Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Back Off, Honey

I've noticed that part of my evolution in dealing with New York has a lot to do with my relationship with space. That is to say, getting used to having a lot less of it. I'm not just talking about living in shoe-boxes (though I readily admit I'm better off than a lot in NYC), but just dealing with the way people take up space out and about. On the train. Walking on the street. Standing in elevators. Standing in line. I realized recently that I had begun slouching in a way I never had before (causing myself all kinds of spinal trouble, or at least exaserbating previous problems), largely in response to sitting on the subway, trying to make myself as small and unassuming as possible. I've begun responding to that, figuring out how to sit up properly, while still not taking up two/three seats as so many people in this city are fond of doing.

But I'm just coming to accept that there are different expectations when it comes to personal space. I think it's culturally based to some extent as well. It took me several months of riding on the subway before I realized that other people (even guys) wouldn't get violent if my leg happened to brush against theirs. Growing up in the Midwest, there was never any need to touch a stranger, so if you did, it was noteworthy, and risky.

Even by New York standards though, I think my neighborhood may be exceptionally cozy. It's mostly Dominican, but generally Hispanic, and I've just come to accept that when people stand close to me, they're not being disrespectful or pushy. I noticed it first with children, how they would walk past me intruding on what I considered my personal sphere far too much, but I've come to see it happening with people of all ages, and both genders. Today I was standing in line at my local grocery and I kept getting whiffs of cilantro (mmm) because the woman behind me in line kept brushing a bunch of it against my ass. I don't think anything hostile was involved. That's just where she was standing.

There are still adjustments to be made on my part; I realize I'm often breathing rather shallowing (thus raising my stress levels) when I'm in close proximity to strangers. I still don't LIKE it very much, truth be told. I haven't been rehearsing or taking dance classes which used to be good ways for me to be in open spaces on a regular basis. But I've also crossed over to the NYC mode enough to get really annoyed, I mean REALLY, when I'm in the Times Square region, dealing with groups of tourists standing around in large bovine clumps, NOT GETTING OUT OF MY WAY. It's really quite striking, they just don't seem to realize they're blocking traffic as effectively as if they had parked an SUV in the middle of the sidewalk. There they are gawking at the sights, or their map, or whatever, and I just can't get around them. When they make me miss a light, whoo boy, do I get grumpy. I usually snap out of it (it was a WALK sign for god's sake, I can wait for 60 seconds for it to change again), but sometimes it can get close. I don't really see this as progress necessarily. I'd rather not turn into a cranky local bitching about all them furriners and the bridge and tunnel crowd gumming up the place. But it seems like something is shifting in my world.

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