Saturday, July 25, 2009

It's a tough town, kid

Well, my rooster story brought about such an entertaining set of comments from you all, I've been trying to think of other topics that would encourage more such sharing of amusing anecdotes. I was coming up empty until the other day, at the nail salon, when I was reminded of one of my favorite genres: New York City wisecracks. There are eight million stories in the naked city, and I bet a good seven million of them involve snappy, snarky comebacks. Life in New York - piled on top of each other as we are - can involve a lot of day-to-day conflict, especially the verbal kind; the upside is that a not-so-pleasant encounter can provide the opportunity for one of life's more satisfying accomplishments: coming up with a perfect witty response that psychically destroys your opponent. (Of course, the response must be conceived of and deployed on the spot, rather than later that night, when you're brushing your teeth and still fuming over That Jerk, and I Can't Believe He Said That, and Man I Should've Let Him Have It.)

I've already shared with you one of my more pleasing encounters in this vein, but believe me: I've got a million of 'em. For instance, a few years ago, I'm waiting in a subway that's been idling in the station for a good few minutes (god only knows why, but probably something to do with the ever-mysterious "train traffic ahead," an "explanation" that only comes over the intercom on a train that I waited ten minutes for in the first place, so I know there's no train traffic ahead, buddy, don't try that line on me.... But that's a different tirade, for another time). So anyway, the train is sitting there, doors open, and I'm standing in the doorway, trying to concentrate on my New Yorker and not start fuming about the friggin' delay, when I hear a guy tearing down the stairs, calling out, "Hold the door! Hold the door!"

I have opinions on holding the door, whether it's the subway, or an elevator, or whatever, which can basically be summed up as, "Why should we all be delayed just so you can squeeze on?" So I keep reading my magazine, even though I'm standing in the doorway closest to the staircase, and before the guy can make it onto the train, the bell rings and the doors shut right in his face. I can feel him glaring at me, so I just keep my head down and wait for the train to pull away.

Instead, the doors pop back open (probably because someone in another car was holding the damn door), and the guy steps in next to me. The doors shut, the train starts up, and the guy stands there, glaring and glaring and glaring at me, while I continue to stare at my magazine. If this were a cartoon, I'd be nervously whistling.

Then he says, "Yo, why didn't you hold the doors?"

I pretend to ignore him, though I can feel my face getting a little hot.

"Yo, why didn't you hold the doors?" Now he's leaning right into me, and people are glancing over, so I have to say something. I give him a look and, in a Brooklyn-inspired smart-alecky tone of voice, say, "I don't speak English." I then return my attention to my (English-language) New Yorker, while his mind totally short-circuits and the guy next to me snickers. La la la.

Then there's yesterday, in my favorite nail place (open 24 hours a day! 365 days a year! yay, New York!). I get myself all comfy in the pedicure throne and dive into The New Yorker (my standard NYC reading material, as you've no doubt surmised) while Ivana (per her name tag, though I wonder if this is the name on her Korean birth certificate - but no matter) goes to town on my feet. After a minute, I become aware of the two women sitting a couple thrones down...

{A warning: as with my snobby post about the hordes of tourists at the Louvre, this anecdote involves my intolerance of and hostility toward the tourist genus, this time toward a certain type of all-American tourist one often finds in New York. Sorry if it offends, but in the spirit of sharing all my innermost thoughts and feelings and dreams with you, Dear Reader, here goes.}

...Back to the salon. The women are clearly a mother/daughter team, wearing the classic "I'm not from here" outfit of the summertime tourist: baggy tee shirt, casual way-too-short shorts, big white sneakers, white socks (this is not the beach, people! this is New York! dress accordingly!). The mother is enjoying herself by rather aggressively chatting up every employee in the joint - any time one of the salon gals walks by, the mother is all, "Why hello! What a cute shirt! You don't smile enough! You have such a pretty smile!" I stick my nose more deeply into my magazine and try not to be overly judgmental.

But then, she went Too Far. One of my pet peeves (yes, another one) is that people who don't live in places like New York and Los Angeles (the two spots where I've spent my adult life) seem to think it's perfectly okay to complain about these cities to the people who live there, as if this isn't deeply insulting and shockingly rude. I'm not sure if this is a case of protesting too much out of insecurity and low self-esteem, or just the kind of smug superiority that some non-urban people seem to feel, as if it's somehow admirable to not be able to make it in the big city.

Anyway, one of the salon gals makes a little joke with the mother about her in-your-face chattiness. The mother, delighted to be so encouraged, says, "Oh, I'm always just as friendly as friendly could be! Not like the people here. We're from Erie, Pennsylvania, and in Erie, people say please and thank you, and we smile and say hello when we pass someone on the street."

I can't hold back. I turn to her and say (again with the Brooklyn-inspired inflection), "Well, I'm from New York, and in New York, we don't make random rude comments about other people's hometowns."

Of course, that's completely not true, as New Yorkers are always making disparaging comments about Anyplace That Isn't New York, but that's beside the point. The woman kept her trap shut for the rest of her pedicure, and I returned to my magazine, just so delighted with myself.

I would like to point out that if people in places like Erie, Pennsylvania, were so damn sweet and friendly, all the misfit toys growing up in such towns wouldn't feel the need to flee to places like New York as soon as they could afford the bus fare.

I would also like to point out that I didn't say the first thing that popped into my mind, which wasn't quite so clever, but would have been much more satisfying: "Honey, if you don't like it, get the F out. You won't be missed."

Jungle Red, darling.

{top: poster from the 1974 "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three"; bottom: Rosalind Russell (apparently a cousin of mine!) in "The Women"}


  1. you are my idol!
    I wish I had this "on the spot" cleverness.
    Oh yeah....and about halfway thru I thought of sending this out to my mom as a tourist training guide

  2. Damn. I guess one really has to be from NYC to appreciate this brand of snark/snide/sna...ah, out of esses.

    Golly jeez Siobhan, and to think I was fallin' for you. Your mean, M E A N I tell you.

