I’m confused. Twice today strangers smiled at me. In the past, I would not have analyzed this occurrence, but today it’s got me paranoid.
The first stranger smiled at me going up the escalator at the 34th St. B/D/F/V station. He was a small man wearing navy blue poly blend pants and carrying a collapsible handtruck. He looked harmless enough, but had a tinge of the crazy. I saw him looking over his shoulder at me from his perch two steps above so I deliberately avoided his gaze. As I looked back, he turned around again, caught my eye, and smiled. I smiled back sheepishly. “Oh, stop it Lola,” I thought. “He’s just a nice man.” Or so I hoped, but I avoided him on the way out of the station nevertheless.
Then I took a very nice yoga class and when I came back to work, I was getting ready to exit at the 49th St. N station when, from the other side of the closed subway doors, while the train was still slowing to a stop, a woman smiled at me! Through the closed subway doors! She was plain looking, not at all crazy-eyed like my handtruck-carrying friend from 34th St.
As I walked back to my office, a tempest of thoughts swirled in my head. Do I look like a particularly friendly and gentle person, and I have inspired some natural empathy on the part of these people, and without thinking about it, they broke through the layers of crud New Yorkers keep over themselves to prevent exactly this kind of all-too-human interaction? This was the best case scenario. They saw my light and it made them smile.
Then my thoughts turned cynical. They’re not seeing my light at all! They see my misery and these two freaks felt so generous and overflowing with excellence that they felt they should send me a smile to lighten my mood! How dare they? How condescending! Who the hell does Mr. Handtruck and Ms. Corporate Plain Jane think he/she is?!
By now I was really in a tizzy. I started to wonder if I really looked that depressed. If I looked that miserable that I needed a random smile from two of the oddest humans I had seen during the last two hours. You could have put Mr. Handtruck and Ms. Corporate in Grant Wood’s famous American Gothicand they would have been pitch perfect: gothic New York shut-in. And these misanthropes were smiling at me?
I can’t explain why strangers smile at each other. I don’t usually initiate smiles unless I’m in a transaction or there is familiarity, like with the coffee cart man or the fruit vendor or the guy who hands me my free AM New York every morning at (barf) Journal Square. But spontaneous smiles? Isn’t that rather forward?
Maybe I should just stop being paranoid and just accept the smiles. A year or so ago, I would’ve never had the negative thought stream about these unsolicited acts of kindness. Which goes to show you, I am probably more miserable than I was a couple of years ago and probably truly need and deserve those smiles. Thank you kind strangers. I am an ungrateful dark cloud over your inner sun and deserve to trip going up the stairs.