A New York Primer

How can I sum up a city as vibrant and diverse as New York in only 1,500 words? Actually, fairly easily, thanks to my highly efficient strategy of forming broad opinions about an entire group of people based on limited experiences with a few individuals. So for those of you who have never visited New York, you can consider this a sort of Cliff’s Notes version of the city. If you like what you read, I say pick up the whole novel, or just move to Manhattan and see for yourself.
Based on a long weekend spent with my dear friends Penny and Aggie, and the people we interacted with throughout my trip, I can confidently make the following assessments of New Yorkers as a whole:

  1. New Yorkers are solely responsible for America’s severe umbrella shortage.
  2. New Yorkers sweat a lot.
  3. New Yorkers have lunch with celebrities all the time.
  4. New Yorkers do not deserve cable television.
  5. New Yorkers do not like to tap dance.
  6. New York bike riders want me dead.
  7. New Yorkers are ill-equipped to handle the emotional swings of Midwesterners.

I’m not going to go into great detail on each of these points – I think you’ve come to trust me by now – but I do want to share a few specifics that led me to each of these major conclusions. I feel that this is really important information for non-New Yorkers to have. And frankly, I have high hopes that this blog will make its way across Mayor Bloomberg’s desk, so that he may begin to repair the great divide that exists between his fine state and the entire Midwest. I’m building bridges, one state at a time.
Some of you may be asking, “Is there really a shortage of umbrellas? Why haven’t I heard about this before?” Simple. New York doesn’t want anyone to know about it, lest the rest of the country start stockpiling all the umbrellas they can find. I personally wasn’t aware that there was a shortage either until I walked into my friends’ apartment, tossed my suitcase on the floor, and immediately noticed that they had nine black umbrellas sitting in a box near their front door. I’m not kidding. Nine umbrellas.
A few probing questions later, I discovered that including the umbrellas they had by the door, the ones in their closet, and the ones they had left at work, they had 23 umbrellas between the two of them. Twenty-three umbrellas for two people. If you assume they are typical New Yorkers, that’s 11.5 umbrellas per capita, multiplied by the population of New York City of 8,008,278, equals (I’m doing this in my head, so bear with me) approximately 920,765,230,475 umbrellas for the city of New York alone. Conspiracy?
You really don’t need any fancy statistics to prove this one. Just go there yourself and see. It is perpetually 89 degrees with 100% humidity in New York City, except when you’re waiting for the subway, when the additional body heat adds 24 degrees and 50% more humidity.
Penny and I were shopping for new jeans, and I actually had to buy a pair of jeans that didn’t even fit me because I couldn’t get them off. I had to walk out of the store with the legs dragging on the ground, pools of sweat rapidly forming in the cuffs. I’ve been politely asked not to return to the Levi’s outlet in SoHo.
Within 15 minutes of my arrival at Penny and Aggie’s apartment, I had my first celebrity sighting. We went to eat at a diner down the block from them, and who walks in, but Joan Allen! Much taller than I would have guessed. She ate a tuna melt with no cheese and had an iced tea mixed with lemonade. As I walked out, I stole her straw and the lemon rind off her table, and am now selling them on eBay in case anyone’s interested.
The next day, we saw the Asian guy from Smashing Pumpkins. Don’t know his name, but I never forget a face. He has bad hair and is much shorter than Joan Allen. Nice shoes, though.
Finally, on my last day in New York, Aggie swears that the man who passed us on the street was the guy who played Grady on Sanford & Son. Now, I realize that show has been off the air for about 20 years, but this guy looked nothing like Grady, who by my calculations would be about 103 years old. And as I was searching the web for this picture of him, I found out he died in 2001. Sorry, Aggie.
Cable Television
I’m actually going to hold off on this one until we get to Number 7, when I will discuss New Yorkers’ inability to be sympathetic to Midwesterner’s emotional needs.
Tap Dance
I walked all over that crazy city, and didn’t find one single tap dance nightclub. Not one. I didn’t even find a tap-dancing street performer. What a colossal disappointment.
What I did learn, however, is that Aggie’s sister Cheryl used to date a guy whose ex-girlfriend dated another guy whose cousin worked with the son of the late, great tap legend Gregory Hines. So really, through the six degrees of separation theory, I am actually now dating Gregory Hines’ son. And no one can take that away from me. Not even his wife.
We counted seven unique incidents where bike riders were clearly trying to kill me. Because traffic is so horrendous in New York, many people bike to work and to get around the city. Part of the reason that bicycle riding is such a fast means of transportation is because bikers completely ignore all traffic rules. I tried on numerous occasions to assert my pedestrian rights, only to have a near-miss with an errant biker, who then gave me a dirty sneer. Never trust a man with padded shorts, I always say.
Okay, here’s where the trip got a little touch-and-go. After spending three days of nonstop activity in overwhelming heat, we needed an evening to simply relax. So Penny, Aggie and I decided to just hang out in their apartment and watch TV. They have digital cable, so that gives them 745 channels. As some of you may recall, I don’t have cable TV, so it’s a rare treat for me to actually be somewhere with that many viewing options.
After Penny flipped through no fewer than 275 of the 745 channels, I saw at least 142 shows that piqued my interest. But would she stop flipping? No. I know I’m just a farm girl from the Midwestern cow pastures, but where I come from, we accommodate our guests’ every whim, even if it means letting them watch a hot dog eating contest on Spike TV.
And it wasn’t just the hot dog eating contest. Here’s a VERY short list of the shows she refused to let me watch:

  • Aforementioned hot dog eating contest
  • Plastic surgery mishaps
  • Behind the Music – Justin Timberlake
  • Footloose, starring Kevin Bacon
  • Flatliners, starring Julia Roberts and Kevin Bacon
  • A Few Good Men, starring Tom Cruise and Kevin Bacon
  • The Bacon Brothers Live In Concert, featuring Kevin Bacon
  • Cops – Uncensored

So after tempting me with all these glorious shows, do you want to know what we ended up with? A PBS special on the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.
I don’t know, I guess it was a combination of fatigue, dehydration, heat exhaustion, and Kevin Bacon withdrawal, but I just snapped. When I get in that emotionally delicate state, I become prone to hyperbole, so a lot of what I said to them was slightly exaggerated. When I recap it below, I’ll put the actual figures in parentheses. It went down something like this:
“Okay, you have got to be kidding me. The Brooklyn Bridge?! PBS!? Listen, ladies, I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I did not spend $1,000 ($215) on a plane ticket to fly halfway around the world (900 miles) just so I could walk 45 miles a day (4) in 104 degree heat (89) only to come back and watch some lame-ass documentary on PBS (PBS) that I could have watched for free back in my centrally air-conditioned apartment (window unit)!
Do you know what the ‘P’ stands for in PBS? PUBLIC, as in FREE! Like public bathrooms or public schools – they’re crappy because you don’t have to pay for them! You’re paying for cable, but you don’t even deserve it. If I had digital cable, I would use it!”
At that point, I fell off the couch and started convulsing. When I woke up, I had a cold towel on my forehead, a wallet shoved between my teeth, and the latest issue of People Magazine clutched tightly in my hand. I guess Penny and Aggie saved my life that evening. No, actually New Yorkers saved my life.
So now that I’ve had a day to reflect on this experience, I’ve gained a new perspective on New York City. For all its heat and pigeons and renegade bike messengers, for all its excessive umbrella consumption and cable neglect and singing crazy folks, I guess I learned that New York is filled with people who just really care about each other. We’ve all heard the expression that a picture is worth a thousand words, but in my case, a picture is worth closer to 1,500 words.

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