25 January 2007

Where's the bathroom?

I'm sure you've all seen the articles lamenting the hazards of driving because people are constantly doing things in their vehicles that they shouldn't be doing - like eating, cell phone reaching, DVD-changing, or putting on makeup. If you have a car, this of course makes perfect sense, as does the stunning statistic that 80% of drivers think that they are "above average" when it comes to their performance behind the wheel (which is, of course, statistically impossible.) But it's mildly irrelevant to the people who don't have cars.

Until now.

I move to expand this concern for attention-span safety to the streets of Manhattan. Not because there is a sudden rash of people driving while doing these other activities (though you could argue that the taxi drivers on cell phones are a danger, but I don't think it's because of the cell phones), but most people can't seem to accomplish the simple task of walking and adding another action.

I am often stunned by what I see people doing on the streets of New York. And I'm not talking about the obvious, like urinating or tossing one's cookies on the corners (though I do not envy the store owners and doormen who have to clean up these messes in the morning), or flashing one's privates. Those are quite mundane, to be honest, in the circus that makes up this fine city. I can even excuse the random spitting habit that seems to have become as common these days as tossing gum onto the sidewalk (has the gum become so instantaneously horrible that you can't walk 30 more feet to the trash receptacle that is located on every corner in Manhattan?) As annoying, gross, or incomprehensible as these things are, they are the things that you've come to expect when living in this great metropolis.

But there are some things that I've seen that are truly baffling. On my bleary-eyed stroll to the subway this morning, I noted a woman who was simultaneously talking on her wireless headset cell phone, holding a compact mirror, and using an eyelash curler. Now, the eyelash curler in and of itself is blog-worthy, since - for some strange reason - it terrifies most men (why? it's not like anything of value to you would fit in there anyway, so why the fear?) I'll admit, it does resemble some miniature torture device, no matter how well it's been pinked up or packaged. And while the eyelash curler is often hailed as key to the fashionista's morning routine, I will admit that this is the first time I've seen it used while walking down a city street. I admire the woman, really, since I don't have enough coordination to do it in my own bathroom 3 inches away from my mirror (and biting the tip of ones tongue in concentration doesn't help either, for the record.) She has apparently mastered the technique to the point where she can do it walking down a city street, talking on a cell phone, and avoiding other commuting walkers. Impressive. Random, but still impressive.

Brushing hair, I've seen several times... I've even done it myself, in the mad dash from my karate studio to a dinner with friends. But one woman on the subway a few months ago had brought her entire hair regimen with her... two kinds of brushes, a mini can of hairspray, pins and barrettes, and a headband. It took her the entire ride from the upper East Side to Tribeca to finish her primping, all the while balancing a mirror on her lap. It would have been amusing, except that by the time we all exited the subway, our lungs were coated with the extreme hold of Aussie Instant Freeze Hairspray. Our alveoli were cemented in place, no matter how hard the wind blew that day!

A few years ago, I even saw a man brushing his teeth while walking down Madison Avenue. And lest you think of a homeless man with a simple brush in his mouth, let me correct your mental imagery. He was dressed in a dapper pinstriped suit, hair gelled, and scrubbing away, complete with white foam dripping around the mouth and water bottle in hand, ready to rinse (and hopefully spit into the trash can on the corner.) That really epitomises for me what people feel comfortable doing in a crowded and yet still anonymous setting. I can't help but think - what would he have done if he ran into his boss? Or a client? And the other thought - Has the New York real estate market gotten so exclusive that bathrooms are no longer available to do morning routines? Or is it a new time-saving technique - combining your commute with your morning routine?

Whatever the reason, it's all OK here... as long as you walk safely while doing it. Because apparently, even if you don't have a bathroom, you can do it all on the streets of the Big Apple.

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