De-Fuckin-Lightful

Tracey Barnett © September 2006

“Gimme that!” He grabbed my umbrella out of my hand and ran into the Manhattan downpour. It was like taking a sucker from a sucker.

“Yo!” I shot back. I may have resided too long in the timid Northwest but if this was a New York mugging it was by far the stupidest way to get fleeced I’d ever come across. He just stood there at the curb in the pouring rain looking out into the street.

That was my umbrella. Mine. I started my best Matrix Unloaded move in his direction when he turned and yelled, “YOU STAY RIGHT ‘DERE. I’m calling youse a cab.”

“Oh.” I said, deflating the superhero suit that now had Ungrateful Idiot emblazoned across my chest. “Thanks. That’s very nice-” I stepped back into the dry overhang where he had left me.

He did the thing that no other form of human life does other than New Yorkers. He jerked his chin up into the air, the closest a New Yorker can get to saying ‘my pleasure’.

I’d forgotten the secret of this town; 75% of the people you meet seem like Turret’s patients who happen to shout nice things at you. “YO! HONEY–WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?” means May I help you? “GIMME THAT” means Let me do it for you– you tragic Marie-Osmond-type foreigner you.

What makes a New Yorker a Nu Yawker is one thing only-attitude. Subservience isn’t in the zip code. There are no cosmic Untouchables in this town. The city credo translates from the Latin as Get Outta of My Face.

Respect the ‘tude and you’re in. Once you understand the dulcet tones of hearing kindness snarled at you, it’s like having a running Tony Soprano soundtrack to your daily life, almost de-f*ckin’-lightful.

Once in a bakery when I told the server I lived abroad he kept chatting and put three or four free extra pastries in the bag. When I protested, he growled, “YOU’RE F*CKIN’ TAKIN’ ‘EM,” and sealed the deal with, “FORGETABOUDIT.” Yes, Virginia, they really do talk this way.

On an excursion to the hallowed halls of behemoth MACY’S on-of course, 34th Street, the biggest miracle I saw there was not a pint-sized Natalie Wood stalking Kris Kringle. It was three shop assistants gathered around me trying to explain over each other at 94 decibels,

“HONEY, YOU GET YOUR SWEET CHEEKS UP THOSE STAIRS TO CUSTOMER SERVICE AND THEY GONNA GIVE YOU A 10% DISCOUNT JUST FOR WALKING UP THE DAMN STEPS!”

“UH.HUH.”

“TOO RIGHT.”

I think I could love this town.

I know, we all have pretensions that our home town is somewhat cosmopolitan but it isn’t until you land in New York bouillabaisse that you realise not only is there no colour, shape or size of an average New Yorker but there is barely a common language. I wanted to ask everyone I met, “What an unusual accent. Where are you from originally?” More often than not the reply was, “The Bronx” or “Queens”. You immediately adjust your fringe to hide the scarlet letter ‘H’ for ‘Hick’ tattooed across your forehead.

I may have been a Wuss when my plane landed at JFK, but after a week I finally began to understand why even Teletubby-shaped Tony Soprano always got laid. The dissonance between bared fangs and secretly good-hearted intentions sucks you in.

Leaving Macy’s with my 25% off discount [I got another 15% just for breathing], I walked down the street all virtuously consum-ified and decided to stop a passer-by for a quick lunch recommendation.

There it was– in my face– the classic, streamlined New York moment encapsulated in a 90-second exchange. Without missing a beat, the woman glared straight at me, gave me the big index finger wag with a head bobble and began, “Now. Don’t even think about going to the crap place on the corner, YOU HEAR ME?”

I could hear my Macy’s muses counselling my response.

“UH-HUH.”

“TOO RIGHT.”

She seemed absolutely lovely. I was going down fast.


One Response to “De-Fuckin-Lightful”

  1. Tracey – loved this article because it reminded me so much of my hometown – Glasgow, Scotland! They have almost identical attitudes and this has been remarked on by several New Yorkers I have come across. The only problem is nobody outside Scotland can understand (I have trouble myself sometimes these days) and they use a lot of slang.

    Like you, I am an ex-pat, having lived in Vancouver Canada for forty years, married to a New Zealander. We visit NZ every year and I read your article about Christchurch which captured the essence of the Kiwis – and I shed a tear two. I love their can do attitude about everything and I have directed a number of Kiwi friends to your website – I know your article will make them very proud.

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