Portlander in New York: In Manhattan It’s ‘Mind Your Biness’
Making any kind of contact with strangers in public is rare. Mind your business. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t make small talk
August 14, 2012A few weeks ago a disabled Vietnam vet was stabbed and beaten on the subway by a group of teenage girls for making a comment to a friend about how rowdy the girls were. When asked by a TV reporter whether he would have said something to the group, a passer-by said, “This is Manhattan, man, you mind your biness.”
A few days later I was sweeping the stone stairs at the end of our street (more on that later) that go down into Riverside Park when a fashion photographer and model, looking like a beige version Natalie Portman’s black swan, showed up in the middle of my sweep. Without acknowledging my presence, despite being five feet away, they set up the shots, took the pictures and, poof, were gone.
Bingo!! That’s what I’ve been missing in my mental picture of life here. Civility does not equal engagement. Unlike the NYC of old, I don’t expect to get ripped off every time I make a financial transaction or worry about being mugged when I’m off the beaten path, but making any kind of contact with strangers in public is rare. Mind your business. Don’t make eye contact. Don’t make small talk.
On the other hand, NYPD is minding everyone’s business. The Mayor announced the other day that the police department is now assessing potential criminal activity and threats in real time. It’s not enough for them to know what I was doing yesterday; they want to know what I’m up to at this moment! Now, I don’t know about you but I find that just a little scary, but in this PTSD city, one can’t have too many safeguards.
Here’s an interesting fact about Manhattan. There are virtually no pesky bugs. We kept our screen-less windows opens 24/7 all through the spring and early summer with nary a fly or mosquito. Even at outdoor concerts, nothing. Manhattan has its share of greenery and I see no signs of spraying so it’s basically a miracle. A certain office (I can’t say which office) did have a problem with three little bugs that appeared on the carpet one day - bed bugs! The office basically freaked out forcing one person (I can’t say which person), who keeps a bunch of work clothes in the office, to pay a $50 cleaning bill to get his clothes out of bug-buster jail.
Two Friday nights ago, around 2 a.m., voices came wafting through our sixth floor bedroom window which was kind of odd given we are, well, on the sixth floor. Turns out people were playing cards, by candlelight, four floors below on an outdoor patio. The game, which repeated again this week, went on until 8 am. Pat and I imagine the players to be shift workers carrying out a hot night summer tradition. Despite the all-night murmur, that’s an endearing part of what I imagine to be one of the good parts of the NYC of times past.
Important fact for getting around in NYC – The MTA has multiple subway stations in Manhattan with the same name. Worst case, four 42nd Street stations spread across mid-town housing 15 different subway lines, followed by three 14th Street stations and two and a half Chambers Street stations. Now that may seem pretty rudimentary but it took me quite a while to figure it out.
So I’ve decided that the way to deal with my never ending annoyance with litter is to keep one public space litter and debris free. I spent about two hours sweeping those Riverside Park stairs (at 102 St.) that I mentioned earlier. We’re talking lots of wide steps. A week later – yea, still clean!!
Pat spotted her first celebrity yesterday – Peter Jacobson who plays the annoying schlemiel on the TV show House. OK, so he’s not exactly on the A list – even the House A list for that matter – but, hey, a celebrity is a celebrity.
One of my favorite New York celebrities is Ida Straus. In case you don’t remember Ida, she was the wife of Isidor Straus (founder of Macy’s) who opted to stay on the Titanic rather than leave her beloved husband. With the slightest detour, I can walk right through the lovely pocket park dedicated to her on my way to the market. I’ve attached a picture of Ida’s forever young statue taken at the memorial service for the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.
Finally, without doubt, the most bizarre event I’ve seen lately was a wacky woman feeding pigeons on heavily trafficked Church Street in downtown Manhattan. Now I’m guessing that Pigeon Rescue Central – the group that looks after wounded pigeons in NYC (really) – would not condone this behavior but I, as someone who considers pigeons just a little above vermin, applaud her efforts.