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The Column

What a Long, Strange Trip
8/31/03

It was magic. A sweltering summer day in midtown Manhattan. Horns blaring, heat rising up off the pavement. But I barely noticed anything except you - walking towards me, smiling. Your business casual confidence took strides with the authority of a woman with a destination. Your hair was removed from your face by a ponytail, excepting one errant strand that danced across your cheek. Our eyes met, your smile grew bigger, and then you tripped and I burst out laughing.

What, you thought I wrote all that seriously?

I admit it - I like watching people trip. And so does everyone else - but some of you are just too afraid to say so.

I won't cause people to trip - I don't think that's right. Especially because half the humor is that when someone trips, it's their fault. The best is when someone trips because they're showing off, like a skateboarder. I'm laughing just thinking about it.

I have often sat in Union Square just watching the skateboarders fall. I'm sure it's very hard to be a skateboarder. But I'm also sure that it's fun watching people pretend they're skateboarders. Especially when they call for everyone's attention directly before they miss their board entirely.

It's not wrong to enjoy this, because I'm not laughing at someone else's pain. When someone trips and genuinely hurts themselves, that's not as funny. I mean, sure, it's still funny, but not AS funny. Really, I'm laughing at someone else's inconvenience, which is what they do right back to me when I trip. It's also what I do to me when I trip. I think someone tripping is so funny, I still laugh if it's me.

I have a passion for the Winter Olympics, but not for the same reasons most people do. I watch figure skating, just praying for someone to attempt a Triple Klutz. One of my favorite Saturday Night Lives sketches is when Chris Farley just keeps falling on the ice. I like watching skating miscues so much that when I played Winter Games on the Commodore 64, I made the skater keep falling. It turned out that there was a trick in the game where if you fall enough times, you get a perfect score. But only when the French judge was watching.

Even skating announcers enjoy it when the skater falls. Sure, they always say stuff like "oh, that's going to cost her a career," but you know they're high-fiving in the booth.

I watch skiing, and cycling, and ice dancing, and anything else where people are prone to tumble. In fact, my favorite restaurant in New York is the Rock Center Café. Most people like it because it's got great food in a nice setting for reasonable prices. I like it because it's on the skating rink at Rockefeller Center and has big picture windows.

I know that I may come off heartless for my enjoyment of a sudden detour in a person's quest to remain upright, but I am not as heartless as the people who directly comment on it. I don't point out the victim's uncoordination to them; while they are sitting on the pavement, I'm sure they're already well aware of it. Some other people, however, feel the need to heckle with phrases like "have a nice trip" and "see you next fall" and "man, I'm a loser for saying things like ‘have a nice trip' and ‘see you next fall.'"

When I'm there to witness the stumble first-hand, I try not to let the person see my reaction. Though I think it's less out of kindness and more out of my being afraid that while talking to the person, I may get distracted and trip.

So whoever you were on 59th Street between 3rd and Lexington this past Wednesday, with the business causal confidence and the errant strand of hair, if you're reading this, I'm sorry that I laughed out loud, and sorrier that I didn't stop to talk to you. Perhaps you can send me an email and we can get together over a cup of coffee.

I know this great place on the ice at Rockefeller Center.

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