The walking joke

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(Apparently it is needed to have a check-in next to the police)

If you didn’t notice by my Washington, D.C. post, I went to New York again. I’m not important enough to have any reason to go there other than vacation. So one could probably assume I’ll probably move there at some point in my life. Now I’m not going to give you every reason why I like it there so much, but one of them really is the people of New York.

For all of the hype that I write about Toronto, I have to admit the people here really are the ‘glass half empty’ type. Always ready to criticize, but when forced to offer a solution everyone stays quiet (That’s probably why I complain so much.). No matter what happens in the city or what event might occur, instead of enjoying the moment the residents will criticize and over-analyze every situation. It doesn’t matter what it is. Somebody paints a line on the street and there will be four news stations and a full-page ad in the newspaper denouncing it, even though it may have been a mistake. A professional athlete decides to join one of the Toronto sports teams. The ‘fans’ will criticize the move because the athlete is: too old, too expensive, not good enough. I swear for every action taken there had to have been five years of complaining and arguing beforehand. This city is paranoid how the world sees it. Even though most people don’t care (Just ask anyone south of the 49th parallel.). So I go to New York, where people are proud to be where they live.

Walking around the streets of Manhattan is like nothing else. In Toronto you’re usually walking with your head down to avoid eye contact, while there you get to hold your head up high. Most likely because you have to watch for elbows to the chin or someone reaching for your wallet, but that’s what makes it exciting.

Unfortunately, though, this is where my problem starts.

Having lived in Toronto for the past eight years, I’ve grown accustomed to the Torontonian way of communication. A direct look in the eyes means it’s OK to speak, while a glance toward the ground means don’t bother me. It’s quite simple to understand once you’ve been snubbed a couple of times (Except for on the subway, on an elevator, or even in the men’s washroom, where speaking is refrained from all together.).

See I would like to believe I am pretty cognizant of the local street behavior whereever I go. I try to understand the dos and don’ts before I get there. I know not to carry food or drinks when I go to England, or to keep small change when I am in Cairo. I know not to make fun of that stupid Bush character in Texas, or trust any cab driver in Buffalo, Dubai, or Ottawa. I even caught on pretty quick in Washington, DC, that most of the guys walking around the White House in suits don’t really work there. They basically are just trying to pick up anything that has blonde hair, showing a bit of legs, and says hello in a high pitch squeak of a voice. But for the life of me, I can’t figure out New York.

Every couple of months I build up enough confidence to go back to the big city, trying desperately to fit in and it never works. For some reason everyone wants to tell me their story or make fun of me. I feel like I’m the walking joke and everyone is a comedian. I just can’t seem to walk down any street in Manhattan without someone saying something. And it’s not that I’m trying to stand out. So don’t think that for one second. I don’t dress like a tourist or go to the typical tourist sites. I even try to hide my camera whenever I pull it out from my bag. Heck, most of the time I look like I could be on America’s Most Wanted. So it can’t be the way I look (Although most people in Toronto believe I look lost, every minute I’m not sleeping.).

A perfect example happened the first day I was there.

My hotel was around Broadway and 42nd Street. I decide that it’s a nice day and I am going to walk to the Guggenheim Museum (Basically walking straight up Broadway, and cut over at 88th Street.). So I start walking, and walk I do well. I’m walking for so long that I end up at 124th Street in Harlem. Completely missing the museum by almost 40 blocks. The only reason I woke up and realized where I was because a guy wearing nothing but a towel and a grocery bag on his head tells me, I need to believe in myself and keep going. I know most people who will read this have never seen me in person. But I would hope that I don’t look like I need some random guy with a grocery bag on his head, telling me to believe in myself.

Oh but wait, of course there is more.

I’ve never understood how to properly tell a person or persons, quite possibly not having a place of residence (I’m trying to sound politically correct, but I’m not sure how to say homeless positively), that you don’t have money to give them.

In Washington, D.C., they shook a cup at me with change in it as I walked by. Seattle had people holding free parking spots during rush hour, to collect the change you would have normally spent on parking. In Toronto, they wait outside of Tim Horton’s knowing I have food and money. While in New York I got lectured about coming to the big city with no money after I said, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have anything.’ I wasn’t in tears at the time but could imagine how someone could be.

