When I walked out the door of my apartment this morning, I think I entered some sort of strange time and space warp. On the very crowded elevator, an elderly woman from the floor above me kept turning around and smacking people with her very large handbag. She wasn’t doing it intentionally, but it was as if she was entirely unaccustomed to carrying around something that large (although it was old and weathered, like she’d been using it for the last 17 years). On the 14th floor a very tall man got on, and she managed to apply her handbag to his behind in such a way that he turned around and looked at me, with a combination of shock and appreciation in his eyes. I couldn’t find the words to express that it hadn’t been me and ended up babbling incoherently for a few seconds before just closing my mouth and looking at the floor.
Finally free of the elevator, I headed out to Market Street, to catch a bus down to Old City. I just missed one and was going to head down to take the trolley, when I noticed the blue light flashing, indicating that they weren’t running. I stood there for several minutes before decided to take my chances on Chestnut Street. Halfway down the block, I looked back and saw a bus shoot down the street. Turning forward, I also saw one leave the stop I was headed for. I then waiting another fifteen minutes before the bus came at the new stop.
Boarding the bus at my stop was a woman who has lived in my building for years. She has cerebral palsy as well as some learning delays. She recently acquired a scooter to help her get around, as the walker she had used for years had become too hard for her. However, the scooter has also proven a challenge for her, and steering it onto the bus was a Herculean effort.
After watching this woman spend a full five minutes trying to get her scooter into place, getting increasingly frustrated and embarrassed as she struggled, I took a seat at the back of the bus and was immediately accosted by a Mrs. Stein, a woman who lives down the hall from me (it’s like I live in a small town, not the 6th largest city in the country). She accused me of removing the muzuzah from the door of my apartment.
The muzuzah is a symbol of blessing and protection that Jews are supposed to place on the entrance to their homes within 30 days of buying or renting a property. The muzuzah on my door was put there by my step-grandfather when he married my grandmother in 1969 (he was slightly observant, my grandmother wasn’t at all). My apartment is the only home I’ve ever lived in that had a muzuzah on the door. I’m a Jew by birth but not really so much by practice. However, there is a large Jewish population in my building, I respect the traditions of the community and so would never think of removing this symbol. I tried to assure Mrs. Stein of this, but she was adamant that I had taken it down. Finally she huffed and turned her shoulder to me, to let me know that I had been dismissed.
She got off the bus a few stops later and I watched as the bus emptied as it traveled east. The woman on the scooter struggled even more mightily getting off the bus than she had getting on. I reached into my backpack and managed to send my computer cord flying into the aisle. Finally, nearly an hour after I walked out my front door, I arrived at my location. It was the longest and strangest 17-block trip I’ve ever taken.