A New WSR Feature Written By You: ‘UWS Encounters’

They happen all the time when we’re out and about in the neighborhood: encounters with strangers. Some are humorous and heartwarming, others — like the one below — not so much.

If you’ve had a notable “UWS Encounter,” or observed or overheard one, send it in. We’ll pick the best-written, most-representative stories, and, periodically, post them, with bylines. If yours is chosen, we’ll also send you a limited-edition West Side Rag mug. Please do not exceed 150 words. (The Encounter that follows is 145.) Real names are required, and illustrations and photographs are appreciated.

A Narrow Aisle to Reality

Zabar’s, the week before the start of the Jewish New Year: A woman of considerable girth and I passed each other in a narrow aisle. She gave me, I believe, a little shove. I turned around and said, “Easy, baby.” She said, “Easy yourself. Just because you’re old, doesn’t excuse you from having manners.” “It was you,” I retorted, standing my ground. “And I’m not old.” “Well, you look old,” she said. Then, sensing its power, she repeated it. “You look old.” “Yeah, well, you look…” I didn’t finish my sentence. A man unpacking oranges was listening and it flashed through my mind that she might hit me.

I walked out into the morning sun, which, Rod Stewart sang, “really shows your age,” feeling as bruised as an orange, realizing I had just come face to face with objective reality: I’m no spring chicken.

— Carol Tannenhauser

Send your UWS Encounters to: westsiderag@gmail.com.

COLUMNS | 23 comments | permalink
    1. Sam says:

      After 40 years in NYC I have learned that the best way to confront angry, rude aholes is to not.

      It’s not worth the time. Smile and move on.

    2. MB/UWSer says:

      A fun feature – I look forward to a noteworthy encounter myself! After all, I’m admiring that jazzy mug!! Most likely, I will relish in reading the notes of others.

      However, as for confronting others in the heat of a NYC moment, I tend to err on the side of mumbling under my breath – there’s always the risk of bigger, badder – in which case silence and humiliation befalls upon me and I instantly morph into a turtle.

      But it’s not lost on me to now try to smile, breathe, and move on. 😉

    3. EM says:

      This just goes to show you that no matter your size or your age a little decorum goes a long way. A simple “excuse me” would have done. Anything else begs for confrontation.

    4. Janice says:

      I always have on-point scathing super hurtful comments I fling right back–in my mind. In reality, I never answer and just keep moving. Just like on social media. It’s not worth my time to engage with jerks.

    5. Renee says:

      I am happy to see this fun feature as I love UWS living. However I would encourage you to attempt to keep this on the more positive side. The world has enough negativity as it is. If you ask people to look for positive interactions to report you are sending out better energy for our neighborhood.
      Hoping to see this column grow and have a positive theme overall.

      • J. L. Rivers says:

        A few years ago, I think it was 2014,i was about to cross West End Ave at 93rd St when I realized that a biker was struggling to stop at the light due to what I assume were bad brakes. As I got out of his way to avoid being hit I glanced at his face, which looked a little perplexed at the poorly working brakes. It turned out to be Matthew Broderick.

    6. jmg says:

      “Watch out,” I yell from my bike to a woman crossing in front of me against the light on Amsterdam Avenue. “I got here first,” she replies, in a unique twist on the law.

      • j says:

        Is this a trend? This happened to me recently on Columbus. I wish we, as a people, did not always need to have the last word.

    7. West 90th street Jeff says:

      “Before the start of the Jewish New Year…”
      Hmm. Who shall live, and who shall die, who by fire, and who by water, … you could add: who by unneeded anger and who by mindless violence. It’s a time for reflection, for throwing bread and sins into the flowing waters and for making vows to become a better person. This encounter helps to bring the season of renewal and contrition into sharp focus.

    8. Bob Lamm says:

      Dear Ms. Tannenhauser: Thanks for this memorable story. I detest strangers (who don’t use real and full names) telling you what YOU should or shouldn’t do in this type of situation. I believe that you (or any of us) should do as we feel. Confront, walk away, whatever.

