(Eugene) Schmidt Sting Pain Index
I, like so many of us here, tend to over-exploit my own perturbation: squeezing out emotions to the last oozing drop hoping to find something, anything peculiar about the world around me. And then reflect. Years of hard work poked my head and turned it, as well as the adjoined face, gray or at least grayer. No one is spared, this is how time works. Although the wind in my face doesn't make me cry, I find it impossible to resist the temptation to burst in curses just to raise the level of common seriousness. In other words, if our menopausal leader, our fatherly tzar over there in the bear haunted East, can shed an occasional tear of happiness in a sudden gust of patriotic estrus, I don't see why I shouldn't drift relentlessly towards a harmless hysteria.
I came to New York in 2011 in search of a Kübler-Rossian experience, but instead I got a full blown Kalervo Oberg on my head. Well, distance does indeed lend enchantment to a view, I wasn't ready, so few of us are. Most of the world lives under American cultural hegemony anyway, so how shocking can the local culture be? How cultural the shock it provokes? Oh, very, very shocking and not in the least cultural. It stings. How does it sting, you might ask? Well, let me guide you step by step through my new invention - the cultural shock sting pain index.
You learn this very early, and, like many of us here, you may learn it the hard way. After stepping onto American concrete (you can't really call it soil) for the first time in the modern-day Ellis Island of JFK, I found myself in desperate need of two things: a cigarette and a means to get to the flat that my employer had generously organized. I noticed a group of people who seemed to be queuing for something that seemed like a yellow cab service. I approached one of them and asked very politely:
- Excuse me, is this the queue to get a cab?
- No, this is the line for a taxi, you're in America, pal.
Meh. My tiny revenge was immediate: I said 'Cheers'.
In the following week, I reluctantly admitted to myself that the English language I had learned in school was pretty much useless under these exciting new conditions. One of my new colleagues, a middle-aged African-American woman from Arkansas, would listen closely to my phone conversations with a real-estate broker and carefully write the American translation of everything that I said on a yellow sticky note, while being a little over-gesticulative to my taste. She would then stick my miserable Russian face in it without any compromise.
Flat = Apartment,
Lift = Elevator,
Metro = Subway,
Or no one will understand you, you're in America, pal.
Meh. My tiny revenge followed swiftly: I demanded an explanation of the difference in pronunciation between 'Kansas' and 'Arkansas'.
Living on an island with a population density of roughly around 27,500 people per square kilometer and 50 million tourists every year, you quickly realize that either you learn to line up for stuff professionally or you die. The next thing you learn is that there isn't always something at the end of it.
(imagine a picture of IPhone 5s queue vs the Soviet TV set store)
People who carry folding chairs, sleeping bags and little tents to witness Our Lady of Gaga at the grand opening of H&M (or get a brand new pair of Nike sneakers, or a see Maroon 5 gig) form a 'pathetic consumer crowd' of the famous queueing persuasion. I briefly reflect on the story of how my elder sister lost consciousness standing in a line like this in the 80's USSR while trying to get a new couch. I simply can't wrap my feeble mind around the fact that the elasticity of demand for a bad Soviet couch in 1987 is as low as one of the iPhone 5s in 2013. I can only be sympathetic towards their lot, as the weather in New York can be quite bad, especially in winter or say… in summer.
(imagine a picture of Shake Shack queue vs the Soviet Kolbasa line)
Sometimes you notice a two hour line near a burger joint that isn't at all good. A two hour line becomes a 30 minute line in harsh weather (during a hurricane or a snowstorm or a polar vortex). These people are known as 'pathetic cravers' and will all end up in hell after a sudden heart attack. The goal of utmost importance for a pathetic craver is to become a ‘pathetic aficionado’ - it’s a prominent life achievement. Being a pathetic aficionado means that after living through this queue you won't have a choice other than to brazenly swear that this burger was the best thing that ever happened to you and then ceaselessly recommend it to even more pathetic cravers. Recommendations are their main breeding vehicle, and so they procreate irrepressably like bacteria, doubling every few minutes or so. And then the hordes of pathetic aficionados with little, none or utterly irrelevant life experience deprive the word ‘best’ of its value. And queue up, goddammit.
I have little sympathy for them too, however, I consider myself something of an espresso connoisseur. I’m all about lining up in a hipster coffee joint and snobbishly disregarding your opinion. Even Homer nods. No tiny revenges this time. Whatever. F*** you!
Anyway, even the places that are actually good or provide relevant services suffer from a shortage of physical space and over-abundant consumers. This results in a lack of intimacy and mystique especially on dates. You have to shout, spitting unchewed pieces of meat or tofu in her face, secretly hoping that she may be into that but then suddenly realising that you’re not.
However serious these queues may seem, they are very rarely lethal, except for maybe only the Black Friday one, but don’t you jump to conclusions! ‘Triage lines’ are designed specifically to kill a few ‘medical attention cravers’: a few injured, a few sick, a few old. My personal experience shows that the triage line can consist any number of pre-triage lines or even loops, especially if your first name has a more complex spelling than ‘John’ or ‘Jane’ and your last name is not ‘Doe’.
But there’s always an easy tip to excel. Thou shalt lie about your pain. If you tell the truth there’s a pretty high chance you’re going to heaven on the spot. If you say that it hurts and lie, you will probably survive for now and make it easier for a few winners like you, that are behind, by eliminating the pathetic losers in between. May your life will be long and prosperous, because now you’re in America, pal.
(imagine a picture of people dying in the lines of the emergency rooms in the hospitals)
My tiny revenge on the triage line was unusually irresistible: I stayed alive. Partially because it wasn’t lethal, although I thought it was, and partially because I had survived the Shake Shack Madison Square Park line in -10 C several months prior to that.
As you can see, standing in line may affect your life in a very dramatic way. So learn to be patient. In the end you reach zen and buy a cheap red umbrella, raise it above your head in the middle of Times Square and watch people form a line behind you. This is your own personal queuing gang, your tiny and meaningless revenge. They will follow you anywhere you go, so chose wisely pied piper.