Monday, September 8, 2008

Walking in the Big Apple

My wife and I went to New York City once. It was unforgettable. I think everyone should go there once. But not all at the same time. It’s hard to believe that people actually live there. We parked at the Metropolitan Museum and walked 85 blocks through every conceivable type of urban landscape, culture and people, to the Staten Island Ferry. We walked around fashionable horse-drawn buggies and stepped over drunks in the street. There were con men in front of the Empire State Building suckering people into a shell game. It was very obvious to everyone but a German couple who kept losing twenties. The shell game is probably the oldest con in the world but it is actually one of the nicest ways to have your money taken from you in New York. My brother and sister-in-law were mugged on 5th Avenue in broad daylight on a beautiful Sunday morning. A sharp dressed man came up behind them, quickly stuck his hand into my brother’s pocket, snatched a wad of bills in his money clip, tripped him and threw his wife on top of him—all in a matter of seconds. Before they knew what had happened the guy was disappearing around the next corner. He must have had them staked out for some time. Had he reached into my brother’s other pocket he would have come out with his snot-rag which gives a whole new meaning to the word wad.
One thing I learned about New York City is that when you go there you have to take your own bathroom. We went into McDonald’s to buy a hamburger. We weren’t hungry, we just wanted to use the facilities. McDonald’s didn’t even have a bathroom. We started looking for restaurants. We wouldn’t ask what was on the menu, we just wanted to know if they had a bathroom. We finally found a nice little Mexican joint called El Coyote. (This might sound strange but actually New York has a small population of coyotes.) This place not only had a bathroom, but the food was excellent. I apologize to any New Yorker who might take offense to this description of the city, but I saw parents letting their children go to the bathroom on the streets because they had no other choice. Maybe that is the attraction to Central Park—there are a lot of trees there. You have to be careful in Central Park. Many of the squirrels have become crack addicts from finding empty vials of crack and licking them clean. This brings out their aggressive nature.
I wanted to see Ellis Island, where my grandparents, Michael J. O’Connor and Margaret Walsh, arrived in this country from Ireland. I know you are going to think this is just one of my crazy stories, but I swear it is true just as I tell it to you. We were on the Staten Island ferry headed towards the Statue of Liberty. I was imagining what it must have been like 95 years ago when my grandparents arrived. I was people-watching and I could see many others were in the same thought process that I was. Next to me stood an Italian gentleman with his young son. He was talking to the boy and explaining that his grandparents had arrived on Ellis Island. He asked the boy if he knew why so many Italians are named Tony. The boy did not, and as I crept closer to listen, the father went on to explain that often the parents of young immigrants, who couldn’t speak English, would put signs on their children when they left the old country that said, "TO NY." The boy looked a little puzzled and I watched the father very closely to see if he would crack a smile, but his face was as serious as if he were quoting the gospel.
When we returned to the city we were trying to decide how to get back to the car without walking another 85 blocks. We decided on a bus. We caught a bus and before we hit the first light, the driver was slapping himself in the head. I mean slamming his head with his palm just as hard as he could. We didn’t ask any questions. The bus stopped on Wall Street and we jumped off. The subway couldn’t be any worse than this. Actually, the subway was fast and comfortable—when the lights were on. My perception of the New York Subway actually comes from Hollywood. In the past I have only experienced the New York Subway in movies. Usually someone is being chased, shot, pushed onto the tracks in front of an oncoming train or being followed quite obviously by the KGB. It must have been a slow day. We didn’t see a shoot out but we did pick out a couple guys that looked like KGB. My favorite was the guy sitting across from us with the t-shirt that read, "JOIN THE ARMY—SEE THE WORLD—MEET INTERESTING PEOPLE—AND KILL THEM."
I am sure there are some normal people in New York. In fact, I have seen some of them on the David Letterman Show. There are also some very polite people, but never when they are in traffic after a Jet’s game. New Yorkers are known for their own special brand of driving habits. This comes from years of impatient pushing and shoving their cars through the canyons of buildings. It generates intolerance and breeds arrogance. The only calming effect on New York traffic is the corps of window washers that politely spiff up everyone’s windshield at each stop light. I have never witnessed this anywhere else. It must all be part of keeping the "Big Apple" shiny.
Some apartment buildings do have a doorman. I was thinking it must be the most boring job in the world. Worse than a construction flag person. But with the advent of computer palm devices, now a doorman could run a billion dollar company on the side between door openings. New York actually has a Silicon Alley—no I didn’t say Valley. It’s where all the billionaires became millionaires when the tech stocks tanked. They bought old warehouses and turned them into trendy new real estate. They are all crying in their dipped chips but it’s all part of the electronic revolution. You really can’t buy much more with a billion than you can with a hundred million. Besides, the most important survival tool for making it in New York is not money—it’s knowing where to go to the bathroom!

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