What are you supposed to say? I feel like I have a sign on my back that says ‘I’m lying,’ with the way my luck goes.

Another issue I have is with the kids from the non-profit groups, who wear vests, hold a clipboard, and stand on both sides of the street so they won’t miss you. In Toronto we seem to have group in the city participating in this kind of fundraising. In New York they seem to be more politically based.

Normally I’m looking down at the ground with my headphones on, rocking out to angry music to get me pumped to go back to work. But every so often I run into somebody, literally. I’ve stepped on their feet, hit them with my bag, even knocked them on the ground. I’m just trying to go from point A to point B, and they want to talk. So I normally say I don’t speak English, or can’t at the moment. Which then they give the sad puppy dog eyes, and saying, “it’s no problem.” When I know in the back of their head, they have just called me every swear word in the book.

So what do you do?

(I did sign one petition, though. I think it’s ridiculous with the amount of time and energy spent over this same sex marriage topic in the United States. Some say the law states marriage is a union between a man and woman. Well the laws change. Others state the Bible doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages. But wasn’t that thing written 2,000 years ago?  I hardly believe same sex marriage was the burning issue back then. CNN had the best excuse: “Well if they want to get married, then they will want to get divorced.” Well whoop dee doo. Canada has had same-sex marriage legal for years, and it’s now a non-issue. So get over it.)

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Justin Zawyrucha‘s other blog posts:
Page 1      -     Blogs 111-81
Page 2     -      Blogs 80-50
Page 3     -      Blogs 49-19
Page 4     -      Blogs 18-1

8 Comments
  1. July 7th, 2009 - 5:27 am

    I love New York, it is the only place I have visited that I can pretty much get anywhere from public transportation or walking!

    Also, I typically try to keep my headphones on while staring down at the ground; but that sometimes doesn’t stop people (the nonverbal communication signals must get confused). When in doubt I say “I don’t carry loose change”. The local vagrants have gotten used to my same response and don’t bother me.

  2. July 7th, 2009 - 7:44 am

    “But I would hope that I don’t look like I need some random guy with a grocery bag on his head, telling me to believe in myself.”

    Justin, you look *exactly* like that kind of person.

  3. July 7th, 2009 - 3:20 pm
    justin.zawyrucha said:

    You know, I would like to believe I’ve gotten better. It doesn’t help writing about the missteps, but maybe thats part of the whole 5 step program.

  4. July 9th, 2009 - 5:58 am
    john.cantrell said:

    What’s the 5-step program again? At any rate, I love New York also. My girlfriend and her family moved there from Poland when she was 7 and I went to Pratt for a while and so we’ve both lived in Brooklyn/Queens area. While it’s fantastic to go back, it certainly takes alot out of you. I think we’ve grown accustomed (maybe a bit too much) for the far slower pace of Atlanta. I would have to say though that when I was living in Brooklyn, I absolutely loved it, far more than Manhattan. I think that’s why I chose Pratt over Parson’s. While both were great/amazing schools, the folks at Pratt and the cultural atmosphere was a good bit different, and although everything is still at arms length to Manhattan, Brooklyn seemed to be alot more genuine. Also, you’d be hard-pressed to find any ‘true’ New Yorker’s in Manhattan, and those are the absolute best people to be around like you described in the beginning.

  5. July 9th, 2009 - 8:35 am

    I think my favorite parts of New York were the Lower East Side and Brooklyn! There’s a really long story here about looking for Joey Ramone’s street only to find no sign (imagine some punk stole it); anyway, if you have never done so, you should go there and check out the Tenement Museum! http://www.tenement.org/

  6. July 9th, 2009 - 9:19 am
    justin.zawyrucha said:

    I haven’t posted the photos of what Stephanie is talking about yet. Probably next post.

    (What I find interesting though is that other then myself. Not one person from Toronto has looked at this post. So that would 1 of 7 million. hmm)

  7. July 9th, 2009 - 3:02 pm

    Did you go to the Tenement Museum?

  8. July 13th, 2009 - 1:36 pm
    shar said:

    I can’t believe you overshot the museum by 40 blocks – what were you day dreaming about?

    I know what you mean about T.O. you either glance down or you wear sunglasses and pretend the strangers are invisible so they don’t talk to you.

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