“Maybe we’ll see someone famous,” said one of the kids as we approached New York.
“It’s possible,” I replied, but I was doubtful. It’s like those “Watch for Moose” signs on the highway; knowing they’re out there doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily see one.
Yet, here we were, a half hour in Manhattan, strolling along 79th toward Central Park, and who do we pass but David Duchovny. “The X-Files” star was walking with his kid and carrying a baseball bat.
I wonder, though, how an exchange would have played out. Duchovny is a native New Yorker, after all, and, based on what I learned about New Yorkers during our visit, I think he might have either barked at us or been charmingly breezy and familiar – and then tried to sell us something.
Either way, it would not have been bland. New Yorkers don’t do bland. Here in the self-proclaimed greatest city in the world, the natives wear their emotions on their fashionable sleeves. They express the joys and angers of the moment, and always with intensity.
For example, there was the woman who yelled at a blind man after some tussle with his seeing-eye dog. “You’re dog’s fine; you’re the apple,” she said (except she didn’t say “apple”).
Or the woman trailing me on 6th Avenue who said, “Mmm, I like your pants. Nice and loose.” When I turned, she laughed good-naturedly. “It’s good to laugh sometimes, right?”
Or the staffer in the Madison Square Garden men’s room whose sole job appeared to be to wave his hand under the electronic sensor of the paper towel dispenser so that a fresh sheet would be ready for the next customer. He looked bored, vacant, and yet he scanned with such focus. He was in the zone!
Or the dreadlocked hustler who approached me on the corner, fist-bumped a greeting, then tried to push a bottle of cologne on me by grabbing my wrist and spraying the back of my hand, rubbing the stuff in with his rough knuckles. “I’m a promoter,” he said. “This costs $69 at Macy’s. It’s my gift to you. You just give me what you feel is right. Now rub that on your cheek.”
I balked. “I don’t like scents,” I said.
“You… you don’t like scents? Why not?” he said.
“I just don’t,” I said, and we parted, leaving me with a stinky fist for the rest of the day.
But the hustle was performed with such brash and panache, I felt privileged to have been so would-be bamboozled. In fact, I felt like the first person he had ever scammed!
This is what makes New York City what it is. New Yorkers make you feel special. New Yorkers make you feel like you’ve been pals for years – or could be. New Yorkers make you want to shave every morning even though vacation rules dictate that you don’t have to, but you do anyway because you want to look good for New Yorkers.
I love New York, sure, but more important, New York loves me!
New Yorkers do such a great job of selling themselves because they truly believe their own publicity. Even in a country increasingly unsure of itself, New Yorkers’ core belief never wavers: “I am a New Yorker. I am great. I am here. So don’t even think about honking at me when I cross against the light, apple!”
Canadians could never pull this off – poor, self-doubting Canadians. All that time in the woods has left us with too much socialism in our bloodstream, resulting in debilitating deference, chronic self-effacement, quasi-liberal queasiness. Friendly, sure, but needy.
Canadians lack chutzpah.
Although not all of us…
In a Times Square shoe store, manned by three clerks, all of them black, Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” plays on the speaker. Our 10-year-old Abby (so very white) begins dancing in the store. “Hey, can you moonwalk?” asks one of the clerks. Abby happily complies, her lack of moonwalking skills outweighed by her confidence and joy. The clerks cheer, one gives her a sheet of stickers, we leave without trying anything on.
Abby could be a New Yorker.