|Rich, me and Ash at the Lincoln Memorial, near the White House. A few days later, shots were fired at the White House.|
‘I’m packing lead in here,’ the elderly woman said to the younger one, her face set in a snarl. Gangster grandma rummaged through her handbag as if she were looking for a gun. She had plopped down next to me. I couldn’t help myself. Curiouser and curiouser … I peered down. All I could see were tissues stuffed into a side pocket. She didn’t unzip the main section of her bag all the way. She may have been bluffing. But then again …
The younger woman was unperturbed. ‘I’m gonna respect you ‘cos you old,’ she said from across the aisle. ‘But next time you better watch where you’re going. And you’d better watch where I’m going too.’
They traded insults like this until the 2 train from Brooklyn reached Wall Street. I kept looking at the woman’s bag, which she held tightly on her lap. She continued to hold her palm open over one lumpy section of it, as if she were indeed making sure she knew the exact location of her gun. Judging from the creases on her face, she was at least sixty. A fashionable one at that, with chunky gold earrings, shades, skinny jeans and ankle boots. The other woman was dressed in the same way. They could’ve been mother and daughter.
Our fellow passengers ignored the conversation as if it were white noise. Not knowing what to do, I tried to appeal to the passenger sitting across from me, communicating silently, now what? Do I get up from my seat so I’m not in the line of fire? Pretend like nothing’s happening, like everyone else? He was sitting next to the younger woman so was in a similarly precarious situation. Unlike me, he was nonchalant. Just another day on the subway.
I chose herd mentality over panic. I tried to relax and decided to stare at the map overhead, a line of dots showing the stops of the 2 train line. I consciously avoided the shaded eyes of both women, struck by the irrational fear that they might collectively direct their anger at me. Images of the two women whipping out guns out of their streetwear handbags and shooting me, execution style, flitted in and out of my mind. Alert and observant, I realised I was the lone Asian in the carriage until the train arrived at Wall Street, when finance workers embarked. That fact probably made me stand out as a target for at least five minutes. Yikes.
I was jumpier than normal because only the day before, on my way home from the supermarket, I walked past a couple of kids who, from a distance, appeared to be goofing around. Then one drew a sharpened wooden stake up against the other’s neck. Where did that come from, I thought. That boy must have brought that weapon with him. It’s premeditated. They’re not just two hyperactive kids jostling each other. I passed them hurriedly, not wanting to interfere and risk having that stake pointed in my direction.
These random acts of violence in fact happened about two weeks ago. Since then, I’ve had to pack up my place in Brooklyn (the sublease expired), spent a week in Washington DC and moved into my new place in the Upper East Side. Yes, the two events contributed to my decision to move to a safer neighbourhood in Manhattan. Also the apartments in the hip areas in Brooklyn are ridiculously overpriced, and I have to go to Brooklyn for work anyway, so can still hang with my new friends there. So why not live in a nabe where it’s overpriced for reasons more substantial and diverse than proximity to awesome bars?
On more current events, the number one news item today is a loco with a Spanish name and a tattoo on his neck that spells out Israel has been arrested. He’s suspected of shooting at the White House last week, using an AK-47. As I said, we just visited DC last week. My husband and I caught up with our buddy Rich, a DC local and ex-military guy. We also made friends with an Air Force veteran who now works at the Pentagon. (We met him and his wife at a bar in the Willard Hotel, a stone’s throw away from the White House. Interesting side note: lobbyists used to meet with government higher-ups in the hotel’s lobby, to do their wheeling and dealing, and Washingtonians believe this is how the term lobbyist was coined.) Our friends’ combined knowledge on the security detail around government buildings is impressive. Besides which, I saw firsthand how the Secret Service make their presence felt around the White House grounds. There’s nothing secret about it. Only crazies would try anything stupid.
So. Whether you’re in the high-security surrounds of the White House or on the New York subway or above ground on the gritty streets, the threat of violence is real and imminent in the US. There’s nowhere to hide.
Suddenly, to me, Australia, with its less liberal gun laws, seems the more attractive country to live in. Of course, it doesn’t have the Guggenheim where I saw what I thought was the most original jazz/dance/boxing production last Sunday, nor will my husband run into Matthew Broderick while getting a coffee in Sydney, or see Samuel L Jackson on stage; not to mention experiences like a real autumn when the trees display the boldest shades of burnt oranges and reds, and Salvation Army workers dancing to Feliz Navidad on the footpaths (with bells on!). Sydney doesn’t have the New York Society Library which runs tours for the public (hooray for bibliophiles), authentic Mexican food, Central Park, Prospect Park, red velvet cake, a real 24-hour news cycle that makes news addictive (I feel sorry for Sky News at home, which scrapes the bottom of the barrel and constantly recycles news), an upcoming election that matters on the world stage, moving orations carved in marble … these are a few of my favourite things …