An Empire State of Mind

I sat down one Tuesday morning like I always do.

I have my bowl of oatmeal in front of my computer and check email. This mainly consisted of clearing my spam folder of  generic advertisements for Viagra knock offs that would probably leave me forever celibate, and some massive foreign bank needing my help to transfer funds to the country. Of course, I would be paid handsomely for my service, just email them my account information.

Really? Who still falls for this?

I noticed an article that flashed on my screen talking about some poll taken regarding America’s rudest cities. Guess who has the distinction of being numero uno? If you guessed Salt Lake, go smack your mother for having such an out of touch child. If you guessed our very own New York City, you would be correct.

However slap yourself anyway, I would get a kick out of it.

As irrelevant as this poll is, I reflected on my experience with moving to this area almost a year and a half ago. Though I reside on the outskirts of Peekskill, I am still only a fifty minute drive or train ride to the city. Dobbs Ferry is even closer, so what’s good for the city I feel applies to me.

I had just retired from the Air Force after 24 years at the time, and had lived in countless places both in the country and abroad. I have had to deal with different cultures, municipalities and making the best of new living environments since the age of 17 because of my military career choice. I always made the best of my situations and walked away from each one a wiser man. Unfortunately, my adjustment to the state of New York was not going well to say the least.

Maybe it was because it was my first  independent move after being in the military.

Maybe it was because my relationship was struggling to stay afloat.

Maybe because of all the expenses that come along with moving seemed to be particularly exorbitant.

Regardless, I was a bitter man for a number of reasons.

I would wake up to the radio alarm in the mornings and as if taunting me, Alicia Key’s “Empire State of Mind” seemed to be the song playing. Now I like Ms Keys, and think she is extremely talented but this song…this song…given my state of mind was like nails on a chalk board.

Her melodious voice moaned and whined about the virtues of New York.

The music played like a slow New Orleans death march.

It triggered everything that I felt was wrong with this state (and my life) to run through my mind.

The song taunted and teased me.

Nah nah nah nah nah…the children of my mind would sing as they circled pointing at me laughing.

My day would be off to a glorious start.

This day had been particularly bad. It was mid afternoon and I was going to Shop Rite near where I lived to pick up a few things for dinner. My thoughts were everywhere and I was on autopilot as I searched the aisles for a couple things needed. As I turned to walk down one particular aisle, a little round woman all of 5’4” stood looking at something on the shelf. Together with her shopping cart full of one item, she blocked my passage.

At first, I thought I would turn around and go down another aisle. I was in such a mind funk I didn’t even want to extend a pleasant “excuse me” and listen to her pathetic apology for being inattentive for blocking the aisle.

“Hell no” I thought, “why should I alter my path, she needs to move…she is the one in the wrong…blocking the aisle…with her cart full of just one item. The nerve of her inconsiderate A%$!”

So walk down that aisle I did, as if it was my ordained right to do so. She will see me coming and move, and say “oh I’m sorry” and after which point I would just walk past not even acknowledging her.

Well move she did not.

Look up? She did not.

She just kept on staring at the shelf, blocking the aisle like she owned it. I became even more agitated and when I got to where she was. I had a decision to make; stand there and wait for her to move, ask her to kindly move her cart full of 1 item (really wasn’t an option for me at this point) or just move it for her.

I moved it for her.

Albeit, with maybe a little too much zest because the cart slammed up against the shelf next to her with a sharp clang and a little bounce.

Her head snapped around and her eyes pinpointed dead on mine as her hands firmly locked into position on her ample round hips.

“Excuse me?!” she challenged in full battle mode…

“Your ******* cart shouldn’t be blocking the aisle” I said looking into her ridged face.

“**** you” she said immediately in reply. I will admit to being a bit surprised at her response. I thought my nasty disposition and artful choice of words would intimidate her.

It did not.

I paused, and without thinking replied back in the only way my angry state of mind knew how.

“**** you!” I said.  Now with a slightly raised pitch and focused intent.

“**** you!” she said as her tone and body motions mimicked mine.

“No, **** you!” I replied.

“NO, **** YOU!!!” she shrieked while pointing her little stubby index finger directly at my face.

At this point, a couple of stunned and confused onlookers began to stop with their activities and watch this unfolding spectacle. I began to think what would be next. Am I to end up rolling around on the floor in a slug fest with this “lady” that was prepared to go toe to toe with me? I towered over this pit-bull of a woman and could have easily (well possibly…you never know) taken her. However despite that, no matter what the outcome, I would not win this one.

I decided to relent.

As I walked passed her she rotated her body, not moving an inch as if her feet were planted on some type of rotating platform. Her eyes watched every move I made just in case I made any aggressive move in her direction.

She was ready for anything I might presumably throw in her direction.

Once at the end of the aisle, I turned and looked back at her. There she stood in the aisle still in battle mode staring me down. Just seeing her there with her cart full of one item, I had a second eruption of anger.

“**** you!” I said.

“**** YOU!!!” she shrieked in reply, jabbing that offending stubby index finger in the air towards me once more.

I was so angry I left the store without anything. I went to my car and sat inside with the window open trying to calm down. No need to attempt driving while in such a state of mind, a road rage incident would undoubtedly have been the result. A young girl pulled up to park in the space next to me. She looked over at me and smiled.

Alicia Key’s “An Empire State of Mind” was playing on her radio.

I shook my head and the irony of the situation made me laugh to myself.

It was at that point that I begun to become reacquainted with what I already knew; though we can’t control what happens to us, we are fully in control of how we deal with it.

I realized I was one of the rudest people in New York.

I still hate that “Empire State of Mind” song, but at least now, for the right reasons.