WASHINGTON — Guy goes up to a cabdriver in New York City and says, "Excuse me, can you tell me how to get to Grand Central, or should I just go (bad word) myself?"
If you grew up in New York, as I did, you get this joke. To survive, New Yorkers learn to develop a pre-emptive defense against rudeness. Sometimes this involves deliberately not noticing the plainly obvious, such as the man next to you on the bus who is not wearing pants. Sometimes, your pre-emptive defense has to be more aggressive. I once told a perniciously persistent panhandler that I would happily pay him in "God juice." He blinked twice, then slowly backed away.
It has been more than 25 years since I last lived in New York, so I must have lowered my defenses. That's the only explanation I have for why it took me so long to confront the Boom-Badoom Boys.
If you live in any city, you know the Boom-Badoom Boys. They're a summertime blight, like earwigs. They cruise the streets with their car windows down and their woofed-up stereos concussively throbbing out music of their preference and no one else's. The air shudders. Potted plants wilt. Songbirds fall from the sky. As these cars roll into neighborhoods, they sow despair, like Russian tanks entering Belarus.
Like most people, I've always stayed mute in the presence of the Boom-Badoom Boys. That's partly because they tend to be large and young and irascible-looking, but mostly it's because they are a migratory species, and engaging them for even a moment would mean possibly delaying their departure. Seconds matter.
But it was while walking my dog the other day that my New Yorker instincts kicked in. A Boom-Badoomer was percussing his way down the street, big, bad and basso, like the T. rex from Jurassic Park. Murphy and I crossed in front of the car, forcing it to stop, then we walked around to the passenger side. I was gesturing, an earnest expression on my face, mouthing words that were lost in the din.
The Boys lowered the stereo some, but it did no good. They still couldn't hear me, mostly because I was not actually saying anything. I was just moving my lips. Finally, the driver turned the stereo off entirely.
"Thanks, man," I said. "This is important." I pointed toward the top floor of a row house across the street.
"See that window?" The passenger guy nodded. The driver was fidgeting because he was about to lose the green light. It's a short light.
"There's an old lady who lives up there," I said. The light went red. "She's very hard of hearing. She uses one of those ear trumpets." To pantomime the use of an ear trumpet, I needed a free hand, meaning I had to put down what I was carrying. I put it on the nose of their car. It was a full, warm bag of poop.
"The lady's name is Mildred," I explained. "Mildred Rosenthal."
Murphy stood up, her paws on their window, her tail wagging. The passenger rubbed her ears. The light turned green, and red again. I realized, to my delight, that the Boom-Badoom Boys were trying to be polite.
"I'm a little worried about Mildred," I said. "I think maybe she can't hear the music, and I know she's a big fan of Busta Rhymes. So I was wondering if you could turn up the volume a little."
Murphy got down. The two guys looked at each other, then back at me.
"It's Ghostface Killah."
"Oh," I said. "Sorry, I always confuse the two."
No problem, they said.
I started walking away.
I stiffened and turned back.
The guy nodded toward the poo. I retrieved it. They drove off. I counted a full minute, maybe four full blocks and one neighborhood away, before they turned the stereo back on.
Gene Weingarten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.