Monday, March 16, 2009
As out of hand as St. Patrick’s Day in New York can be, it used to be worse.
Twenty years ago, I was escorting an Israeli couple through mid-town Manhattan. The husband, a friend of mine from Israeli Intelligence, had been to New York many times. It was his wife’s first visit.
We were supposed to be showing her the town he raved about and loved returning to. Fifth Avenue, Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral. But, as we walked, he and I were so involved in an intense conversation about conditions in Israel and the Middle East we lost total track of her… until, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed her head bobbing and swiveling left, right, left and right again, repeatedly and swiftly. I interrupted my conversation with him to ask her, “What are you so busy looking at?” In halting, heavily-accented English, she asked, “Why is everyone wearing green and why is everyone vomiting?”
I had thought to point out St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but had forgotten—had completely overlooked—that it was St. Patrick’s Day.
My intelligent Intelligence friend said, “What amazes me more about New York than the crazy, eccentric things that go on in the streets here every day is that you New Yorkers don’t even notice!
He was right. Heads don’t turn. (Did they ever?) We who live in New York City live so long among some things so bizarre we fail to notice anything different about them. A man wearing only a cowboy hat, jockey shorts and a guitar struts in Times Square and never frets even in the dead of winter, posing for tourists who take photos of him and with him, never noting that the midday cowboy never strums his frets because he can’t play guitar. But New Yorkers?... pay him no mind.
My dear departed friend Herb Graff and I started taking note, and once we did, we never stopped. If we weren’t together when we marveled over what we encountered, we would call one another as fast as we could to share and savor “what I just saw… wait’ll you hear this one!”
We had just left the (old original) Russian Tea Room when we heard--to our astonishment, beheld--a man with a metal wash tub over his head belting an opera aria at the top of his voice. After watching in morbid fascination for a few minutes with me, Herb said, “I’m going to ask him why.” He walked over to the man, lowered his head and stuck it underneath the tub. After a few moments, he ducked his head out from under the tub and returned to me. “What did he say?” I asked. Herb answered, “He said it sounds better.”