Ryan and the Technicolor Wardrobe
Short Stories and Essays

A few years ago, when I told a buddy that I was going to New York, he told me to put my headphones away and to listen to the chatter on the subway.  He wasn’t from New York, but he had seen a Twitter feed of someone who posted the inane and outrageous things he would hear on the various subway lines.  As much as I’m a fan of free entertainment, I kept the headphones on, choosing the soothing sound of local rappers, Jay-Z or the Beastie Boys over the mentally unhinged.

On my most recent trip, I opened my ears to the locals.  Not because I was curious to hear what my friend was talking about, but because I had lost my headphones somewhere in my sister’s apartment.  They weren’t particularly expensive headphones, but I knew they would mysteriously appear the second that I bought new ones, so I spent a couple of days bouncing around Manhattan with no ability to tune people out.  Unfortunately, the locals  on the trains were  on their best behavior, so there was little entertainment as I zipped around between Brooklyn and Manhattan.

On one of these headphone-less days, I was supposed to meet up for dinner and drinks with my co-worker Daisy.  Daisy also invited an ex-co-worker of ours, Denise, who I had once mistaken as a server during a night of drinking back when we were co-workers in California.  Denise asked  if I even remembered who she was, and before I could respond, she brought up my prior lapse of recognition, for which I don’t blame her.  If I was in the same position, I would probably rub it in whenever the opportunity presented itself.

After a round of drinks, Denise received a text from her friend Jenny, who happened to be in the area.  Jenny joined us for drinks while she waited for a couple of her guy friends to arrive.  She had just accepted a job offer for a teaching position earlier that day, so she was in a celebratory mood.  We congratulated her, we toasted to her new job, and we chatted with her, even as her friends showed up.  While we were definitely all having a great time, Daisy and Denise needed to turn in early because they had work the next day.  Jenny asked me if I wanted to join her and her friends, and I agreed after Denise assured me that they were a good time.

They were definitely a that while we were at the first bar, but things started to fall apart shortly after Denise and Daisy left, and we headed to a new location.  Jenny grabbed on to my arm as we walked down a stone cobbled street.  The act was innocent, she just needed some assistance walking down this uneven street while in her heels, but it was misinterpreted by one of her friends as an invitation to hit on her.  After we reached a sidewalk, she let go of my arm, and soon after, he started holding her hand.  I knew Jenny had a boyfriend back at her apartment, but since I was basically still a stranger at this point, I was going to stay out of her or their business.

After spending half an hour just trying to find her friend’s car, we headed to a hotel that he was going to stay at for the night.  Since we were in New York, the hotel had no parking for him, so he pulled the car over, and hopped out so he could check in.  After he left the car, Jenny mentioned that she needed to use the restroom, and I volunteered to walk her to a bar or a restaurant, so we got out of the car.

Once we were out of earshot, Jenny told me that the hand holding had freaked her out, and that she was pretty sure that her friend had set his sights on sleeping with her, which she wanted no part of.  This was not what I wanted to hear, not because I wanted her to be fine with cheating on someone, but for someone who had just met her just a few hours prior, this was a lot of potential drama to process.  She admitted that she didn’t need to use the restroom and that she wanted to just get away, so I walked her to a bar and we ordered a couple of drinks.

We sat down and I asked her what subject and grade she would be teaching, and she immediately dived into telling me about how excited she was to be teaching 10th grade English, complete with ideas about her curriculum.  She apologized for boring me, but she in fact, was the exact opposite.  It was inspiring to hear her geek out about something that she was so obviously passionate about, and it didn’t hurt that she would occasionally drop in colorful little phrases like “I can’t wait to teach those motherf*ckers about the death totals in Hamlet!”

In the midst of our great conversation, I told her about the speech I was working on for my best friend’s wedding.  I mentioned that I wanted to say that he was “selfless” but I was afraid that people would hear “selfish”, and she offered the word “altruistic”, which I did in fact actually use in the actual speech.  I was so grateful to have had this conversation with her, and it took the most random of circumstances to get us there.  I met her through a friend, who I had no idea that I was going to see, on a day where Jenny just got this new job, and only after we had to escape her friend’s car after he made an awkward pass at her.  Though I know I will never see her again, since she’s moving, she’s left an indelible impression on me.

I left that night inspired, but at the same time, I felt bad for her.  On this triumphant day for her, she had to make a new friend to celebrate her good news, while one of the people that she thought would be there for her, was spending the night scheming how to get in her pants when all she wanted to do is talk about her new job.  It was the one night in New York where I was glad that I didn’t have my headphones, so I could actually hear a stranger around me, to give them the one thing that they wanted that night, and that thing was to be heard.