“Nudge him” … On Looking Inside to See Humanity

“Leave Before it Makes You Hard”

Note: This is an addition to the ongoing conversation for BizCatalyst 360° on humans living unsheltered. As a New Yorker for 15 years, I spent a lot of time ignoring people living on the streets. I firmly believe that radical honesty with an inward focus is something we all could use a little more of, even if it’s not things people enjoy hearing. When we can examine our own biases and behavior, we can work to facilitate change in the world.

Late this morning, I waited for an ambulance as a man lie unconscious on 2nd Avenue and 4th Street. Another woman had already called 911, but I know CPR, so I thought that perhaps, my presence would be useful. The man’s eyes were rolled back with his eyelids slightly open, and his breathing looked labored, yet he was, indeed, breathing. Everyone seemed to not know what to do, so I asked around “Does anyone have Narcan?”

Nobody did.

Without wanting to risk my safety too much, I tugged the cloth tab attached to the zipper on his fanny pack. Maybe he had Narcan inside. As the pack slid open, all I saw was a used needle and some pill bottles. I was not about to go rummaging. My looking surely woke him up, though. I guess the threat to the stash was a serious one.

I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to perform CPR because he looked disgusting. I didn’t want to put my mouth on his. Then I questioned why I was there. This was my second instance this week of waiting for medical help to arrive for an unconscious person on the sidewalk.

When I got home, I texted my ex-boyfriend about it. He’s 38 and was born and raised in Brooklyn. We got together in our 20s when I was new to New York, and we’ve been dear friends ever since, even after our relationship fizzled. He taught me everything I needed to know about being a tough New Yorker, especially when it came to physical and psychological safety.

He called me upon receiving my text and the first words he said were “I’m not happy.”

Not happy, meaning, he wasn’t happy with me, especially when he heard about my discovery of the dude’s rig.

“Andrea, you don’t touch people,” he said. “I don’t care.”

Then there was the usual litany of hardened speech and lecture, void of emotion or empathy.

“I think I should start carrying Narcan,” I said. Things had been getting bad in the neighborhood.

He protested, saying none of it was our responsibility.

“I don’t know if I told you this,” he said, “but when I lived at the El Dorado, remember how there were two doors to get in?”

“I remember,” I said.

“Well, there was a guy passed out there once. You know what I did? I nudged him with my foot. He was like: moans inaudibly: and I’m like ‘OK. You’re alive,’ and then I moved on. That’s what you do. Nudge him with your foot and move on.”

To be honest, that’s probably what I would have done up until a year or so ago. And, if I’m continuing to be honest, before that I wouldn’t have stopped moving at all.

Baz Luhrmann wrote a song in 1999 called “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen.” The lyrics were taken directly from a 1997 essay in the Chicago Tribune by Mary Schmich called “Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young.” The song was popular when I was coming of age, and pieces of it have stayed with me. One of the lines is “Live in New York City once but leave before it makes you hard.”

In a few days, I will reach my 15-year anniversary in New York City.

I didn’t even know how hard I had become until two years ago. The realization came to me when I was visiting Chicago to run the marathon, and I took an early morning walk with the man who would eventually become my boyfriend. We passed by a church, and a man with no legs was sitting outside of it.

“I love you, brother,” Martin said to him as we passed. I ignored the man and pretended I didn’t see him. And then I was more than just embarrassed; I was ashamed.

Here I was, pretending to be this spiritually evolved life coach and I couldn’t even make eye contact with a human being. What had happened to me?

Maybe it was the 11 years of working late at night in Times Square. If there’s anything that will harden a human, it’s that. You meet people from all over the world every day, and it’s not always pleasant.

In my early to mid-20s alone I experienced an attempted terrorist attack (the same day I woke up to find my apartment building had been turned into an illegal hostel,) rampant substance abuse, gang initiation every Easter Sunday, (my bartender from O’Lunney’s was on the news at least twice about it,) and so much mental illness.

Maybe it was the gas explosion on my corner of my street that leveled three buildings that played a part in it. That was the result of senseless greed which killed two people and left many without a home.

Big things happen from time to time, like at the beginning of this year when not one, but two people jumped to their deaths from the Hyatt Centric in Times Square. (I know some people who work there.)

However, it’s the smaller things that harden you, somehow.

It’s every human bobbling through the train cars making a fuss. It’s standing in the thick heat smelling putrid hot garbage. It’s the push, pull, and grind. And the noise… As I wrote about it in my piece “There’s Too Much Noise in the Void: A Dear John Letter:”

“I’m suffocating and everything stinks. I sit in what’s left of East River Park for meditation, and all I hear is the roaring boom of traffic on the FDR, screeching sirens, and the sounds of the subtle vibrations in the steel and rivets as the rolling stock rattles the bridges… So much noise in the void.

Somehow, we’ve taken up the idea that Bluetooth speakers are a commodity, and every few moments, yet another person uncomfortable with their own heartbeat blasts through with an abominable audio assault. I sit densely, feeling my calloused eardrums vibrate, scarred from a decade of working in a restaurant where dulcet tones droned on to mask the chatter of hundreds of people talking at once.

