A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York.
By Nina Pajak
Sometimes good intentions will get you nowhere.
A couple of evenings ago, I was out walking Gus down by the Hudson. As we began our constitutional, I noticed a stroller sitting unattended on a patch of grass near the water. It looked like it was or had recently been in use for its intended purpose—laden with toys, a sippy cup, diaper bag, the usual childcare accoutrements—but no one around appeared to be its owner. I stood for a moment looking about me for anyone who might fit the bill, and seeing no one but not thinking much of it, I continued on. Twenty minutes later when we were on our return trip, the stroller was still there, untouched. Again, I looked around. And again, I saw no one. Passersby also glanced sideways at it, but nobody stopped.
As Gus and I made our way towards home, I started running through all of the possibilities in my mind.
Scenario 1: A woman in the throes of post-partum depression threw herself and her baby into the river. Yes, this was really my first thought. But I’d looked over the edge of the railing and seen nothing aside from the usual floating garbage.
Scenario 2: Someone kidnapped the baby who had been in the stroller and the mother took off, abandoning her belongings.
Scenario 3: The owner of the stroller was injured and had to be placed in an ambulance, and in the fray the stroller was forgotten.
Scenario 4: A thief stole the stroller from outside a restaurant or shop and then discarded it after realizing it contained nothing of value.
Scenario 5: It’s a cleverly disguised explosive.
Scenario 6: It’s a cleverly disguised drug hand-off.
Basically, I couldn’t think of a single non-horrible reason why a stroller filled with strollery stuff would be left to the birds on the West Side Promenade. But I realize that I possess an alarmist and generally irrational mentality, brought even more sharply into focus by far too many hours spent reading gory local news stories and watching Lifetime movies and crime procedurals on television. I had no idea how a normal person would have reacted to this situation.
As much as I didn’t want to overreact, I also didn’t want to be that jaded New Yorker who thinks nothing is her problem. I was horrified to read that story a few weeks ago about a homeless man who died and was left for days in Riverside Park before any of the hundreds of people who passed by realized he wasn’t just passed out drunk. Though I’m sure I’m already that person in some ways, I want to do what I can to be better.
I continued to battle internally until I couldn’t take it anymore. I determined that I would call 311, so as not to sound an unnecessary alarm while still reporting the . . . whatever it was I was reporting.
After I explained what I’d seen to the operator, there was a pause. “So, are you reporting a suspicious package?” she asked.
“Well, I don’t really know what I’m reporting. I just told you what I saw. I don’t know what it is, but it seemed weird to me, so I thought someone should know about it.” I was beginning to feel dumber by the second.
Another pause. “If you’re reporting a suspicious package, I’ll need to patch in 911. Okay, so I’m going to patch in 911.” Okay.
She did, and I repeated what I’d told her to the 911 operator, who made it immediately clear that she had no time for me. She employed the hostile “ma’am” honorific, which is a thinly-veiled means of saying, “you effing idiot.”
“Ma’am . . . ma’am,” she blared. “Was there a baby in the carriage?”
“What? No! There was no baby, nothing like that.” I said.
“So there is no emergency, ma’am,” she said, annoyed.
“No, there isn’t. That’s why I called 311, not 911!” I said, exasperated and sheepish. “I saw something. I’m saying something!”
She cut me off: “If there was no baby in the carriage, you need to call your local precinct.”
“My what? My . . . uh . . . oookay,” I said, and they promptly hung up. I swear I could hear a smirk on her face.
Having no idea where my local precinct is, and feeling thoroughly rejected by the system, I decided “call your local precinct” was code for “nobody gives a sh**,” and that my involvement in this matter was over. I tried. I failed. I’d been brutally rebuffed. I saw something, I said something, and I was told to go tell someone else. I realize that 911 operators are busy, and that there are many emergencies and crimes being reported every day far more pressing than my possibly weird, possibly not weird abandoned stroller sighting. But I’d appreciate not being made to feel like a complete psychopath when I’m making a sincere attempt at responsible citizenship. Tell me you’ll pass it along or you’re writing it down on a post-it or putting into some system or something.
I have no idea what the moral is to this story. Perhaps it’s just an isolated tale of good Samaritanism gone wrong. Perhaps it tips to something far more insidious. Whatever. That’s me, going back to being a jaded New Yorker. If you’ve lost a stroller, don’t ask me.
Dear Readers: While I am rarely at a loss for words, I’m always grateful for column ideas. Please feel free to e-mail me your suggestions.
Nina Pajak is a writer and publishing professional living with her husband on the Upper West Side.
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