  3. Hilarious. Thanks for posting.

  4. Perhaps you could have replied with "Erie, I thought that was in Indiana." or better still "Shut the fuuuck up, you mouthy bitch!".

  5. I can only say, "Touche!" Great snappy comebacks. Nothing so satisfying as letting someone else know that you know you one-upped them on the spot as they are trying to make you or those around you grovel.

    I recall MAD magaine used to have a feature that ran like that.

  6. I would like to point out that if people in places like Erie, Pennsylvania, were so damn sweet and friendly, all the misfit toys growing up in such towns wouldn't feel the need to flee to places like New York as soon as they could afford the bus fare.

    YES! It annoys me when right-wing blowhards use San Francisco as a symbol of urban dysfunction. I want to say, "San Francisco? You mean the place where all sorts of people live in close proximity but get along and there are bookstores and museums and great places to eat? THAT San Francisco?"

  7. And I happen to be glad Wolcott sent me here.

    Very enjoyable read, Siobahn, and you are dead on about these people... these out of town people who don't know shit bout this city... feeling totally free to engage in ripping this city. I couldn't imagine going to a small town and commenting on what I don't like about small towns. It's flat out rude. Good for you.

    So please write more of these and thank you for this one. See, Erie? New Yorkers know how to say "please and "thank you" too!

  8. "In other words, visitors and tourists in NY have enough of an investment in the city that they can criticize it without being rude, whereas a NY resident who visits some random small town does not have the same investment, and therefore a criticism of that town would be far more impolite."

    I've been thumbing through my dog-eared volume of Emily Post. Strangely, I don't see where how much one might have invested allows one to made rude comments. Could the people who set up my college scholarship come back and made snide remarks with impunity? Anyway, I'm imagining Madame Erie et Fille as described by our blogger and am not getting an overwhelming sense of people who "have an investment" in NYC. I'm getting, instead, a strong whiff of prolus americanus, which I don't see why it would be offensive to a charmer such as yourself.

  9. The post said visitors and tourists have enough of an investment in the city (its financial industry, arts, fashion) that they can CRITICIZE IT WITHOUT BEING RUDE."

    You know, remarks like they don't like the pace, or the traffic, typical criticisms like that. Something specific like, "In my town we say hello when we pass someone on the street" is too idiotic on its face to even acknowledge because no one in NY, including tourists, do that because they pass thousands of people a day.

    But if someone says the city is a less friendly city in comparison to others, so freakin what? It is. PEOPLE are less friendly under the conditions that exist in NY (pace, traffic, crowdedness), so to observe as much is not terribly offensive. A resident who has spent time in other towns is likely to make the same observation.

  10. Wow, Siobhan! Lots of snarky bitchy comments by people hiding behind "Anonymous".

    I thought you were hilarious of course.

  11. Hey, Anonymous, take a frigging pill and relax, will ya'? You're carrying on like the lady who doth protest too much... regardless of your gender. This is a moment in a salon, no more no less, that's it! No big deal. She said, and then she said, bingo! That's all there is to it. Perhaps you should slip your own head under the dryer and fry out some of that New York resentment. You're embarrassing yourself. Let it the go. Let. It. Go.

  12. Alright damn it. What the hell does "prolus Americanus" mean anyway? Can't find it on teh Tubes. And it is fun/edujewkayshimal to read people with large vocabularies get all bitchy ...NYC style MoFo!

  13. You, Sir James, and the Lovely Laura...
    Anyway I can get the fourth spot at that table next time out?
    p.s. yo, wats wit da weda?

  14. Wolcott sent me here too (actually to the Paris blog, then here) and I support Siobhan all the way!

  15. I would have liked the "get the F out if you don't like it" response better but by and large the "I'm more fabulous than tourists" thing is tiresome.

  16. Living in a city that gets a lot of tourists can be a bitch. They rendered large swaths of Boston unusable by residents.

  17. BTW Siobhan,

    don't let the trolls taking pot shots at you from under the "Anonymous" bridge change what you write. If they never come back here good riddance.

    Plus it takes so much more to actually create and write something... it's easy just to comment.

  18. As one of the anonymous crowd here (and we are legion), I hope you don't take my fellow brethren's comments to heart. I enjoyed the commentary, and I know what you mean. I get tired of overly chatty people who think their every utterance is on a level with one of the lost works of Aristotle.

    And to my fellow Northern Californian about right-wing San Francisco reverse-snobbery: AMEN!

  19. You punctured her faux friendliness with aplomb! I will be drinking to you for the rest of the summer.

  20. Siobhan, you hit the right notes.

    Living in Seattle, but having been raised by a mother from Whitestone, I would have asked, "So, when will you be leaving?"

  21. Anon said "The point is that Siobhan said she labored to not be overly judgmental about a lady telling someone they have a pretty smile. Which of course is her way of telling us she was so very put off by such pedestrian displays, at which point we are to conclude she's more than a little bit special."

    No, the tourist told the girl she had a pretty smile as a back-handed way to tell her she didn't like her NY attitude which wasn't upbeat enough for her Erie sensibilities. That alone deserved the retort, which the author admits wasn't even true about New Yorkers, but the point was to shut the stupid bitch up, not to make a profound observation on all tourists.

  22. Ms. Erie wasn't being friendly--she was playing that awful faux-southern-belle/small-town "say nasty mess in a sweet way" crap. And the reason she was so all-fired sweet is because she was nervous at being surrounded by so many non-white folks and thought being chatty would cover that. Nice try, babe...but racial unease always has a way of seeping out...;)