Saturday, January 17, 2009

First Slice

I am no New Yorker. Despite what I was telling you when you asked where I was from, pointing to the ground directly under my lying heart and saying “From Here”, I am no New Yorker. I grew up in Rockville Center. A bustling Long Island town far enough away that ‘going into the City’ was an event, but close enough to eat and breath (eat, most importantly) the many offerings of the City.
But we (my brother and I) knew, even as my parents’ stack of New Yorkers piled up. Even after hearing the dimly lit stories of the Health Department in 1969, the City College Takeover, Janis Joplin at the Tennis Center, driving a cab in Manhattan, Music and Art, Bronx Science, Hasidic thugs, and Luncheonettes in the South Bronx, Or the nearly floodlit stories of walking down Flatbush Avenue (Pop) or the Grand Concourse (Mom) in the fifties. We could feel it, my parents most inspiringly were New Yorkers. My Brother and I? We knew we were not and would never be the same as our cosmopolitan parents.
My Brother, a scant year older than I, received the brunt of the post-Brooklyn masculinity training my father doled out on a daily basis. “If you did that in Brooklyn…” would follow if we were to say, covet the wrong color Converse All-Star, give up in a wrestling match, mention Walter O’Malley’s name, or generally look or act un-manly, which one or the other of us was inevitably doing at just about every moment. Growing up in fear of getting beat up by every half-cocked Lord of Flatbush if we so much as set napkin to the greasy surface of a slice of pizza, we developed a hyper sense of New Yorker-ness. This Training had rules, and if we followed them well enough we would feel good, be Somebody. Roughly broken into satisfying and easily devoured extremes, they follow:
• Never look up at the buildings.
• Never make eye to eye contact with pedestrians.
• Never walk slowly.
• Never say “Excuse me”.
• Never Change trajectory for oncoming pedestrians.
• Never apologize.
• Always J-walk.
• Always know where you are going.
• Always know what you are going to say.
• Always know what you are going to order at a takeout counter.
• Always fold your pizza in half before eating.

We knew how to act, and we were going to show it off to every ill-prepared spoiled sub-urban or semi-rural slob who had the misfortune of accompanying us to the City on a weekend jaunt. Quietly scoffing at the wallet hanging out of the back pocket, the twenty dollar bill casually slipped between the third and fourth fingers positively begging to be swiped, waiting at a stop light when there were no oncoming cars, giving money to beggars (remember when we had them here in NYC, before Guiliani relocated them?). Falling for the gimmick, the quickie, the scam, the three card monty game, There was always someone to smirk at. My brother and I had practiced knowing wise-guy smiles by age 9 and 10 respectively. We had our own version of a Brooklyn Queens turn-it-on-at-will accent and we were newfound Lords. Yes, we were Lords.

1 comment:

Francesca said...

what fresh hell will your parents put you through next!? Though I would say that you certainly can talk to strangers, be helpful and polite now that you have attained a mature way...Let's face it - it is conceivable that a 15 year old from the burbs is not necessarily viewing strangers in the largest sity in the world with a discerning eye. I think I trust that you know what to do by now so - by all means - say excuse me, apologize if you must, j-walk with care....and - btw - I always give money to beggers and street performers...Josie (Weiss) would tur over in her grave if I didn't...but then she was a socialist/anarchist...oh - well...Ophelia