Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Caveman Lullaby

Anyone who lives in a big city is familiar with the Caveman Lullaby. It's that melody that can be heard when a female, or a group of them - always unaccompanied by a male - walk by a neo-Neanderthal, or a group of them, on the street.

"Eww-eey, eww-eyy, eww-eyy!" they chime.

"Momma!" they groan in utmost pain.

"Baby, baby, baby!" they squeal, with visions of ecstatic copulation reeling them back to the glory days of Homo erectus.

Painting with the broadest of strokes, let me say, there are only two kinds of men in this world: a) those who would engage in this kind of behavior, even once, and b) those who would never so much as consider doing such a thing. I, of course, belong to the latter category and hold in justifiable disdain all the cavemen with whom I have the misfortune of sharing my gender. Unfortunately, as a taxi driver, I am occasionally forced to render my services to these morons and, worse, to overhear their pathetic conversations.

I had just such a ride recently.

Four of them piled into my cab on a Friday night around 10:30 - three in the back and one up front with me - and told me to drive them to a certain club on East 21st Street. This turned out to be one of those four-passenger rides in which you wind up feeling like you're the Invisible Man. They just carry on with whatever they were talking about exactly as if you weren't there. It's one thing if they're all in the back and there's at least a semblance of you're-over-there-and-I'm-over-here. But with one of them up front, you feel like you've been hijacked and forced to join the gang, even if they see you as nothing more than a temporary robot-guy. The best thing to do is to just grit your teeth and bear it. I pulled out from the curb and the endurance began.

The topic of conversation had moved from which parties they'd been to lately, to how fucked-up some guy named Schmizel was, to who supposedly got laid last week, when we pulled up next to another taxi at a red light. Sitting in the back seat of the cab was a blond, a party girl type, who was busy texting. The guy in the back on the left was directly across from her and rolled down his window.

"Hey, baby," he brayed.

She looked over at him.

There was a brief pause of anticipation on her part, as if to say, "Yeah?"

"Hey, baby," the guy regurgitated.

She immediately turned back to her smartphone as if the annoyance had never taken place.

I thought this rejection would be pounced upon by his buddies, but there was nothing. It was as if this was just part of the expected flow of the evening: you stop at red lights and grunt at whichever female happens to be beside you in the next car, your advance is denied, and you move on. Nothing personal, just business.

The topic of conversation then turned to a girl named Lorraine, who apparently was well known to all of them.

"You did Lorraine?" a voice in the back asked.

"Fuckin' uh-huh!" the guy sitting next to me said enthusiastically.

"Whoa, when ja do her, dude?"

"At Lenny's party, like, what, three weeks ago?"

"Oh, Lenny's party, shit, yeah, there was some crazy shit at that party! I remember that!"

There was some talk about how crazy the shit had actually been at Lenny's party, but the subject soon turned back to Lorraine. The information shared included:

a) what a super hot fuckin' slut she was;

b) how her left tit was bigger than her right tit, or maybe it was the other way around;

c) the vast extent of her bush and how the guy sitting up front with me needed a weed whacker to get through it;

d) the surprising discovery of some dried-up little pieces of fecal matter when he finally was able to make his way down there.

As the three guys in the back roared in laughter at this foray into the realm of gross-you-out-with-something-you-never-thought-of-before-dude, we arrived at our destination on East 21st. Keeping in harmony with the tone of the evening, they each cried out, "You pay!" at the guy sitting next to me, sticking him with the fare, as they hurriedly filed out onto the street.

"Motherfuckers!" the guy in the front yelled back, realizing too late that the last person leaving the taxi is the one who has to pay. It's an urban form of musical chairs.

"Motherfuckers," he then said in my direction, the first communication that was even slightly meant to be received by me. I felt honored.

"Motherfuckers," I agreed.

