Ask If I Can “Keep Up” With You Again, I Dare You

Pairs well with Entropy, by Grimes

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I walk really fast. In my mind, walking as a primary means of transportation to get from point A to point B isn’t just logical, it’s exercise. My gait is purposeful and brisk, I’m going to get where I’m going, even if I’m in no particular rush, and I’m going to burn a calorie or two while I do it. I base my footwear decisions on mileage, not fashion. Sometimes I think I was always meant to live in New York. Both for my walking speed and my ability to pit bagels against each other like I’m ranking fine wine.

We are a city of walkers. Yes, we like a good Uber when it’s raining, and a good taxi when Uber is surging, but most of the time if we want to get somewhere, we can walk. There’s a kind of calming comfort I get knowing that if I wanted to, I could walk to Yankee Stadium from my apartment in Brooklyn. I don’t know why I like that thought, I’m not much of a baseball fan, and I certainly wouldn’t prefer the Yankees, if I was. Having an affinity for sports teams outside of Texas makes me feel cheap. Like I’m wearing drugstore lipstick and a perfume promoted by a pop star.

I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the sidewalks of New York City and sometimes even those in Brooklyn are not simply vacant for someone with my natural walking speed to traverse, unmarred. I encounter all manner of species on my walks. I encounter absolutely nothing that I want to encounter on my walks. I am the silver ball in the pinball machine and there is shit in my way.

The ambling tourist. I know where I live. I’m not an idiot. I get that this city hosts millions of tourists each year, and not a single one of them knows where they’re going. Hey, I’ve been there. I was new here once, too. I spent a good three weeks getting on the subway going the wrong direction, it happens.

If I could communicate one piece of advice to tourists, something that might make them a little less despised by people simply trying to get a coffee and a scone before going to work, it would be this: Pull over. Think of the New York City sidewalk as a freeway. You wouldn’t stop your car in the middle lane to pop the trunk in search of a book on tape you’ve been meaning to listen to, you’d pull over. You’d utilize the shoulder in the way it was meant to be used. But since you won’t, since you pause, look straight up like you’re going to find a neon light pointing you in the right direction, and then look down at a map like that’s really a benefit to you either at this point, since you clog traffic like an alcoholic’s artery, I have to use the shoulder. I have to teeter along the curb to get around your fifteen-person tour group who didn’t have the goddamn sense to figure out where it was going while it was still all seated comfortably at a table. You had to wait until you stepped out a door to realize you didn’t then know which direction to point your feet. I have to walk on subway gratings and in gutters and sometimes stand fucking still while you figure out what you’re doing in life. Just move to the side, get it together, and let me walk. I just want to walk. Central Park is that way.

The waddling local. This bitch has given up. She’s been here so long, for so many years, that she ran out of fucks to give long ago. Her hustle died when Friends went off the air. She is in no hurry, she couldn’t care less about those who are, and so she waddles. Shifting weight from left foot to right, like a low-tech children’s toy. Maybe she’ll have a friend with her who ambles along at a similar clip, doubling my frustration. I hate this woman. I hate that she walks in the center of the sidewalk. I hate that she knows what she’s doing. I hate that she thinks she’s cluing me in on a little secret. I know my energy is going to run out one day, woman, but it is not this day! Today I am fast. Today I am mobile. Today I’m wearing perfectly broken in boots and you will not steal my walk from me! I’m going to shove one of them one day, I swear I am. I’ll start saving bail money tomorrow.

The lunatic. Most of the time these people are sedentary. They occupy a park bench as if they’ve claimed it in the Oklahoma Land Rush. They sit on that bench, pee on that bench, and scream unintelligible dialog to people and things only they can see. They leave me alone, I leave them alone. But every once in awhile, one of them goes mobile. The last lunatic that tried to steal my sidewalk was a grunter. I was a little worried for him actually, he was wearing just a tee shirt and jeans in cool weather. And he grunted. Over and over again. A middle-toned uuuuuugggggggghhhhhhhhhh uttered every four steps or so. He’d get louder every time we had to stop at a red light. He was a brisk walker, too! Every time I thought I’d outpaced him, he’d catch up. I finally took an unnecessary left turn and added a full NYC avenue to my journey just to get some peace. You know you’re really causing a racket when the sound of you is noticed during a New York morning commute.

