Forgot your password?

We just sent you an email, containing instructions for how to reset your password.

Sign in

  • (I took the above picture two years before this story happened, at St. Patricks Cathedral)

    It's December 16th, 2011. I’m sitting the Taco Bell on 14th street, just off Union Square. There is a man sitting at a table in front of me - he is asleep. I notice this after the crusty texture of his sweatshirt, just under his agape mouth. He looks quite peaceful amidst the noise and chaos of the restaurant. There is a medical bracelet on his right wrist, and his left hand is wrapped in some sort of medicinal dressing. I seem to be the only one who has noticed he’s there - everyone else is laughing, talking, watching TV, chewing, or talking into cell phones. An employee cleans around him, endlessly sweeping the debris into a black dustpan. For some reason, I feel bad for the man.

    Moments later a woman wearing FDNY badges on her jacket tries to wake him, “Sir? Sir?” His eyes open for a second, barely focusing on her, and then he sleeps again. Suddenly there is a medic and the store manager, who says the man has been there for an hour. They clear the area around him, moving tables and chairs more quickly than I anticipated. Seizing both of his sides, they lift him onto a folding emergency wheelchair. He is now awake and gives a small cry. The medics comfort him, and begin to tie him to the chair with red straps - he seems resigned to this fate. As I sit, watching discretely, he is wheeled away and out of the restaurant. The cleaner comes and sweeps up the area, and chairs and tables are repositioned back to the uniformity that existed before. The man sitting four feet to my right has not taken his eyes off the TV. Suddenly I have lost my appetite, and I leave just as abruptly as the man in the chair, though of my own volition.

    How many people notice I am here? It’s like traffic and the accidents. Unless we are in an accident, we become traffic. We are irrelevant unless our vehicles were strewn in pieces and our bodies are lying out for the passing cars to see. When I lived in Springfield, I rode my bike nearly everywhere - I was terrified that an idiot driver was going to run me over, but I was free. I rode in the road, I breathed hard as I went places - my lungs hurt in the wintertime when the air was too cold and the streets were too icy to ride on, but I was connected to the street and the buildings I passed. When I went into the local shops and stores, I recognized the people who worked to make downtown a place where people wanted to ride their bikes and walk up and down the street. Most of the time, we drive places. We shut ourselves up in air-conditioned cars and burn petroleum to travel to a store which is just like a thousand other stores, whether it’s a Taco Bell or something else. We are alone in our cars, and in the those stores, we recognize no one. In Taco Bell, I am no one. And I see this man, who is no one.

    Earlier, I went into the bathroom at Bobst library. It’s a huge building with god-knows how many books. I thought that this building should not be measured by how many floors it has, but by the stories inside - it really is taller than nearly any other building in the city. While I stood at the urinal, another man entered and joined me. The dead silence of the otherwise empty room shut up my bladder as fast as could be. I had to pretend to finish and leave, the quiet betraying me. Victorious, the stranger continued his business. I am no one. Surrounded by the books in the library, I am in a comfortable crowd of amicable voices. In the bathroom with a single stranger, in a restaurant filled with strangers, everywhere that is both unfamiliar and instantly familiar, there are terse and awkward interactions coupled with long bouts of loneliness. The homogeneity which created this aids to my class consciousness. I am white, middle class, grew up in the suburbs, but the mold is suffocating me. How do my peers get along with it? We are guilty to the class beneath us. We are still exploited by those above. But we are all faceless to each other.

    Now it is nearly nine months later. I read that Bobst has been renovated so that a metallic cover obscures the floors of the building from the interior. This is to prevent people from jumping, plunging away afrom those stories into confusing pattern on the lobby floor. I read how someone used to sell t-shirts that read "NYU Diving Team" with that pattern in the background. It seems a morbid move, to wall away those stories behind metal.

    I think back to the man sitting so-close-yet-so-far-away. I still wish I knew what I could have done. I still wonder how we can change.
    • Share

    Connected stories:


Collections let you gather your favorite stories into shareable groups.

To collect stories, please become a Citizen.

    Copy and paste this embed code into your web page:

    px wide
    px tall
    Send this story to a friend:
    Would you like to send another?

      To retell stories, please .

        Sprouting stories lets you respond with a story of your own — like telling stories ’round a campfire.

        To sprout stories, please .

            Better browser, please.

            To view Cowbird, please use the latest version of Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, or Internet Explorer.