Regulars

by Alice Bradley

To see Jennifer Dalton's Point piece, click here.

Ms. Dalton's translation of her fellow New Yorkers overlooking the black paint on her face as a "betrayal" illuminates her fundamental misunderstanding of the New York mentality. A betrayal? Dear Jennifer, that's part of the implicit pact that each New Yorker makes to each other—we swear, as we look past strangers wearing ear muffs in August and flapping their arms, to pretend that we are completely alone. We respect the bubble of privacy that surrounds each of us. Those people looking at you? They were looking off to the side, my dear, and pretending that they saw nothing. Maybe you were observing some holy day of your own peculiar religion, they probably thought. Perhaps you had a wacky flair with mascara. Who are they to intrude? They were struggling to uphold their solemn oath. They were keeping the faith.

Last night, on the F train on the way home, I found myself sitting next to a small puddle of something mysterious. I stared at it, wondering what could make that kind of pinkish-gray color, as it swished about and pooled in the center of the seat. I inched away and started to read. A man wearing thick glasses and what looked like liederhosen promptly sat in it, and I instinctively exclaimed, "Oh, you shouldn't have done that." He stared at me. "There was a...a...liquid," I went on. He continued to stare. "You're sitting in some kind of sauce!" I exclaimed. He grimaced and began to read his NY Times. Humbled, I scurried away, feeling the silent disapproval of the other passengers. Had I helped him? I asked myself. At that point, what was he going to do? Thank me for pointing out his idiocy? Get up, revealing his soaked trousers to the general (albeit uncaring) public? Wipe the seat of his pants with his paper and try to regain some of his lost dignity?

As for the culture's mistrust of "lay counsel," as you put it, there are two good reasons for that: 1) If someone's doing something misguided or self-destructive, they probably know it and don't want anyone else to rub it in, and 2) most people are stupid or crazy, so who's going to listen to them? I know this sounds insensitive, but do you really think that if you said to your waitress friend who was engaged in the doomed illicit affair, "Hey, you know, that's a bad idea," she would have said, "Good Lord, you're right! I never thought of that!" She knew exactly what she was doing, and you even spelled out her motivation—she hated her job. She wanted to get fired.

There's a scene in A PASSAGE TO INDIA in which Alec Guinness, playing a curiously goofy Indian wise-something-or-other, rolls his eyes at a British guy's attempt to help another Indian. The British guy with the mustache who's in all the Merchant Ivory films is indignant. "We've got to do something!" what's-his-name says. "You can do what you like," Alec Guinness replies. "But the outcome will be the same." At the time I wanted to leap through the screen and wipe all that ridiculous makeup off of Alec Guinness's face and scream, "You callous bastard!"—but you know what? Alec Guinness was right. Which leads me to my next point, which is that if you ever need advice, go to Alec Guinness.

Actually, my next point is that most people are stupid or crazy. Think of everyone you know. Stupid? No? Crazy? Probably. Stupid AND crazy? I've seen a lot of that, as well. My great-aunt liked to dispense advice to me almost daily—I should wear control-top pantyhose, I should find a husband, I should bleach my hair and do it up like that nice Mary Kay woman. Then she would go home and talk to the little people who live under her sink. So I'm supposed to listen to this woman?

Jennifer, I admire your desire to reach out, but the truth is that the only people who want advice or help are those who ask for it. Do you think that the poet wanted to be told he'd never find that kind of a rent anywhere? Was your reporter friend's life improved because a postal worker told her she looked bad? I don't think so. So until someone approaches you and asks, "What should I do? ", it's best to just nod and smile and worry about your own life. Of course, this is just what I think. You can do what you like.   </end>

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