I looked around at the stragglers outside the small venue on the even smaller street on the Lower East Side. It was one of those cool summer New York City nights, and the sidewalk air offered a respite from the humid, smokey din of the band raging inside.  People were standing in small clusters laughing and talking, some munching on hot dogs purchased from the vendor who wisely chose to park his cart in front of the club. It would have been an idyllic scene if not for the stoned, drunk idiot I had to babysit.
He was a new boyfriend from college that I had tried to blend with my friends from home, and it had been as successful as combining ammonia and bleach.  Perhaps it was nerves that drove him to inject substances into his every orifice at lightening speed as soon as we arrived, perhaps he was another emotional infant that was fast-emerging as “my type” of romantic partner,  perhaps he was simply a jack-ass. Whatever the reason, the end result was that after a scant half-hour of the show I had to drag him outside before he vomited into someone’s face. Placing one hand on either side of him I propped him up against the bars of a metal fence to keep him upright while he swayed and babbled and moaned in-between bouts of heaving.

Scanning the concert refugees I eavesdropped on random snippets of conversation to combat my boredom and the crushing regret of a weekend ruined by bad choices.
“….she said it’s like really sweet you can’t tell it’s tequila….”
“……he’s lying Ok? I don’t know what to tell you…..”
“……perfume that makes me want to barf…..”

Suddenly there was a sound, a sound that was not talk or traffic or a rolling metal garbage can or music or any of the miscellaneous crashes or bangs that can be heard at any given second on the streets of New York. I looked to my right, down the narrow, dark alley made gloomier by a broken street light. There on the ground lay a bumpy heap that could have been a bag of trash or a homeless person, both equally common and well below the radar of most city-dwellers. From the lumpy mass came the sound again, only this time it was loud enough that the murmur of conversation stopped momentarily, as if all of the separate groups united for a “what was that?” dark-alley1moment.

“Hey, HEY, somebody help, HEY!”
There was an absolute silence, like the air had suddenly been sucked into a vacuum leaving only the void of space. Even my semi-comatose boyfriend stopped his drooling and muttering and leaned his face on the metal chain links and gradually closed his unfocused eyes.  None of us moved or spoke or breathed, nor did we reveal there was anything strange in the lack of moving, speaking or breathing. Even the bouncer standing by the entrance folded his arms across his chest and stared vacantly ahead like a statue in a jean jacket. To an observer it would have appeared that by startling coincidence every conversation taking place had paused at exactly the same moment for no particular reason. There was no visual evidence to support the fact that we had heard what we all had clearly heard.

“HEY! Why isn’t anybody helping?” the voice persisted, panic and pain now tinting the edges of the sound. I felt my disappointing date slump onto my shoulder, and I immediately labeled him “The Reason I Can’t Do Anything.” In truth I was rooted to the spot, paralyzed by a strange fog of confusion I could not name. No one else moved either, and that cemented my feet to the pavement in a stance of apathy that did not match the nervous pings in my stomach each time he shouted out.
“HEEEELP! MY LEGS! WHY doesn’t anyone HELP??” His anger gave way to an incredulous shriek, “THIS IS LIKE A MOVIE!”

All of us, standing scattered about the street in random pairings, froze in casual pose like extras in a dream sequence. Talking hushed down to whispers, as if politely taking care not to interrupt his tear-filled entreaties, but nothing, not words nor a turn of the head, acknowledged him. The simple act of lowering our eyes and voices pushed him gently and thoroughly into the background, adding miles to the actual distance between us.

Cracking down the street like a sonic boom a huge black Cadillac zoomed suddenly past us, tires screeching from the combined inertia of great speed meeting an abrupt stop. Two large figures jumped from the car while it was still moving, converging onto the crumpled man like the shadowy demons from Ghost pulling him towards Hell. The moment they reached him his cries rose three octaves, screams of pain echoing off the brick buildings surrounding us as they lifted him from the ground and tossed him into the back of the car in one fluid motion, taking off with the car door still flapped open. We could hear his wails as they raced away, the sound trailing behind them as they reached the corner of the lighted avenue. Only then did a disembodied arm emerge briefly, pulling the door shut with a slam and stifling the noise within.

It was hard to imagine that a luxury sedan without a stretcher was a rescue vehicle. It was an even bigger reach to assume the bulky attendants had the man’s best interests in mind as they flung his broken body around like dirty pants into a hamper, but any apprehension among us witnesses was quickly replaced with relief that the spell had been broken. The strange pall over the crowd dissipated as talk and street noise rose to their rightful volume and we inhaled the sweet summer air like amnesia spray, smoothing the wrinkles of memory until the scene faded away. I maneuvered under the standing zombie that was my date so his latest bout of retches landed away from my shoes, focusing on the moment so I wouldn’t have to think about the one that preceded it.

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3 comments on “mob mentality

  • So well describes and depicts the most unfortunate and scary phenomenon of the mixed messages we have all have received from our parents, media and ourselves about responding to others’ needs — stay out of it, ignore, not your problem, etc.

  • I love this blog – stumbled upon it – seems a bit old and abandoned and i don’t hope for a reply….

    • Thank you so much, you are right I have neglected this blog and I didn’t realize how much until your comment! I have been working on my business site where I coach people to use writing in their own life to get clarity. I used comic-sense as evidence that I walk my talk and do it myself to process things that happen, even when there is no sitcom-style, wrapped-up resolution at the end. But now I am thinking I should post from time to time if only to stay true to my roots. I am so grateful to you for helping me see that, and I hope you’ll keep reading and commenting.

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