He paid me the fare, promising some sort of vengeance to be wreaked upon his buddies in the near future, and exited the premises. Noting the details of the ride on my trip sheet, I turned off the meter, looked up, and noticed an elderly gentleman hailing me a short distance down the street. I started to move in his direction, but before I could go ten feet I was surprised to see the four guys who'd just been my passengers coming back toward me with an attractive brunette in tow. They barreled right past the elderly gentleman, opened the door of the cab, and with some exaggerated and uncalled-for chivalry presented her with this handsome prize, my taxicab. As it was tough to find an available cab at this particular time, she showed her gratitude by giving them a smile and a thank you in return.

My first instinct was to tell the brunette sorry, but the elderly gentleman had already hailed me, but then I thought better of it. The four merry cavemen had just paid me and given me a decent tip, so it would have been perceived as a dis on my part to do so, even though their "chivalry" was nothing more than Neanderthal dressed in lambswool. And besides, it wasn't the brunette's fault. She probably hadn't even noticed the elderly gentleman. I shrugged my shoulders and pulled out from the curb. Horatio and Washington was her destination, in the West Village.

Well, she turned out to be quite a nice person and a ready conversationalist. After a couple of minutes of benign chit-chat, I turned the subject to what was really on my mind.

"Those guys who got this cab for you..."


"...what did you think of them?"

"Seemed like nice guys. I'd been trying to get a cab for ten minutes, so they really helped me out back there."

"Have you ever walked by some guys on the street and had them start whistling and making kissing sounds at you?"

"Sure... God, I hate that. It's so degrading."

"Well, those guys were those guys."

"They were? How do you know?"

I gave her a censored version of their conversation about Lorraine and went on to tell her about the "hey, baby" guy in the back seat.

"Men are such pigs," she said, smiling.

It was turning out to be one of those great rides in which a female passenger is so free and open in talking to her driver about relationships between the sexes that you'd think the cabbie was a trusted female friend and not a guy she'd met five minutes ago who was just driving her someplace. I take it as a feather in my cap when I am accorded this honor. It's right out of Taxicab Confessions.

"What amazes me," I said, "is that guys who do this haven't noticed that it never works."

"Never works!" she echoed, laughing.

"It's true," I continued, "never once in the history of Men and Women has a guy gone into that "hey, baby" routine and gotten even a smile, much less gotten laid. It's automatic rejection."

"Automatic!" she agreed. "Why can't they ever learn this?"

When she departed the taxi at Horatio and Washington, she left me with not only an above-average tip, but an afterglow. I drove around for the next fifteen minutes with a smile I just couldn't get off my face from thinking about how funny and satisfying my last two fares had been. "Never once in the history of Men and Women" I replayed in my mind. How hysterical was that?...

And then it hit me.

"Oh my God!" I cried out loud as a certain almost-forgotten incident knocked on the door of my consciousness.

"Oh my God!"

On a Saturday night many years ago, sometime back in the '80s, a not unattractive girl, a twenty-something, got into my cab. She was particularly friendly, full of smiles and chatter, and was on her way to some disco (as clubs were still called in those days) on the West Side. After a few minutes of conversation she surprised me - no, hell, she shocked me - by suddenly asking if I wanted to be her date and come into the disco with her. This startled me because, for one thing, I have never been in the Brad Pitt category of boy-toy taxi driver. I am the Woody Allen knockoff, so this kind of proposition never happens to me. And for another thing, I was married at the time, and unless you happen to have been Nastasia Kinski, my fantasy sexpot in those days, I was not to be so easily swayed into tiptoeing around on my marriage vows.

So I was in the process of saying gee, thanks, that's so sweet of you, but I've gotta work, you know, so no thanks, when an incredible thing happened. A car with four guys in it pulled up next to us at a red light. The guy closest to my passenger rolled down his window.

"Hey, baby," he blurted out at her.

The Rules of Sexual Etiquette clearly state that she is required to ignore the barbarian, but that's not what she did. Instead, she smiled back at him.

"Hey, how ya doin'?" she replied.

