Project Aardvark

The Thing About New Yorkers

Tuesday, August 9, 2005 posted by Benjamin Pollack

I normally try not to post random observations about New York on the grounds that Joel seems to have that pretty well covered, but sometimes, all of the creative juices are just flowing in the same direction. So, today’s topic: New Yorkers are insane.

Strictly speaking, that statement is at least partially false. New Yorkers are smart enough not to root for the Cubs, for example, so at least their anti-masochist synapses are firing. The real issue is that you can’t tell who really is insane anymore. It used to be easy: people talking to invisible pan-dimensional beings and hyperintelligent shades of blue were insane, and most everyone else not actively murdering people was basically okay. Nowadays, though, the people in the business suits have cell phones, and these cell phones have miniscule ear-mounted mic/earphone combos, so you are greeted with, for example, the sharp woman in a $1000 business suit I saw this morning who was having a lively conversation with a rather bored parking meter. This is a common enough experience that most New Yorkers try to get used to it by consuming copious amounts of sissified alcoholic beverages with names like “the Orange Sunrise Flamingo,” which is about 9 parts orange juice to 1 part Bacardi Citron served with a full-size umbrella for $15 plus tax, which comes to $28. The semblance of insanity therefore is the norm in New York.

The assumption that everyone is insane has lots of perks, but the one I want to focus on today is that no one cares how you dress. This concept isn’t hard to understand: when everyone’s insane, it’s impossible to go wrong. Simple.

This can work to your advantage in the extreme. The Marymount, in addition to busting people for having parties, going to the roof, letting guests exit the building without escort, walking too quickly, going to the bathroom too noisily, and using the garbage chute to dispose of mobsters without first asking permission, also has the largest single collection of broken washing machines and dryers in the greater New York area. Last night, I had to do laundry, so I thought, hey, I’ll do the laundry. (I can be very impulsive sometimes.) I started at 11 PM, so I should have been done by 12:30 AM and finished sorting by 1 AM.

Sadly, the icicle of reality cooled off my expectations like a very large piece of ice being put next to something warm. First, a washer malfunctioned, simply filling up and then draining without that whole pesky spin-and-tumble thing. The next washer I used, in addition to having the no spin thing, also decided that draining was clearly for pansies, leaving me with a pile of dirty wet clothes and drenching what I was actually wearing. The annoying thing is that even when you realize the washers are malfunctioning, you cannot do anything; the door locks once the cycle starts, since these are side-loading washers, so even if your realize 5 minutes after you start that something is wrong, you have to wait it out.

Ninety minutes of broken washers later, a machine that I knew worked had freed up, so I transferred my clothes to that. By that point, though, I was out of money on my laundry card, and the machine that lets you add money only takes 5s, when all I had were 1s and 20s. I went to the corner grocery and bought $4 worth of groceries (a Plen-T-Pack of Doublemint gum and an ice cream sandwich) (people outside New York are going to think that that’s a joke, so I want to emphasize that a Plen-T-Pack at a corner grocery costs $1.25, the sandwich was $2.50, and tax is about 10%, so this is not hyperbole) to break a $20, then went back and finally got my clothes washed.

If that had been the end of it, I’d have been angry, but relatively calm. My troubles, however, weren’t yet over. As you probably have guessed, the first dryer I used malfunctioned. What really irked me was that it was very coy about how it malfunctioned: it heated up for the first 5 minutes, when I was standing there watching intently for any sign of deviance, and then as near as I can tell simply stopped running entirely almost as soon as I left. Fortunately, I discovered that it had failed after only about 40 minutes, not the whole hour, but I still had to throw them in another dryer and try again.

To shorten this already very long story, I actually finished everything at maybe 3 AM and got to bed by 4. That would not have been an issue, except that I got up at 7:45 so that I could meet my sister to ship a bunch of our stuff back home since summer’s ending.

How does all that relate to weird clothing? Because I was very, very, very tired when I got up, so I put on my shirt inside-out with the collar half flipped up European-style and half actually tucked under the rim of my shirt, and somehow failed to notice. I looked completely idiotic.

Here’s the really fun thing, though: no one said anything to me. Not only that, but despite the fact that I seemed to have the intelligence of a rather specially enabled jar of marmalade, the man at the UPS store was very kind and treated me like a normal human customer. Anywhere else in the country, one of the following two discussions would have taken place:


Possible Conversation 1

UPS Man: Sir, not to bother you, but your shirt is on inside-out.

Me: Oh, thanks. Sorry; I’m really tired today.

UPS Man: Yeah, no problem, I’ve had days like that too.


Possible Conversation 2

UPS Man: Your shirt’s inside-out.

Me: That is because I am demonstrating that I go against the grain of society, using my clothing to symbolize the inversion of social mores and my establishment of my own ethos.

UPS Man: [Hypothesizes about my sexual orientation.]


But in New York, I actually looked, overall, pretty normal. Certainly more normal than some of the people I ride with in that fermenting tin can of human sweat known as the New York Subway.* In fact, if we had had a conversation about it at all, it would have gone like this:


UPS Man: Dude, your shirt is inside-out.

Me: It’s because, you know, people in cities are so cloistered, I’m trying to set a new trend and wear my emotions, my being, my soul, on the outside. I am symbolizing that by wearing my shirt inside-out, exposing my interior to the world.

UPS Man: That’s deep, man.


And a clothing manufacturer would overhear this discussion and think, Hey, if artists can get away in the MOMA with putting some basketballs in a fish tank, I can probably get away with making a fashion out of shirts worn inside-out, and suddenly you would be able to buy shirts that had been deliberately manufactured to be worn inside-out, and they would cost $250, and you’d start seeing them all on TV and in magazines and on those ads they put here on the inside door of toilet stalls, and young teenage girls would be begging their parents to let them get designer “Invertz” shirts to complement their caterpillar-skin handbags.

New Yorkers would call this new style “sophisticated.”


Overall, I think I am a big fan of the everybody-is-insane mentality of New York. Sure, I guess it has some drawbacks, but what’s the alternative? Are you gonna slop the hogs? Are you gonna tip the cows?

Well, if you are, I know you'll have a lot of fun.

Just remember to wear your Invertz.


* I actually love the subway, and enjoy mocking people who take cars all the time about how I can frequently get around faster by subway than they can by cab, but it really does smell pretty bad right now due to the heat.