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Monday, December 06, 2004


Shitty Sidewalks, Busy Sidewalks...

It's Christmas time in New York City, which is truly magical. The windows of every department store are done up in high holiday style. Colored lights are everywhere, from hanging over 125th Street to the top of the Empire State Building to lamp posts in Battery Park. The street musicians are playing Christmas carols on instruments from saxophones to steel drums. There's really no place quite like New York to experience such a wide variety of Christmas culture at once. I love it.

Unfortunately, so do a whole huge shitload of out-of-towners. The longer you live here, the stronger your contempt for tourists. This isn't to say that you aren't nice to them when they're lost. This doesn't mean that you spit on them as they amble past. This doesn't mean that you fail to appreciate what they do for the economy of the city. It simply means that you seethe. Christmas time is seething time for many New Yorkers.

Because Christmas is the time when tourists make it more difficult for you to do what you've got to do. Want to stop by Rockefeller Plaza on a Sunday evening to take a look at the tree? Good luck, schmucko, it's packed thigh-to-thigh with people in from Jersey or Indiana or wherever who saw the Christmas-tacular tree-lighting special with Al Roker, Clay Aken and twenty other mediocrities and now want to see the spot they saw on TV. It was a mosh pit last night. My wife and I walked as briskly as we could down the street, glanced for ten seconds at the tree and kept right on walking.

Saks Fifth Avenue had some really neat Christmas windows. They also had a long line you had to wait in to walk by them. Let me repeat that for clarity: You had to wait in a line to walk by some windows. You didn't get anything for waiting in the line. Nobody gave you cocoa or a handjob in addition to your window viewing. You just had to wait in line to walk thirty yards down the sidewalk.

In fact, all of Fifth Avenue is gripped by this kind of insanity. God help me, last year I had to make a couple of purchases in the American Girls store on Fifth. I would sooner remove my own kidneys with two toothpicks and a crazy straw than go through that again. I was packed in like an illegal immigrant in a cargo container with upper middle class families all dressed up to have tea with their dollies and buy the latest mass-produced doll clothes and all of the ten thousand American Girls product lines that go with their particular doll. When a line of dolls starts becoming a lifestyle choice, you've got problems. The store is huge, with a "doll hospital" and an "American Girls Theater" and, for all I know, a "re-education center" where girls who feel they've outgrown the dolls are sent for partial lobotomies.

Now, I normally avoid Times Square whenever I can, largely because that's where you can pretty much be guaranteed at all times to be slowed to a crawl by all the gawking tourists who stop to admire the spray paint artists working their magic or to pause at the tables and/or blankets selling knock-off Louis Vuitton bags. Knowing that this crowd is always there, one can prepare oneself for those times when crossing through Times Square is necessary. You can spot the New Yorkers in Times Square. We're the ones impatiently weaving our way through the crowded sidewalks or giving up and just walking in the street.

The problem with Christmas is that the whole damn city becomes Times Square. You can't avoid the over-crowded areas because everywhere is overcrowded. We just get completely fed up with the hundreds of people who will stroll slowly, six and seven abreast, down the sidewalk, making it impossible to rush, which is the natural state of many New Yorkers. The Christmas season also brings a far higher percentage of people who will just suddenly stop in the middle of the sidewalk. Ask a New Yorker: you just don't do that. You don't stop in the middle of everyone's way. It's akin to pissing in someone's soup. It's just rude and you don't do it.

Which is why New Yorkers get surly this time of year. The tourists come in, the city gets crowded, it makes it harder for us to go about our lives. So we complain, often in the face of the offending out-of-towner. This is why New Yorkers have such a reputation for rudeness and surliness in the rest of the country. We're actually very nice people, folks. But if you stop us from going where we want to go or prevent us from going there as quickly as we want, you're going to hear some cursing.

My suggestion, then, for Christmas visitors to the city, would be that, every time you hear a New Yorker yelling "Get the fuck out of my fucking way you goddamn fucking retard!" you should interpret it to mean, "Holiday greetings, friend. My apologies, but I'm late for dinner and need to get by." And then you should smile and get the fuck out of the way.

I don't think it's possible to remove your kidney with toothpicks and a crazy straw but I'd love to see you try.
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