The out-of-towners

Kind of jumpy today in the New York Public Library at 42nd Street. In the midafternoon, the fire alarm sounded. And sounded and sounded. The siren is accompanied by strobe lights, which make it hard to ignore. No one got on the intercom to say it was a test, so I unplugged my laptop. A ten-year-old with hunched shoulders tried to enter the room that a group of us were leaving, did a 180 when he realized it wasn’t an exit, then raced down the stairs ahead of us.

In fact, it was a test, but the guard at the door had to make a few hurried phone calls before we were reassured. “It’s for next week,” the guard explained.

It was very next week on 42nd street today: lots of cautious-looking middle-aged couples, blandly dressed. Their clothes didn’t have the flashiness or shoddiness of real tourists, and their gait lacked the intensity of native New Yorkers, who glared at them. I was glared at once, too, probably because I had made the mistake of putting on a blue permanent press Brooks Brothers shirt this morning. It wasn’t until I got on the subway to go home that I saw a scruffy college-age person, bearing a backpack a foot and a half taller than he was and struggling with a Metrocard vending machine.