The smoking philosophers. These guys make me sick, both literally and figuratively speaking. Literally, I can’t believe they still do this. I can’t believe I still walk past buildings with huddled groups of smelly smokers occupying territory on the sidewalk like they’ve leased it from the city. And they always seem to be talking about something terrifically important. World affairs, gas prices, the election. They’re coworkers. They spend the whole day together but only with a cigarette in hand three times a day can they talk about real shit. Like the bike rack to their left is some kind of pulpit. They talk at a volume just a bit too loud, to make sure I can hear them when I walk by. To make sure I know how smart they are, as they kill themselves in small doses. Their second hand smoke billows along the sidewalk and I have to pass through it like a cancerous delousing on my way to Walgreens to purchase gum and Claritin. These greedy fools aren’t satisfied to simply take up concrete real estate, they want ownership over the air I breathe, too. I’d move around them, move to the side, but then I’d bump into one of the other cast of characters determined to ensure I get zero exercise today. It’s like they want me to die, asthmatic and alone, but little do they know Fate has been working that shift for years.

The line for something. A book signing, a sample sale, a new sneaker of some kind. Lines for things in New York are omnipresent. Lines for things in New York are written up on Buzzfeed. Where normal cities only see lines like these for sci fi movie releases, New York can pull a 100-person line at Trader Joe’s on a Tuesday. When I first came here, they were a bit of a spectacle. Now they’re a fucking nuisance. They take up room! They’re not lined up in an orderly fashion like Rockettes, they’re splayed about, all totebags and down parkas of them, and they’re in my way. My favorite part is when I’m trying to walk past a line, and some schmo pops her head and body out of the line to get a better glimpse of the front, like there’s some activity a line can participate in that she might miss from where she’s standing. A line either moves or it doesn’t. It does two things. You’re not getting any additional information by being an out of whack vertebrae right now, idiot, get out of my way. Sometimes I slam into them on purpose. They need to learn.

The posse abreast. Fuck you, Sex & The City, for making women think that walking down a New York City sidewalk at four people across was acceptable behavior. You permitted women to think that city sidewalks really were runways, like people really gave a damn to see other people just like…walk. Like average people would just step out of the way in awe and allow four women with the ability to dress themselves the entire width of the sidewalk to do with what they please. You sensationalized a normal behavior because it looked good on camera. It made for good symmetry. You knew how much we loved you but you never warned us that some of your behavior was unrealistic. Least of all a studio apartment of that size on a weekly columnist’s salary. You promoted the idea that there was something inherently entertaining about four women being friends with each other that the rest of the world would just die to see in action. Didn’t you at least anticipate that they’d take you seriously? You were an iconic voice of an entire gender, how could you do this to us? Two by two, dammit! What’s wrong with two by two??

The mothering mother. In my day if I caused a fuss in public I would have been told to be quiet until we got home with the parental forcefulness of an atom bomb. I would have remained silent until we got in the door and then my mother would have reprimanded me into peeing my pants. It would be unpleasant, I’d be terrified, but I’d learn. Now, any time a New York City child, heaven help him, misbehaves on a city sidewalk, the mother will take this as an opportunity to teach a lesson, on the spot. She’ll pause, kneel, and calmly educate, never mind the throngs of walking people she’s now parting like a bible story. The wee fucker can whine, howl, and tantrum all he wants, this issue will get resolved in the present, in the now. In my way. Nannies won’t do that. Nannies will push a stroller full of dropped-Cheerio tears all the way home and think nothing of it. Give me a good nanny any day. That bitch can hustle.

The romantics. Oh good god. One fussy little quirk about New York is that nothing is private. Taxi drivers have been observing good night kisses for decades. There is no private place to exchange affections, or even resolve disputes. People are very rarely home in a place this social, this loaded with options. So many a partnered pleasantry is visible for all to see, for all to walk around. This of course reminds me that I’m walking alone, a thought I both love and hate at the same time, another reason still for me to want to kick coupled up people in the kneecaps. I don’t care if a couple is making out or breaking up, they need to get off the sidewalk. It isn’t enough that couples typically hold hands, become this mobile unit of perpetual annoyance that I have to Slinky my body around, but they also get into the real guts of being a couple right out there in the open. Nothing can wait. The speed of this city means business, and everything from a common argument to the first time they say I love you needs to be accomplished immediately, and they want to make sure I see it. This isn’t theater. This can’t be comfortable for them, either. I’m so baffled by behaviors that should happen behind closed doors that don’t. We have patience for nothing. Let’s just do this thing now, okay? There’s a seven minute wait for an Uber. Let’s fight about my ex’s phone number popping up on my phone at dinner. Let’s fight about it now, hurry, there’s a determined girl in ankle boots headed this way.

