Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A New York State of Mind

I really love New York. Today, as happens most days, I took the subway, and it was automatically a good day because the subway didn't smell like pee. While on the train, I sat next to an elderly couple, and next to them sat a young man who looked like a refugee from a Bel Ami video. If you don't know what a Bel Ami video is, consider the fact that I've been single going on two years and use your imagination. And while I sat there I was privy to the following conversation.

Old Lady: Tourist?
Young Man: What?
Old Lady: Tour. Ist.
Young Man: Sorry, English no...
Old Lady: Are you a tourist? Are you from here? Foreigner?
Young Man: ...yes...
Old Lady: Your wallet is showing. You can't do that. This is New York. Where are you from?
Young Man: ...Russia...
Old Lady: Russia! You don't know better than that coming from Russia!?

It's moments like these that you realize that sometimes this city, which seems to spend so much time stepping on your neck with a poo-stained boot, every once in a while will reach out and give you a little hug. It's like winning the ticket lottery at your favorite Broadway show, or having one of those extra sassy subway conductors that scold the people who hold the doors and delay trains, or getting to see a larger than life picture of David Wright sticking his tongue out as he plays with his bat when you walk down the street. This conversation brought me joy much like one of these events did.

For one thing, it's another example of New Yorkers automatically assuming that living here is something completely different than anywhere else. If this was, for instance, Chicago, the young man walking around with his wallet easily stolen would not be at all remarkable. In the Windy City people display their cash all the time, and all the strangers happily ignore the easy money while skipping off on their merry way down the street. In New York, however, that's gonna get snatched before you can blink, so be careful you stupid Commie!

It's also an example of that special kind of New York friendly that only comes from our fair metropolis. Only in New York does someone try to do a good deed by pointing out that someone else is an idiot. Why not simply say "Excuse me, but your bag is open," and go on about your business? No, it's far better to first determine if there is an even slightly acceptable reason for the bag being open. If you re-read the conversation above and substitute "jackass," "imbecile," or "quarter-wit" for the word tourist, you'll find that very little changes. I couldn't help but wonder what the woman would have done if the young man had not been a tourist, and had claimed to be from New York. My guess is she would have stolen the wallet herself, and left an admonishing note where it was saying something along the lines of "You aren't worthy of the name New Yorker. Get the hell out of my city, you nitwit." Bel Ami boy got off easy.

However, the real coup de grĂ¢ce for our New Yorker here was the information that this man was from Russia. She had clearly been expecting a far more tame place of origin like Omaha or France, and upon learning that he had actually sprung from the center of the former USSR was almost too much. I half expected her to cry "I've got the vapors!" and collapse in her seat. Nothing gets the collective danders of New Yorkers up than willful stupidity. She thought that she had screened for this possibility by asking if he was a tourist, and then got blind-sided by the information that he was from a place where there actually is crime. To say the least, she was quite done with him after that, and didn't speak to him again, leaving him to make his own way. And I thought to myself, "Self, you belong here in this place of rude yet helpful people."

There was a time when I was not in love with the city. A time I didn't realize that there were dozens of movies released every month that never made it to my local movie theaters. When I didn't realize how much fun it was to have amazing cultural experiences at your fingertips and completely ignore them for the fun of rolling your eyes at the Midwesterners clamoring for a chance to get to the top of the Empire State Building. I get so much more reading done here, since I don't have to waste time with all of that pesky driving. And living in the city is possibly as far away from camping as one can get, which as far as I'm concerned is just icing on the home-made chocolate cake served warm with ice cream and whipped cream with just a sprig of mint for color and possible palate-cleansing. Stay Gold New York.

**My friend Janet just got a short essay published on Mad as Hell Club. Read her fantastic essay right's short and totally worth it!**

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