After several minutes of sitting on a train that wasn't moving, we were told that it was being taken out of service. It wasn't until we disembarked that most of us noticed the station was filling with smoke from an electrical fire beneath the front car. We were hot, we were sweating, we were breathing through our shirts. As we waited for another train, we were treated to this exchange from a mother and daughter who had apparently notified the station agents about the smoke.
MOTHER: Two-twenty-five. And this is what we get. Nobody's doing anything.
DAUGHTER: Just sittin' there. Don't even see the smoke.
MOTHER: All these people working here and we got to be the ones to tell them the station's full of smoke.
DAUGHTER: They woulda done nothin'.
MOTHER: And nobody knows what this shit is. Doesn't smell like smoke.
DAUGHTER: Maybe it's not. Did you see The Happening?
MOTHER: Oh, Kim, shut your mouth! Please! Don't tell us that shit.
DAUGHTER: I'm just sayin', if you see people breathing it in and then killing each other, you better run.
In April, on one of the first beautiful days of spring, I brought a group from California to Central Park. The trees were in bloom, the crowds were out, and a variety of entertainers were performing for those of us enjoying a leisurely Sunday afternoon. There was even a wedding at Bethesda Terrace. Could the day be any more pleasant?
I sat beneath my favorite tulip tree and waited for my group who had disappeared among the hundreds on the western steps to watch a well-known tumbling/comedy act. It seemed to me that everyone was having the time of their lives. No one could possibly be experiencing any emotion other than euphoria in this perfect spot on this perfect day.
Around this time, a young man in his twenties, walking his parents through the park, stopped by my tree. His father and mother who were from out of town were drawn to the crowds on the steps and asked him if they could watch the entertainment.
His eloquent reply:
"No, that's stupid. Those are stupid people doing stupid things and it's stupid."
You might need to be a guide or historian to find this as funny as I do, but I’ll do my best to set it up. Many of the employees who work the concessions at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island ride out on the early ferries along with the tourists who get treated to colorful conversations. This one morning in June, the discussion touched on a fellow employee, “the black girl who be hatin’ the Dominicans,” the size of the black men’s privates, (“I be runnin away when they pull THAT out!”), the need for one of the gay employees to be a “good gay employee and not a ghetto gay” (“He be jealous if you don’t talk to him ALL DAY!”), and then it moved to a man called Bartholdi.
The sculptor of the Statue of Liberty was Frederic Auguste Bartholdi who died in 1904. This season, there were actors playing Bartholdi out at the statue, approaching me during my brief reprieve while my tourists shopped and took pictures, asking, “Have you seen my lady?” I would mumble, “Thanks, I’m good. Not a tourist. Just trying to read.” Sometimes that would work. Oft not.
Anyway, back on the boat:
Employee 1: Man, I’m gonna *&#!! him up!
Employee 2: Who?
Employee 1: Bartholdi!
Employee 3: You got beef with Bartholdi?
Employee 2: What the #&@! why?
Employee 1: Bartholdi be up in everybody’s business.
On the steps at the Fifth Avenue entrance of the Plaza Hotel, a mother is trying to take a picture of her three young girls, dressed up for the holidays. The youngest is tired and sits as her two older sisters stand and smile.
TRICKY MOTHER: "You have to stand on the red steps. You can't sit down. Those are the rules. It says so right there."
Girl looks for sign. (There is none.) She stands. Mother presses button on camera.
Submitted by a friend from college this past summer:
I work about 20 feet from The Today Show, and breeze past it each day on my way to work. Every morning I take a quick glance to see which stars are there - David Hasselhoff, Jennifer Garner, Spike Lee, and always, of course, Al Roker. One morning the crowd was so dense, and there was so much screaming, that I just had to stop and see which band was playing. There was a stage, but I couldn't see over the people's heads. Finally, I leaned over the barricade to a throng of blond-haired, blue-eyed tourists, clad in pastel and fanny-packs.
"Excuse me," I asked, wearing heels and a purse slung over my shoulder - an obvious working woman and New Yorker. "Do you know what this is?"
"Yeah," replied the fifteen-year-old girl." Slowly: "This is the TODAY SHOW."
On Thursday, I was walking to Thanksgiving dinner in Greenwich Village when I came upon a man holding a map of the city. He looked up at me and said in a very thick accent: "I am lost! I am French!"
I almost didn't stop to help, because it sounded less like a plea for directions and more like a statement, an existential conundrum. All weekend, I've been repeating it, and it becomes more profound by the day.
THIS WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED ON MARCH 13, 2008. FOR MORE OF THE ORIGINAL BLOG (MAY, 2006-SEPTEMBER, 2008), CLICK HERE.
Last weekend, as my tour group strolled through the fossil record, I bought a cup of coffee and tried to get some writing done in the basement food court, stupidly forgetting that the basement food court at the American Museum of Natural Historyis where children come to throw their grandest tantrums. Billed as NYC's top family attraction--and I have no doubt that it is--there's not a place in the tri-state area with a higher quota of screaming, crying, and whining children or of parents fuming, mutually loathing each other, resenting whomever had the bright idea of a trip to the museum, regretting every decision in their lives that brought them to this moment. Night at the Museumis about a security guard at the Museum of Natural History who discovers "an ancient curse (that) causes the animals and exhibits on display to come to life and wreak havoc." This is a comedy. A horror movie would be entitled Coffee Break at the Museum and would also involve an ancient curse that transforms all the children who come through the doors of the basement food court. I gave up writing and decided instead to transcribe the pandemonium around me. Here are selections from one ten-minute period.