      I also detest demands for “positive themes” and “better energy.” I like reading anything that is real and genuinely felt by the writer. If it’s positive, if it’s negative. We all feel a range of emotions and I hope future pieces you publish will display that range.

    9. Rodger Lodger says:

      Around a year ago give or take I was at the appetizers counter when I realized a couple of real strangers to the area were next to me contemplating the offerings. I made some suggestions and found out they were good ol’ boys from Texas. We were polite, even friendly as these encounters with strangers can go. To them I probably looked like a fugitive from Shtisel, although I am secular. For weeks I felt good about not acting out like people who are sure who their deadly political enemies are. I sensed I was a good will ambassador from alient territory. Forgot to ask them how they wound up in Zabar’s or the UWS for that matter to begin with.

    10. JS says:

      I found this article so well written with humor. As they say “only in New York”.

    11. Renee says:

      I always liked the line uttered by Kathy Bates as she rammed the insulter’s car deliberately: “ I am old and I have better insurance than you do!” Ok, maybe not verbatim but from ‘Fried Green Tomatoes ‘.

    12. Marjorie says:

      Maybe this is not WSR mug-worthy, but it’s true:

      I was also in Zabar’s shopping for the New Year. A husband and wife – UWS natives, I’m pretty sure – were at the fish counter, bickering expertly in the way long-married couples do. “Hey,” I said smiling at the husband, “you sound just like MY husband.” “Get him down here,” he urged. “I need him!”

    13. J. L. Rivers says:

      The NYTimes has a column like this, but with only nice and saccharine situations.

    14. Justpassingthrough says:

      Offering another perspective on this- it’s possible that the little shove was completely unintentional since, as is mentioned, the woman “is of considerable girth” and the two of you were in a narrow aisle. And it’s also possible that her response was fueled more by the embarrassment/frustration that she probably repeatedly experiences as an overweight or obese person in our society than pure belligerence. Either way, why pick a fight over something like this? Best to just let it slide and go on with the day. The world is already sufficiently problematic on its own!

      • Mary says:

        I agree. And not sure that I’d react so well to someone much older than I am telling me, Easy, baby. If that were a man saying that to a woman I think more people might agree that it could be perceived as offensive. I’d like to think I wouldn’t react with rudeness, but I’m not so sure… These are temper-fraying times!

    15. Ruby in Manhattan says:

      Why be ashamed or defensive of being old or looking old? (You would have preferred to die young?) Ageism is prejudice against our future selves.

    16. kristina says:

      great little piece!

    17. CCL says:

      As an old-ish looking woman who sometimes stops in the middle of the sidewalk like a clueless tourist, an even older-looking woman yelled at me as she almost ran into me with a couple bags of groceries. She was steaming mad and told me lots of things about my behavior.

      I just looked at her and said, “I’m so sorry. You are right. I should learn to move over on the sidewalk and not block it.”

      She just stared and blinked. I think disappointed in not being able to continue the fight.

      • Cato says:

        Then, on the other hand, I was walking down one of the cross-streets a recent evening. The sidewalk was narrower than most because of a tree on the curb side and, on the other, brownstone steps and trash-can corrals.

        An all-too-typical gentleman was waddling down the street ahead of me, his nose glued firmly to his (what else) cell phone. If he had been walking any more slowly he would, as they say, have been going backward. But better than that, he was also flowing left, then shifting right, then stopping to ponder his screen, then repeat.

        Having been thwarted in my efforts to pass him several times by his randomly-shifting path, I finally succeeded and said as I did so — I thought with a bit of a smile — “You should make up your mind”. Obviously deeply offended, probably at my rude interruption to his intimacy with his phone, he barked at me (as I finally made it past him) “Just RELAX, buddy”. And then added, as I was already steps ahead of him, “Just go AROUND me!”.

        I turned around (continuing to walk away, of course), doffed my cap ceremoniously at him (is there any other way to doff a cap?) and said loudly, “yes, SIR!!”.

        Ah, West Siders and their phones. Never an apology from them — they are *entitled* to all the space around them to commune with their devices. The rest of us — “Just go AROUND me!”.

    18. Nancy says:

      Great idea to add this feature!