Friday, August 19, 2005


As I'm writing this, I'm next door to Madame Taussaud's wax museum. It's a hassle to get here, fighting past the tourists on the sidewalk who stop IN THE MIDDLE to gawk and point. To lure people inside, the museum has wheeled Samuel (L.) Jackson out to the sidewalk, where people happily snap photos, as gleefully as they'd be next to the real man. I can't imagine how many poor innocents back home, from Tulsa to Timbuktu, think their friends and family members went to New York and spotted a real live celebrity.

As happy as they are about Sammy being available for photos, most do catch on that he's not the real thing. Not so for this girl in front of me the other day who - ignoring the sign saying "Wax Museum" in neon above her head - started full-on freaking out and had to be calmed down by her friends.

I think a wax museum is a great metaphor for New York's image obsession. They say people make up their mind about you in, what?, a minute? In New York, with the sheer volume of people around you, that time has got to be a tenth of that.

This leads to all-too-neat stereotypes that most people assign themselves. Punk, hippy, chic mom, professionally thin woman, rumpled student, young businessman on the go. Rather than fight these stereotypes, I think most people tend to embrace them, to buy whole hog into the lifestyle of their choice.

Because New Yorkers walk everywhere, it's necessary to carry around possessions that would normally be tossed into the backseat of a car - gym clothes, snack, books, etc.

Tourists wear their backpacks backwards on their chests, just like the guidebook and Aunt Sally recommends. Fashionistas have their oversized Mary-Kate-approved slouchy bags (probably without snacks). The homeless have Duane Reed bags. Punks have ripped messenger bags.

My favorite example of fronting in New York is the phenomena of keeping bags from a store you'd like people to think you shop at. I can't tell you how many wrinkled up orange Hermes shopping bags, or tiny, grungy Tiffany bags, or ripped up Prada shopping bags go by daily.

I'm not sure if that's a step up from the Chinatown special, the Louis Vuitton "inspired" bag. While many are direct copies, the sadder ones are altered to have different initials in the pattern, or are overlaid with smiling daisies or cherries. They are generally on the arm of a teenage girl with her mom, or a middle-aged woman sporting a Mickey Mouse T-shirt.

Either way, it sends a weird message and raises many questions: Do they think it's real? Do they think it's fooling anyone? Did they just buy it because they thought it was cute?

Friday, August 05, 2005

Easy there, Little Red Riding Hood

Since I've been here, the main focus of my exploration has been downtown, Chinatown, SoHo, all the usual suspects that would pop up on a TV show or a sleek ad for vodka. My usual routine in my neighborhood has been the bank, Blockbuster, McDonald's for my McFlurry habit.

These destinations can all be reached by walking out the door and going straight ahead, then turning right.

So last week, feeling a little like Lewis and Clark (more like Clark, really) I decided to wander over to the little playground outside my door to the left. Turns out it's a huge park,that kept going, like a magician's scarf trick, or clowns in a clown car.

There are 165 acres of Inwood Hill Park, which includes the rock where the shiny-beads-for-Manhattan trade supposedly took place in the early 1600s. I was sitting there, on the rock, trying to comprehend how long ago that was, when I realized the plaque about it was from the 1930s and I can't even wrap my head around that.

Plus, with so many acres, it makes the murders-per-acre rate look really low.

The park warranted calls to no less than six people in my phone book - "That's right, I'm in a giant woods IN MANHATTAN!" "Guess what I'm sitting on?" "Did you know I live near water? There's apparently some bridge right outside my door."

Not one, but two friends recommended I live there if something happens with my lease. I'm not sure what to make of that vote of confidence, but I've started pricing tents.