. She started to ask what had happened, and then she saw my face. She looked at my neighbor at the bar and said, "Did you just throw this at me?"

"Why no, miss, I would never do that. Why would you think that?"

She looked at me. "He just threw this at me, didn't he?"

I blinked my eyes in affirmation.

"You threw this at me!"

He was protesting desperately now, pleading his innocence. "I didn't do it! Why would you believe her? She's obviously got something against me!"

I sank into my seat like a victim on the witness stand, scared of what might happen if I told the truth, scared of what might happen if I didn't. I offered no explanation, only the slightest nod when the bartender would ask me again if he threw it.

Of course, whether he was drunk or high or crazy or lonely or deranged, this guy went totally ballistic. He started saying that he was a Christian monk and offering the bartender and her manager religious literature. His flailing arms were getting closer and closer to me as I inched towards the couple on my right. He told the bartender that she had gotten sucked into my "game," and that he didn't understand why she had gone along with my "program."

After a lengthy debate as to whether or not he would sign the bill and what he would or would not pay for, he finally retreated. As he walked away, I spotted his gray, flannel, belted tunic - a bit more peasant than monk. I wondered if religion had driven him crazy or just kept him that way. I wondered when the crazies in New York stopped being entertaining and started being really terrifying, in a city where anything can and does happen, where your problems are no worse than others' and nobody hears you scream over the sirens, traffic, and bar chatter.

He left and did not return, and I tried to console myself with another drink. I was worried to go home alone, even to walk the two blocks around the corner, past the waiters at Mexico Lindo who always wave at my comings and goings. The fear that has been keeping me inside my apartment was now keeping me out of it.

After a minor scuffle with another drunken patron, I eventually did leave, saying goodbye to the bouncer who'd come to my rescue, and walking home alone. I spent all day locked in my apartment Sunday until embarking on another late night, and then hiding again yesterday and today.

Will I be able to leave and go do something tomorrow? Will I talk to anyone? If I do, will I be able to handle it?

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