I walk across the Polaski bridge every morning to get to the 7 Train in Long Island City. After a few months of living in Greenpoint I discovered that this short walk took me about as long as it would for me to take the G Train to Queens and transfer there, and it had the added bonus of sparing me from having to wait in a station full of hateful hipsters, who I’m convinced think I am a Yuppie because I wear dress shoes and, occasionally, a tie.
It’s a nice ten-minute walk, and I get to look out over New Town Creek as I listen to non-hipster music on my uncool iPod. What’s not to like? Well, my enemy on the bridge, of course.
Every morning I cross paths with a medium-sized olive-skinned man in his late 30s/early 40s with short black hair and sunglasses. The first time I saw him he made eye contact briefly, smiled and started mumbling to himself.
I’ve experienced guys who talk to themselves (or sometimes rap) as we walk past each other, typically on an empty street. I assume it’s a self-conscious reaction to a slightly awkward situation – there’s only two people around so you’re both aware of each other, but there’s no socially-sanctioned opportunity for acknowledgment. I’m not a big fan of people who talk to themselves – I put them on the same level as mouthbreathers – though on some level I can understand the impulse. But there’s something particularly creepy about the person smiling. What does it mean?
Bridge enemy kept up the smiling/mumbling routine for a couple of weeks, then stopped. We would pass each other in the mornings without event, two enemies coexisting in an uneasy peace, maybe like India and Pakistan (though I don’t really know what I’m talking about here so this analogy might be way off the mark). Our encounters became so routine that I could tell if I was running late to the train by seeing at which point of the bridge my enemy and I passed by each other (he is clearly more punctual than I am).
But recently my lovely wife also had to take the 7 Train, so she invited herself to cross the bridge with me. By this point things had been so quiet I had forgotten about my enemy. But as we were getting to the middle of the bridge, I spotted him. It took him a few seconds longer to realize it was I, his enemy, walking with a companion! I noticed a suppressed tic of surprise barely register in his face. Then he did something that froze my blood. He began to mumble like he did in the old days, but he didn’t smile. No, this time he did something creepier. He LAUGHED.
At this point I feel I must assure you that my wife is not a laughable sight. I think that by most standards she would be (and is) considered an attractive young woman with a becoming sense of style. The laughter from my enemy was clearly a more pronounced – and creepier – version of his creepy creep smile.
My wife didn’t notice him, she went on talking about whatever she was talking about, but I couldn’t hear her. I was too busy looking at my enemy being a creep.
The next morning I walked across the bridge again. I saw my enemy, and he saw me, and he turned away briefly, as if something had distracted him. Since then we have returned to our routine of not acknowledging each other, but I know that things are not the same. I now know what my bridge enemy is capable of, and I know that my burden is eternal vigilance.