Urban Brawl

If I tell you that something strange happened to me on the way to work, you might assume that the incident occurred this morning. However, I am not, nor have I ever been, a morning person. I bring this up because what I walked into on my way to work today is not the kind of thing that happens in mornings. Men are passive in the morning; the streets of New York are quiet in the morning.

As I descended into my station at 157th Street to head downtown, I began hearing loud voices. A man and a woman were arguing. Were they a couple? I do not know. In New York it's not uncommon to see couples arguing in the streets, parks, and subways. After all, apartments are small and many people, particularly young people, live with roommates. When these factors unite, couples are forced to work out their disagreements before a portion of the city's 8 million people. And we permit this behavior, because we are urbanites and this is mainly an urban phenomenon. You might see it in the suburbs, but it certainly is not acceptable behavior there. I don't want to give you the illusion that what I witnessed was acceptable, I'm just saying that it is less surprising to see.

I walked deeper into the station and approached these two characters. They were screaming at each other; they were incomprehensible.

As I came nearer, it became clear to me that in order to get to the turnstiles, I would need to pass between them. The screaming continued, and the anger settled into the station. By now, people are looking at one another, it's become one of those common moments in the city that brings strangers together.

At the very moment I began walking between them, the woman picked up a folding chair she was carrying in her cart and raised it into the air. Being the cool New Yorker that I am, I didn't change my walking pace, I simply passed between them and they continued on, chair in the air. I was invisible. I don't know what happened; I didn't look back. I looked at the token clerk and she looked at me from within her fortified bubble with curiosity in her eyes—the fight was out of her eyesight but well within earshot.

I wondered after I passed through the turnstile whether I should have alerted the clerk that chairs could start flying, like some Jerry Springer milieu. Let nature take its course, I thought—a reaction that is also a product of from living in an urban setting, constantly bombarded with people's drama.