I was descending the stairs to the F train at 34th Street. Two trains had pulled into the station, providing an intimidating mass of people to ascend the stairs I was attempting to descend. I didn’t expect trouble in this, since it was a two-lane stairway, of the sort where two can walk abreast on either side of the dividing handrail. I followed the recommended procedure when navigating such a stairway during a two-train exodus, which is to slither down the right-hand wall and sigh loudly at the people looking at their feet on their way up.
Then I saw her.
At first, I thought she had dropped something, and had turned around to pick it up and apologize to the man behind her. She was on the left side of the right lane, and was holding things in both hands, so was clearly physically capable of descending stairs without the aid of the center rail. She made a slightly huffy shrug, and I expected her to turn around after her forthcoming apology.
Then I heard her.
Few words have ever caused me as much pain as the five whining syllables that exited her speaking orifice in the next one point two seconds.
“This is the down side.”
Uttered as if the fourteen angry people stopped in front of her were mentally handicapped for not shuffling into an orderly line on the other side of the stairway, so she, I, and the dozen or so others going down could have our preferred space while the hundreds exiting the train added a few more minutes to their journey.
If I were a quicker, stronger man, I would have grabbed her by the shoulders and forced her to slither down the wall with the rest of us. Alas, I am not, and I tried to make my way past without incident. The man directly in front of the whining madwoman just looked straight through her, as if defeated, escaping to the quieter caves of his mind until the she gave up, or was attacked by someone else. The woman behind him was more proactive: she screamed, “Are you fucking kidding me you idiot bitch?” and dived around them, directly into me. Being of the thinner persuasion, I was able to navigate this extra spacial intrusion and make it off the stairwell.
I heard the ensuing argument halfway across the station. Madness is an opponent no tactic can fight but for opportunity, and shame.