1. A line to get into an AA meeting or a sample sale?
New Yorkers don’t like to queue up — in fact, they’ll do just about anything to avoid a wait. But there are some exceptions, sample sales and highly exclusive AA meetings being chief among them. On the surface, sample sales and AA meetings might seem to be worlds apart, but look a little deeper and you’ll likely fine that they’re practically indistinguishable. For, is a sober New Yorker not as devoted to AA as a young NYC mother is to finding Ralph Lauren dining room chairs that are half off? Even taken at face value, both lines are pretty hard to tell apart; they are, after all, both rampant with fidgety chainsmokers waiting to be let into a nondescript, nameless building.
2. Is he crazy or do you actually know him?
Something that happens a lot in New York: bumping into someone you know. Which is presumably why crazy people who act like your long lost friend can be confusing for recent NYC transplants. And fear not: these people do exist. As do they — through a combination of hair-raising, unremitting eye contact and extremely enthusiastic waving — seem to take immense pleasure in confounding the over-wearied. In these situations, it’s important to remember to trust your gut; if you heart is telling you that you don’t know the man who made a onesie out of a discarded sleeping bag, chances are you don’t.
3. Ex-con or ex-boyfriend?
It’s usually only for the first millisecond of seeing him, because hopefully you’d be able to recognize an ex-boyfriend if you saw one. But in that first millisecond, it truly is hard to tell whether it is in fact your ex-boyfriend you’re seeing from across the platform or a wandering ex-con. Why? Because both ex-cons and ex-boyfriends elicit the same reactions: a spike in blood pressure, that heart-dropped-into-stomach feeling, paranoia. To make matters more confusing, both an ex-con and an ex-boyfriend will, upon noticing your scrutinizing gaze, promptly run away from you as fast as their little legs will take them.
4. A grassroots activist or someone who cares?
First, let’s make one thing clear: the mere act of asking yourself this question is, in itself, indicative of a NYC noob. Anyone who’s been living in New York for longer than three years knows that, on the city streets, there is no such thing as a caring stranger — or a random act of kindness for that matter. It’s simply incompatible with New York. One might even go so far as to say physically impossible. But if you’re still new to New York — and your entire being has not yet been desensitized — I guess I could see why you could make this mistake. Just remember: if ever in doubt — no. The answer is no. As in, she does not care about you, despite that glowing smile and considerate one-liner. She’s being paid very little money to do grassroots work — and don’t you forget it.
5. Food for you or not for you?
Sometimes, while walking down the street, this can happen: a block-long table set up with all of the breakfast foods your heart desires. If you’re unaccustomed to this, be prepared to be greatly disappointed when you attempt to take hold of a blueberry muffin and your hand is slapped away by an arrogant guy in a headset. Even I still fall for it sometimes, usually on especially slow mornings. Inevitably, however, it will occur to me that this is not some sort of gift from God, but rather a production studio’s way of making their 15-hour shifts less brutal: by ensuring that free food is constantly available, and by having the option to assert their authority via a hand slap.
6. An extremely rare sight or literally nothing at all?
Apparently in New York, “anything can happen,” which is why, when you see a large crowd gathered around an unknown yet seemingly intriguing spectacle, it’s easy to think you should join the crowd too. But then, you would be overestimating the intelligence of your fellow pedestrians. For it’s equally as likely that what’s going on is nothing but a display of blind conformity. As such, it’s crucial to survey a crowd — really study it, weigh the pros and cons — before deciding to infiltrate. Because more times than not, when you finally elbow your way through (and to a point of no return, no less), you’ll discover it’s nothing but an amateur photo shoot for a no-name theater major just looking for some head shots.
On the other hand, you never know: it could be a once-in-a-lifetime sighting, like Bethenny Frankel taking her daughter to the park.
7. A delicious blessing or Nuts 4 Nuts?
I imagine the smells that pervade NYC are one of the hardest obstacles a young adult must overcome when acclimating oneself to the city. It’s not like someone who was born in the city and knows nothing else; most of these people actively chose to leave their unpolluted and sanitary environments for a virtually lethal one.
No one should have to inhale a cloud of shawarma before 9am — no one. And it’s these types of fetid odors that, in my opinion, work in Nuts 4 Nuts’ favor. Nuts 4 Nuts already smells wondrous on its own; but a Nuts 4 Nuts cart after having already waded through three clouds of lamb gyro? That’s nothing short of a miracle. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that they never taste as good as they smell — something you’re likely to realize when you finally lay eyes on the culprit: a pile of peanuts with the occasional nail clippings being stirred around in a centuries-old bowl.
8. Is there a slow walker in front of you, or do you have a mood disorder?
A slow walker is a slow walker, regardless of your mental state. Which, if you’ve been living in NYC for a good period of time, is most certainly riddled with all types of mood disorders. The point isn’t your mental state, but rather the fact that there is a foreign intruder who’s been let loose on the streets of New York, and who needs to be contained.
9. Is someone trying to rob you or is that just your friend?
Living in NYC for a sustained period of time has this way of creeping into your very makeup and instilling in you a deep, unrelenting case of chronic paranoia. A couple months of taking the subway will leave you hyper alert and extremely on edge. All of which is to say: the innocent gesture of a friend tapping you on the shoulder or lightly tugging at your bag has the power to elicit an impulsive and very aggressive response. And really, who can blame you? It does feel like attempted robbery.
10. A drunk NYU student or a drunk adult?
Apparently it’s not easy to differentiate between the two. As an adult who lived on MacDougal street, I should know. Apparently a screw cap bottle of Sancerre means nothing to some people (I’m looking at you, campus police). Does it look like this cute little backpack could fit a textbook? Sheesh — I don’t wear loafers for nothing.
11. Your lucky day or a one-way ticket to bed bugs-ville?
I know what it looks like: a perfectly nice couch, discarded onto the sidewalk for anyone to snatch up. And perhaps it is Georgian, with reupholstered burgundy velvet, as you claim. But it is also unquestionably, beyond all doubt, infested with bed bugs. This is not your lucky day.
12. Running for pleasure or to escape?
This is similar to the ex-boyfriend/ex-con conundrum with one crucial difference: in this case, they’ve been running the whole time, and not simply as soon as you made eye contact with them.
When I think of this, the Friends episode where Phoebe runs like an insane lunatic comes to mind. The funny thing about that episode is that her style of running was a pretty accurate representation of how New Yorkers, in general, run. Which is why it can be extremely difficult to discern whether one is running for pleasure (whatever THAT means — a discussion reserved for another day) or in an attempt to escape someone or something. Fact is: you’ll probably never find out the answer and, unlike the “crazy or do you know him?” predicament, finding out will not affect you in the least.
13. Is this dude serious or is this performance art?
While asking yourself this question during your first couple years in NYC is inevitable, it also exposes you as an indisputable rookie. Because, if you would just think outside the box for one second, you’d realize that these are actually one in the same. A self-proclaimed performance artist is no less sane than a woman who’s having a full-fledged political debate with herself on the corner of Delancey and Ludlow. In fact, they’re usually crazier.