October 26, 2005.
New York Press.
Sometimes, I've got to saY,, I'm actually impressed by the audacity and presumption certain people exhibit in certain situations. I knew a sociopath once who simply did whatever came into his mind whenever he wanted, and always got away with it. That impressed me. There was an old bum who'd staked out my neighborhood in Minneapolis-looked just like Karl Marx, he did-who only asked me for change when I was carrying something big, heavy and unwieldy. I was so impressed that he had the sheer balls to do that that I'd always set down what I was carrying and give him something. By the same token, I didn't stop for the bum who tried to get my attention last week by yelling "Hey, blind man!" as I passed. It made me smile, but I didn't stop.
There's another kind of audacity out there that I have no patience for, despite the fair innocence of its motivation.
I was standing on the corner of 23rd and 6th early Tuesday morning waiting for the light to change. The sun was still an hour away. A man with a hose was spraying down the sidewalk somewhere behind me. I'd just finished lighting my cigarette when the light changed, the traffic began to move, and I stepped off the curb. That's when the man standing next to me grabbed my arm.
"Okay, here we go," he said, as he began dragging me across the street.
I hadn't been expecting that.
It was the cane that did it. It's always the cane. This guy had said nothing to me before grabbing my arm. Not a "Hello," not a "Do you need help?"-I didn't even know he was standing there-but he saw the cane and made a big assumption.
We'd only gone two or three steps when I dug in my heels and raised my hand, which still held the cigarette. "Whoa there," I snapped. "Let go of the arm, please."
He dropped it abruptly without another word and fell back. I half-expected him to sock me in the back of the head or give me a shove, but nothing more happened. Nevertheless, I immediately felt bad about my reaction, so over my shoulder I added a feeble ".but thanks." It was too late, and I doubt he even heard me.
It had happened before, certainly. Plenty of times. Strangers will grab my arm with no warning and start dragging me here and there. And I've snapped at them in the past, too, and always felt bad afterwards. I realize that most of them-probably 93 percent of them at least-have only the best intentions in mind. They've just come to believe that helping a crip across the street would count as their good deed for the day. And there's nothing wrong with that, so long as they'd learn to ask before they get all grabby. It can be pretty startling otherwise.
First time such a thing happened, I'd been doing just fine. I was pretty drunk, but still I'd made it all the way back from Manhattan and was only a block away from my apartment. Again, I was waiting to cross the street when some old guy (I think he was drunk, too) came up behind me, grabbed my arm, and yanked me out into the road. "Let.go," I hissed, half-raising the cane instinctively as if to swing it at his gray skull. Then I added, "please." Again, he dropped the arm abruptly and stomped off down the street without a word. I felt bad about that, too. I mean, I don't want to be a bastard-but considering the circumstances, it should be clear why this sort of thing bugs me. A stranger grabs you in the darkness and starts dragging you somewhere? What the hell's that?
So that Tuesday morning I continued across the street and down the sidewalk, mulling over what had just happened. Had that guy tried to help one of the residents of the Associated Blind without asking, Christ, they'd probably call the cops on him. Or put out a hit on him, one of the two. I've offered to help some of those residents in the past, and even with that, man oh man. Comparatively, I think my own reaction was fairly mild. But still I felt bad. And I felt bad up until the corner of W. 27th St, when things turned tricky. Not miserably tricky, but tricky enough.
Across the street from where I stood, a construction site of some sort was blocking off the sidewalk, forcing me (and everyone else) to walk along the curb. It had been that way for a few weeks, and though I'd worked it into the map I carried in my head, it still required some concentration every morning.
As I began crossing the street, I angled for the corner to avoid the sawhorses and the orange plastic netting I knew were there. But as the tip of the cane found the curb, a voice to my right said "Oh here-I'll help you-" Then he grabbed my arm and began pulling. At least I had a brief warning this time.
'No, really," I said, much more calmly than before, but still trying to tug my arm away. "I'll be okay. Really. But thanks for the offer."
If I need help, well by gum I'll ask for it. Morgan, thank god, seems to sense when I need help even before I do, but if she's not around, I'll turn to strangers. I have in the past (if reluctantly) and I'm sure I will in the future. But if it looks like I know where I'm going, chances are good that I do. And in cases like that, being grabbed uexpectedly can really throw off my bearings. It's not an issue of being one of those damned showboating types. More than anything it's an issue of courtesy.
Like the first man, the man by the construction site dropped my arm and backed away, and I continued tapping down the curb, feeling for the dip in the concrete. The dip let me know I only had another ten feet to go before getting back on the sidewalk. If I moved too early, I'd end up in the construction site; too late and I'd hit the truck that was always parked there. And I needed to make my move in time to dodge between the fire hydrant and the newsstand. It was always pretty tense, but after that I'd be home free.
I'd just hit the dip and was getting ready for the turn when a third hand grabbed me, yanking me to a stop.
"Here," the man began, "I'll-"
Three times during one leg of a trip had to be some kind of record. For me, anyway.
"It's okay," I said, gently raising a hand, more amazed by the grabby hat trick than anything else. "I know the way. But thanks."
"Well then, you'd better turn now," he said, "You're about to hit the car that's parked there."
I froze, and stretched the cane out in front of me. I felt it rap against the low bumper just a few inches from my knees. Sure enough, he was right.
When I stepped on the curb, I found the end of the construction site had been moved several yards back from where it had been a day earlier. I'd been completely discombobulated.
"Oh," I said, turning back to the third man who'd grabbed me that morning. "Thank you."
In the end, all things considered, I guess I'd rather have too much trouble with people trying to help me than with people, say, taking swings or shooting at me. Sometimes they do some good.
Source URL: http://www.nypress.com/18/43/news&columns/knipfel.cfm.
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