Sunday, October 16, 2005

Cursed Corner of Chelsea

AHHHH . . . NOW THIS IS what fall is all about. I woke up yesterday morning to find an unfamiliar phenomenon streaming through my bedroom window. Investigating further, I was panicked to notice the sky had turned this bizarre shade of . . . could that be blue? Yes, the rains had receded, the clouds had thinned from forbidding armories of floodwaters to benign wisps, and new hope dawned in my battle against terminal mildew. I have been enjoying bracing winds and cool, dry air ever since.

The past week —10 days? Month? — of rain did claim one casualty that I know of. Close to my workplace is the Chelsea Market building, a converted Nabisco factory that also houses cable television studios. The main promenade holds a variety of bakeries, restaurants, and specialty shops. Here, unlike some other areas in the neighborhood, you will find tourist groups, enticed by a variety of tasty desserts and produce. It's also popular with the working stiffs in the offices above and in the buildings surrounding the area. So it gets constant foot traffic, which contributed to the wet floors therein this week.

I walked over to the Market to grab some end-of-the-week brain sugar when I encountered the unfortunate victim of these slippery conditions. A man was lying flat out on the floor, his shopping bags scattered about him, holding his lower right forearm and wincing. His friends and at least one Market security employee were gathered around him, diverting traffic to either side. This led me to believe that this had just happened, because he was lying perpendicular to the hallway.

I felt that queasy pang in my stomach that I always feel when I come across an injured party. I have been exceptionally lucky in that I have never broken a bone. My worst injury was a sprained ankle and strained ligament on my left pinky toe in 1988. I came down on the edge of my foot full force, and — had I struck it at even a slightly different angle or fallen with my arms in any different position — I could have snapped that ligament, and broken part of my foot or a wrist. As it was, I just toddled around for most of a week on crutches with an ACE bandage and a pronounced grimace. So when I see someone like this poor guy, I feel this odd empathy because I figure I have been unnaturally fortunate and, once again, avoided this sort of injury.

With his needs being attended, I kept walking — very carefully, so as not to necessitate another ambulance from St. Vincent's down the street — and thought back to a few months before, when I witnessed most of another mishap just outside the Market. That time, I was waiting to cross over to the Market's side of the street, not looking at the actual road, and I heard a jarring double bump. The second I couldn't identify, but the first sounded all too much like a car striking someone. I looked over to see a man flying away from the bumper of the car that had hit him, then roll and sprawl in the crosswalk. I deduced that the second bump I had heard was the man's cup of coffee flying out of his hand and hitting the car's windshield, which was bathed entirely in light sweet Starbucks.

People immediately rushed over to assist the guy, who, incredibly, was rising to his feet. They tried to convince him to let them carry him along, but he declined and began walking slowly to the opposite curb. I assume he still went to the hospital to get checked out for internal bleeding or whatever scuffs and bumps he sustained in the impact, but regardless, the Force was with him — the same hit could easily have broken multiple bones in a different, less lucky adult, or even flat-out killed a child. And again, I had that terrible sympathetic feeling in my gut . . . it could have been me in that crosswalk . . . and on top of that, the poor bastard lost his coffee!

If you want to dilate the definition of "corner" a touch, you can count the incident that occurred in my office earlier in the week as well. I was looking down the long axis of our roomy workspace while talking to a coworker, when I saw two paramedics wheeling a stretcher around the corner on the opposite side of the office. I then saw the certified CPR person tear ass down in the same direction. Something dire was up. The ambient noise in the place took on that hushed murmur that accompanies some sort of tragic incident — everyone wants to talk about it, but nobody wants to be heard asking for information — but still, a few folks headed down to check out the problem. I wanted to trip them. Nosy fuckers. If someone is in distress, the only people he or she wants to see are medics, not snoopy gossipmongers.

It turned out that one of the executives, who had suffered a heart attack some months earlier (which was news to me!), had felt ill, and an ambulance was summoned as a precaution. I didn't get the full scoop on what the follow-up was, not wanting to look ghoulish, so I don't know his current status. I did think to myself, how terrible it would be to die at work? Some folks have no choice, like military and peacetime uniformed personnel. But if I had a choice, the last place I would elect as the final stage for my life on earth would be my current workplace. How terribly lonely would that be, dropping helplessly into the infinite void, looking up at that same wretched ceiling, computer still bleeping at you to keep working, while all of your loved ones are minding their daily business at home or in other workplaces, far from your fading grasp?

So clearly it's not even safe inside my building. The only option seems to be telecommuting. At least I might be able to drag myself onto the couch here if I saw the Reaper through the peeper. In lieu of flowers, just arrange my houseplants decoratively about me. Short of all this, I will simply walk carefully and consciously in the city, especially in my cursed corner of Chelsea.

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