That was all it took. In less than ten seconds she had shoved some money in my hand, opened her door, and gotten into the car with the four guys. Off they drove with the girl and disappeared into the kaleidoscope of traffic on the West Side, leaving me stupefied and alone in my empty cab. The incident was so contrary to anything I'd ever seen before that it became one of those mile markers on the highway of life that every once in a while jumps out at you in memory.

"How in the hell could that have ever happened?" you ask yourself, never expecting to receive an answer. Well, only now, twenty-five years later, do I finally have an explanation for the phenomenon.

It's like this. There are forces in the physical universe that we know exist, but we cannot see them. Magnetism, for example. Or microwaves. Or even the wind, for that matter. And then there are forces that we suspect must exist, but we don't really know what they are. Like bird migration. How do those birds know how to fly in formation and go to some exact location every year that's five hundred miles away? How do some animals seem to know a couple of days in advance that an earthquake is coming?

In a similar way - I'm sure of it now - there is a force at work that affects only the neo-Neanderthal, and not the rest of the men on the planet. You see, whenever a "hey, baby" is met with a "hey, how ya doin'?", even if it's once every twenty-five years, it sets off a carrier wave that only the caveman can perceive. He knows, on the deepest instinctual level, that she's out there somewhere. It's just a matter of finding her.

So what this means is that my supposition - "it never works!" - turns out to be not true. Actually, every once in a rare while it does work, as we have seen with that girl in my cab. And that's what keeps the whole damn thing going.

So there's no fighting it, the Caveman Lullaby is here to stay. In fact, I'm thinking maybe even I, the Mister Well-Mannered, Intellectual Taxi Guy, should give it a try. I mean, it's a numbers game, lots of people read this blog, and, who knows, the "hey, how ya doin'?" female could be reading this post at this very moment.

I'm gonna roll my window down right now.

Here goes.

Hey, baby...


Why dontcha come over to my place and we could, you know, look at some Pictures From A Taxi, or somethin'? Just click here.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Later

Apparently time flies not only when you're having fun and when you're having rum, but also when you're thinking back to That Day. Can it really be ten years? I'm afraid it can because I have the proof of it - a teenager got in my cab recently, somehow the subject of 9/11 came up, and he said, "Well, I was only six years old then so I don't really remember it."

Oh my God. And I thought I was getting old when some kid said he didn't know that Paul McCartney was once in the Beatles.

Well, time marches on, but if anyone ever doubted that 9/11 was the seminal event of our lifetimes, just notice the extent to which it is not being forgotten. There are elements about the tragedy that fiercely demand that we hold onto it, that we do not let it go, that we sift out from the figurative ruins what the lessons of the event have become and use those lessons to improve conditions however we can.

On an emotional level, I know it is embedded in my psyche. I still get choked up in the middle of a sentence when a tourist asks me where I was on that day. I can still privately break out in tears when certain memories are evoked. Not that I dwell on it or feel stuck in it. But it's always there.

On an intellectual level, I take this with me, as grim as it is - that there exist, and I believe have always existed, certain beings on this planet who will use whatever pretext they can get their hands on to do harm to other people. It's not good enough to just come out and say, "What really turns me on is maiming and killing other people". You've got to have a cause if you want to do it in a really big way. Hitler and those who avidly followed him were stellar examples, as are the current crop.

So what can we do? For me, the lessons of 9/11 are threefold. First, you've got to find a cause of your own. Find an activity that is truly beneficial to mankind and do what you can to contribute to it. Second, speak out. Do not be afraid to make your opinions known. Write letters to the editor. Vote. Start a blog. Thoughts, when expressed, are like ripples in a pond. Never underestimate the effects of your ripples. And third...

On the fifth anniversary of 9/11 I visited Ground Zero late at night to pay my respects. Each year a certain area on Church Street was set aside for expressions of sympathy and support. I was drawn to one in particular, a large board with about fifty different messages on it which had been created by elementary school students in California. One of these messages was profound in its simplicity and affected me deeply.

"Be nice to people," was all it said.


To read other posts I've written about 9/11, please click on the labels below.