Saturday, September 18, 2010


May 2002. I’m on the 7 local train from Queens to Manhattan. It’s fairly late, and I’m going back to Penn Station to go home. The car stops at Queensboro Plaza, and three tall, young African-American men with obvious gang regalia get into the car with me. We’re the only 4 people in the car. I’m reading a book, but I glance up at them and smile, as is my habit with everyone. One of the young men nods to me, then looks out the window.
He shakes his head. “Some crazy shit going on these days. I don’t know what’s happening with this world.” It’s pretty clear he’s referring to the still rather recent September 11 event.
I nod my head in agreement. “You never know what will happen tomorrow,” I say.

“That’s for damn sure. People just don’t respect each other like they used to, ya know?”

I nod again, and sigh. “Oh yeah, I definitely know.”

He then asks me if I live in Manhattan, I tell him no, I’m heading back to New Jersey.

He and his companions reach their stop. They get up to leave. “Take care,” he says to
me. “Get home safe y’hear?”

I laugh. “Thanks. You too.”

June 1993. I’m a college student, working at the Circulation desk of the public library. The desk staff chats about various things between check-outs. As we stand there chatting, a 16-year-old girl with a long blonde braid approaches me at the desk.
“There is a man in there, right near where I’m working, and he’s looking up this woman’s dress, with his pants down. I am so disgusted, I can’t work there.” She is clearly shaking. As she is speaking to me, the librarian in charge comes out of the main collection room. I call her over, and ask the young lady to explain to her. The librarian listens, and asks the girl if she would be willing to file a police complaint.

“Hell yes, if I have to.”

She goes with the librarian, and makes the complaint. Not ten minutes later, the police come through the front door. We remain at our station, but are curious as hell as to what’s going on. Later, we were told that the police caught the man in the act. (“Um, excuse me sir, what are you doing?”). We did see them bring out the salt-and-pepper-haired businessman in his respectable suit and tie. Of course, everyone looked at him as he was led out. My supervisor gave a derisive grunt. “Just what he wants. Everyone staring at him. What a creep.”

Clothes don't always make the man or woman. Neither does their lifestyle. Consider this question, which has been sent to thousands of e-mail addresses in the last 10 years. You may know this question already:

It's time to elect a new world leader, and only your vote counts. Here are the facts about the three leading candidates.

Candidate A - Associates with crooked politicians, and consults with astrologists. He's had two Mistresses. He also chain smokes and drinks 8 to 10 martinis a day.

Candidate B - He was kicked out of office twice, sleeps until noon, used opium in college and drinks a quart of whiskey every evening.

Candidate C - He is a decorated war hero. He's a vegetarian, doesn't smoke, drinks an occasional beer and never cheated on his wife. Which of these candidates would be your choice?

Almost everyone wants to choose C, as he seems to be the most scrupulous. Then people are surprised to learn that Candidate A describes Franklin Roosevelt, Candidate B describes Winston Churchill, and Candidate C describes Adolph Hitler.

As Aleister Crowley once said, “It may be yonder beggar is a King.” We like to use social norms and expectations as a means of interpreting the world and our interactions with others. Social norms are usually based on xenophobic thinking and shallow judgments. Better to treat everyone with respect and an open mind.

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