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Tuesday February 04, 2003, 01:02

Last week, as I was getting off of an N train at Times Square, I was hit in the head with two mylar balloons, one right after the other. She was holding them and was standing directly in front of the doors. As I made my way out through the crowd that was pushing its way out (ignoring the "please stand aside and let the people leave the train first" messages) I was trapped between a beam and balloons. Presented with the option of either walking face first into a support beam and getting smacked in the head with a helium-filled bag of plastic, I chose the latter, the inevitable ka-thwok being far preferable to losing a few teeth. What I was not prepared for was the second balloon, carefully hidden behind the first, and just as dangerous as the first.

By sheer luck alone am I still alive to tell the tale.

Also seen that evening was a scene to be entitled "Woman and Salad: A ritual in two parts."

The Upper West Side is a funny place. Why? Not sure. I think it attracts the strange ones. Areas collectively known as "downtown" are often thought of as home to the more colorful characters that this city has to offer, which might be true, but only for very specific types of colorful. Downtown areas tend to collect the people who want to live in a part of this city that are generally thought of as strange or interesting, different, if you will. Walking down St. Marks Place will bring you face to face with stores like "Religious Sex" and "Freak." The neighborhood draws out the weirdos by design. The Upper West Side breeds a much more subtle form of weird.

Sitting in the cafe, I watched a woman sit down, alone, at a table by the wall. She sat in the corner, facing the far end of the cafe where the cash register and counter we situated. She sat and read, ordered her dinner, and read some more. When her dinner arrived, she examined it carefully. A large salad had been placed before and she took it all in, wafting the fragrance of lettuce to her, letting it wash over her. Having taken her fill, she proceeded to pepper her meal, shaking pepper, slowly in concentric circles around the bowl. Gently at first and then more and more vigorously until she finally finished, seasoning the center like the dot on an exclamation point. The dressing came next. Again starting slowly, a slow spiral in the opposite direction from the pepper, speeding faster and faster until the salad dressing pitcher was spent. A few deft flicks of the wrist brought the remaining drops of salad dressing off of the spout and into the dinner. She sat back and admired her handiwork for a moment, and then dug into her dinner.

This is a special breed of odd.This is the odd of normalcy. This is the odd behaviour (like, for instance, incorrectly spelling a word using the British spelling, just because) that is exhibited only in otherwise normal people. This is the behavior (better this time) of the common resident of this city, this state, this country. Of the person who has no excuse, can not blame her upbringing, her station, her mood. This is just the kind of thing that someone might do, some time when nobody is looking. Or when somebody is looking, from behind a bush or across a cafe. It is the kind of odd that nobody expects to see, because it is so very easy to miss. It is the kind of odd that is so common, so run-of-the-mill, so Everyone, that everyone can relate, can internalize, can see as normal.

Oddly enough, Everyone would be wrong.

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