Saturday, February 27, 2010

Madmen, the reality show

Back where I grew up in Flushing—if I can be said to have grown up—we had our share of special types in and around the projects. A woman my sister Kathy dubbed “Dimey” dressed like a bag lady and begged for dimes although she lived, we learned, in a bigger house than anyone we knew. Another, who invariably wore a white T-shirt and walked without moving his arms, became “Guy-Who-Means-Trouble” for the vague warning my mother once gave us about him. The frightening one, as I recall, was a fellow from our block who’d talk incessantly to himself while walking briskly up the street.

Today, I’d feel only sorry for the man, who my brother Vinnie said was as normal as anyone before a head injury. But back then, his constant conversation with himself was all the giveaway a kid needed to give a wide berth, even to cross the street. It’s an impulse that hits me, in fact, nearly every day.

Since those Bluetooth cell-phone remotes began showing up on people’s ears.

You’d think I’d have learned by now that along the sidewalk, there’s a big difference between hearing one side of a two-way conversation, with all the requisite pauses, and hearing DIY dialogue. Nevertheless, I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard some voice hollering down the street in our direction and tensed up. Here he comes, I’ve thought: the lunatic who would change life as we know it. But then I’d turn around to realize that, to the guy thus engaged in the all-out screaming argument with who knows who, we might as well not even be there.

I suppose it was inevitable. First came email, which started people keeping in touch with their friends without talking. Cell phones meant people started talking to their friends once again but mostly during dinner dates with other people. Smart phones mean we can now communicate with total strangers on Twitter while sitting among friends and family.

Who’s left to talk to? The crazies, I guess.

If only I could spot one.

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