I can’t walk at my usual pace when I’m with someone else. My speed is one that is better suited to solitude. When I’m with a friend or colleague, before I know it I’m half a block ahead of them and I’m still carrying on the conversation, into the wind. I almost always have to slow down, allow my companion to catch up, to then walk at a pace that to me feels like a romantic stroll through Paris. I don’t know if you’re familiar with New York, but it’s not Paris. I only get to walk the way I like to when I’m alone.

One of the things I’ll miss most when I’m no longer single is walking. At my pace. I’ll certainly miss starfishing the entire bed and never having to share the couch or the non-dairy ice cream or adjusting the temperature to someone else’s tastes. I’ll miss my early mornings spent at whatever volume I like and no one will ever side-eye me for wearing tattered yoga pants that I’ve never actually done yoga in. But overall I’m going to miss the walking. I’m sure there will still be plenty of walks alone, to and from work, but so many of my steps will be taken in tandem. What if he’s a slow walker? Could I even do that to myself?

There is a phrase, like so many basic-bro others, that keeps popping up my online dating world:

“Can you keep up with me?”

It’s recurring, it’s ignorant, and I’m almost entirely certain it does not refer to walking. Usually the guy who typed it has a spray tan and a giant tribal arm tattoo. Keep up? How arrogant. Like you haven’t even met me yet and already you’re wondering if I’m enough for you? Should the first exchange you have with a woman really be that kind of challenge, that demand?

I’m assuming it refers to an adventurous nature. Please don’t let it just refer to CrossFit. I picture him as one who loves spontaneous travel, likes his nights out with no particular plan of action, spends the weekends at a new climbing gym and sees evenings on the couch as a sign of weakness. He’s sure as shit not my type but I’m confident he’s someone else’s.

By now I’ve learned not to make demands of my potential dates. It doesn’t lead to anything productive. I’ve also learned not to have too many prerequisites. They can be prematurely limiting. I have preferences, sure, but requirements in my experience will just keep you at home more nights than not. I prefer a quick wit, I prefer a day job. I prefer arms larger in circumference than mine. And I prefer a fast walker. It’s just a preference. It’s not a demand. Just something I hope for.

I can’t imagine ever having to give up my kind of walking. The speed, the freedom, and the volume of it that I do to keep me somewhat healthy and mentally sound. I couldn’t walk this fast with a child. I couldn’t walk this fast with a Doberman. At first I was so confused by all the parents toting around Razor scooters in New York and now I know they use them to mobilize their children at a pace that’s faster than turtle-esque. We literally have to put wheels on our children now.

“Can you keep up with me?”

Asshole. Like her first task is to prove something to you, rather than the other way around. She’s coming into things at a loss, and she’s got to make up for presumed shortcomings right out of the gate, you animal. It totally negates the need for the guy to be impressive, heaven forbid a gentleman, because she’s too distracted trying to “keep up.” Yeah okay fine, she’s pretty and all, but will she go to three rooftop parties on a Monday and dance and Snapchat and do drugs and watch the sun rise? No? Pssshhht. Next.

I’d like something with balance. I don’t want to spend a relationship with one person chasing the other’s tail. I like evenness. Even if it’s one person balancing out a particular quality in the other. Most of life is pretty mundane, pretty boring. I love meeting in the boring middle. I don’t love living for life’s extremes, they’re too rare. I’d like to find someone I can enjoy hanging out with in the middle. Unless I’m walking. I’ve got my headphones in, horrible pop on Spotify, and I’m walking. At my pace, my route. If I could find someone who matches that, holy shit. Have I ever known luck like that? I don’t know if I’ll find someone like that, ever. I don’t know if it’s even necessary. Maybe I’ll always walk by myself. Maybe our thing will be the subway. Maybe it’s better that the walking part of me is always free. Maybe that’s where I will always feel free, when I’m feeling stifled or dependent. Maybe the slowest walker on earth will make me laugh like they do on Weekend Update. I think maybe that’s more important. I don’t really care. I don’t have any preconceived ideals here, just hopes. Whoever he is, I hope he can keep up. I think he will.

Written by

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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