This Tuesday I was riding the subway mid-afternoon when three young men with drums came in to play for everyone. It was a really calming beat, and the guys were smiling and making jokes and wearing coordinated blue and purple outfits.
After exchanging solos, they all rallied together and ended with a climactic “HEY!” We all clapped and made eye contact and smiled warmly, but as the applause died down, a thin, crooked-nosed middle aged man in a red hat at the end of the car said loudly, “You call that music? I can’t believe you call that music. HA, bam bam music. My four year old NIECE can do that, you people are awful, encouraging them. Letting them think they’re something IMPORTANT. bam bam ‘HEY!’, that’s music? Oh that’s music. Stop it, giving them money. You PEOPLE, encouraging them, letting them think they have TALENT.”
Etc. etc. for the next 5 stops, even though the drummers changed cars immediately.
Pause for an interjection: A friend of mine on the West coast just got her Masters in Education and so recently attended a job fair. School districts from across the country set up tables, and the prospective teachers approach all the recruiters to hand in resumés and discuss available opportunities. If impressed, they pull job-seekers into backroom interviews on the spot.
Having briefly lived in Brooklyn after graduation, my friend wandered over to the New York table to see what they were looking for. A small woman with glasses in all black stood behind the table with her arms crossed, tapping her foot. After a failed attempt at initiating an exchange of pleasantries, this friend started asking a bit about positions available.
With her arms still crossed, the woman behind the table pursed her lips and continued to look around the room (no one else was near the table) before saying, “Look, we have a great need. If you want to work in a district with a high level of need, then, well, New York has a great need. If that’s what you want then just drop off your resumé and come to the Radisson tomorrow morning. 7am. We have a great need.” Frowning, the woman then stared at my friend, confused as to why she was still standing there.
Back to the subway-red hat-drummers encounter: So as he was railing against the travesty that was letting any individuals believe that they were worth anything in this world, the man was also obsessed with getting people to answer him. “Oh that’s music??” — he really wanted a response. I wish he had just said, “Please, seriously, tell me- IS THIS MUSIC? Please engage, I need to know I’m human.” Anytime someone provided him with even subtle negative feedback, he pounced on it, walking over to talk to them about it as if he just wanted to explain his point. He even nearly followed the drummers themselves out of the train talking to them.
What’s up with this denial of desperate, deeply felt needs with extremely defensive aggression (or extremely aggressive defensiveness)? My theory, of course, is that it’s kind of a New York thing… sorry New York! I know you’ll pretend it doesn’t bother you anyway. And, I mean, along the same lines, maybe when Oscar finishes singing the Grouch Anthem he shimmies back down into his trash can, sighs deeply and quietly sings a different song to himself.