What struck me — KINDNESS.
I’m not fucking kidding. I was there with my 91-year-old father. He worried about “handling the city.”
His peripheral vision sucks, but when he zigzagged across crowded sidewalks, people made sure not to bump him. If he didn’t see the car, they stopped. If he took a little extra time to pay at Starbucks, people didn’t even roll their eyes or check their watches.
He was not the only one. People in walkers, wheelchairs and wondering around the streets in a daze were either helped or left alone. At this rate, he could wander the upper-west side of Manhattan until he’s 110 (if he could afford it or live that long).
I was not one of the patient people.
Sharing a tiny hotel room, I was a rat in a 4-star cage. In three days, I was filled with frustration and ready to transform into a “pushy” New York asshole.
But in my days and nights of wondering the streets only one guy “pushed back.” A homeless man said something unintelligible. I reflexively said, “No.”
“Cheap Cock Sucker” came out loud and clear. But I didn’t see the point of getting in a bum fight at a bagel shop.
Trippin’ in the city
I get to NYC about every 10 years (or so). In the 70’s, my parents dragged all 5 kids to Manhattan, on the subways, and through Times Square when it was full of porn shops and prostitutes.
That’s when crime was at its peak. We were “accosted” by homeless, by drug dealers and by “everyday” strangers who just yelled “get the fuck out of my way.” The 1970’s subway felt like an underground Thunderdome. It left an impression. A stereotype that most of us hold when anyone from a suburb thinks: “urban environment.”
Dad grew up in ‘da Bronx. Mom in Westchester. They met at NYU in the 1950’s. They LOVED New York. They remembered it as a crime-free nirvana when they were young (and probably wild) and free. Their feeling of being exiled to Akron, Ohio for 35 years was palpable.
I went back to the city as a young adult in the 80’s. I was offered cocaine on almost every corner. There were many places we were told “not to go.”
In the 90’s, I went with my wife, my child and my mother-in-law and stayed in Times Square. The porn shops and prostitutes had been chased away by Disney characters and the ESPN store. But the place still had a Law & Order vibe. We expected to find “Lenny ” telling jokes over the latest corpse.
In the early 2000’s, we went to my sisters wedding in Brooklyn. She moved there in the 80’s and is still there. We got lost in Bedford-Stuy, and the out of town family members were worried we wouldn’t make it back. Stereotypes die hard.
Twenty years later, I was sneaking out of my dad’s hotel room to tour all the comedy clubs from Times Square to Morning Side Heights (White Harlem according to George Carlin).
“Are you OK walking the city alone at night,” my dad asked after the first show. He read about the “new crime” in the New York Times.
I hadn’t thought about it. I didn’t notice any scary characters. No wondering gangs looking for victims. Not even collections of drunken college kids (we were right by Fordham).
Over the next few nights, I kept my eyes open.
Scarred of who
What did I see? Everybody else was scared of me.
I’m the fat fuck, pigment-impaired, tourist in a brightly colored “sports shirt.” I’ve got gray hair, a bad attitude and a cell phone. There were cop cars running up and down every major street and frequently turning onto the smaller ones. They outnumbered the taxis.
I’m one phone call away from being a Karen. Who the cops going to believe: me or some “New Yorker”?
This kept getting confirmed. When I walked down the street at night, other people stepped aside. I don’t remember once having to change my path.
There was a group of 5 black men of various ages smoking outside a building near Times Square. As I got ready to step out into the street, they all silently moved against the building giving me the widest possible berth to handle my girth.
One young man bumped into me on a street corner when I stopped at a green light to check the street number (I was a little lost). He apologized 3 times and quickly scurried off. If this was Fear Factor, he would have failed.
The closing act at the Broadway Comedy Club went out of his way to find an old white guy in the audience. He might as well have been standing next to me.
“You, you are the one I’m afraid of,” Steve Marshall said. “These white people are fucking scary…
“If you ever need help in this city, go find a black person. They will help you. These white people will just look at you like you are crazy. And they might call the cops and say you are harassing them.”
So sure, post pandemic, crime is climbing. But it’s nothing like it was in the late 80’s and half of what it was in the 70’s. We survived it then, we will bring it down again.
Yes, we need to do what we can to reduce violent crime now, but don’t get freaked out by the scare mongers at Fox or CNN hawking fear to sell viagra and life insurance on the TV.
Keep in mind who are the ones in danger. If you’re a white man like me — it ain’t you. You are the… (well, you know).