My ears don’t even mind so much, they’re coated with wax, but it’s the rip through the silence, almost on purpose, which stabs my sensitivity. The noise is a way to let us all know “I AM HERE! I EXIST!” So much noise in the void. The fentanyl has them sick, and every now and then as they’re scratching at a stoplight, they’ll groan a dull howl.”

There’s so much anger, bitterness, and suffering. It’s vast and immeasurable.

If you allow yourself to look at it all, the fear is you might never recover.

You fear that your heart will just break into pieces, bleeding in your hands. But worse, the fear is you might have to see yourself.

Manhattan is filled with drunk, loud, hungry ghosts looking for their next fix, and I am not talking about the unsheltered. Most of them are transplants from elsewhere, privileged people looking to be “where the action is.”

“We’ve got Frosé, alcohol-infused ice cream, mochi donuts, those weird Korean fast food hot dogs that are made of cheese, fried, and covered in ketchup. There’s trendiness all over the place. Fashion. High fashion. Low fashion. Fancy music venues. Axe throwing.

Anything that can occupy the minds and bodies of hungry, unsatisfied, bored beings that wish to do no inner exploration of any kind.

We go to places and do shit, but nothing is happening. We make friends with others who are deeply unsatisfied with being alive. We go out into the manifestation and try to make meaning, but there’s none to be made.

There’s nothing “out there” for us. It’s just a void of distraction. It’s a hamster wheel of pleasure. All topped off with the whipped cream and cherry combination of “convenience,” drizzled heavily over the Broadway lights.”

(I wrote this in the piece “Hungry Ghosts, linked above.)

Couple that with society’s underbelly and you’ve got a recipe for disease.

It’s self-preservation to the umpteenth degree to put your head down. How many needy, suffering eyes can you handle walking from one avenue to another? How many piles of garbage can you allow yourself to take in?

How many screams can you let yourself hear, or sirens every few moments of another soul arguing with a paramedic as to whether or not it’ll leave its body? And here I am, annoyed on the corner that the ambulance is coming, and I can’t cross the street. 


Andee Scarantino
Andee Scarantino
Andee Scarantino is a Mindset and Transformational coach on a mission to make personal development digestible. She is the creator of, and host of The Get the F*ck Off Podcast, which deep dives into identity, limiting beliefs, and “getting the fuck off the shit that doesn’t serve you anymore.”  Andee earned her M.A. in Sociology from Columbia University in 2013. Her work incorporates how macro-level systems contribute to individual arrested development. Since a very young age, she has always had a fascination for knowing and understanding people. She spent 20 years working in the food, beverage, and hospitality industry; 11 of those years were at a restaurant in Times Square. Through that time, both while bartending and training staff members, she honed the incredible skill of active listening. Now, Andee uses her powerful voice to connect to the “greater story of us,” showing readers and listeners alike how so much of our human experience is dictated to us by things outside of our awareness. Andee is the creator and leader of a women’s coaching community, “Day 1.” The community is based on the concept that everything happens now. One of her members described it as a “beautifully powerful container full of trust, vulnerability, laughs, a few cuss words, and a whole lot of exploration.” Present moment awareness is a major component of Andee’s mindset and transformational coaching, and she’s diligent in having her clients examine their stories in between sessions. Day 1. is a reminder that every day, every moment, is an opportunity for a fresh start. Who you are today is not contingent on yesterday. A former 18-year cigarette smoker, Andee now is an avid runner and has run many full marathons since 2018. Quitting smoking was the fulcrum that shifted her understanding of how perceived identity contributes to people staying in what they believe are unmovable scenarios. Andee lives in New York City. In her free time, she enjoys running by the East River.

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  1. Andee,
    A biblical aspect of your essay resonates with me about not forgetting to do good and share with others. Then there is the idea that helping someone in the condition of the person you encountered is enabling them in some way. I think indeed what you experienced can be an encounter with a hard decision of I should help, especially at a time when I am experiencing self-discovery? The danger of what you experienced is real, because we don’t know what people are experiencing internally. I tend to err on the side of calling for help as you did and being careful at the same time. Being cautious or careful. Which one? I keep hearing my mother’s voice when I would leave home: be careful and confident.

  2. I think it is a matter of our inherent self-preservation to not get involved. There was a time when I would. (did sometimes) get involved. Today I wouldn’t. Our culture has contributed to people walking by and not getting involved. Even trained professional first responders get fired and sued for doing their jobs of helping and trying to keep our streets safe. The risk is too great. You nudge someone with your toe to see if he/she is alive and he is not. Someone is likely to tell the police that you kicked him and he died. You are a white educated person with some income. He is not any of those things, so there are those that will turn on you.

    Large cities compound the problem. As you note, one is constantly bombarded with filth, never-ending noise, crime, etc. and this contributes to the many residents that have a barely concealed built-up anger, even hate, which can erupt at the slightest provocation.

    Look at what has become of NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Atlanta, LA, Portland, and many other once wonderful places. It didn’t have to be this way.