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Reasons to Love New York

39. Because We’re Not Actually That Rude

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For years, Hollywood has unjustly characterized us as harried, gruff misanthropes, unkind to men and pigeons alike. To set the record straight once and for all, your correspondent (and your correspondent’s friendly-looking sister) haunted Union Square on the sludgiest day of the year, making requests of various strangers. New Yorkers proved themselves obliging but streetwise (as a favor’s potential to turn quickly into a crime increased, the likelihood of its being granted diminished). As science would require, each request was made ten times. Below, the results.


Illustrations by Roderick Mills  

“WOULD YOU TAKE A PHOTO OF ME AND MY SISTER?”
The big discovery here was how happy this question made strangers. One woman replied, “You want me to take your photo?” as if we’d asked her to be the godmother of our children. Two sleekly dressed blondes in black coats, whom we’d pegged as surely too aloof and good-looking to help, gladly complied. I now have ten photos of me and my sister looking really pumped to be in Union Square.
10/10 said “yes”


“CAN YOU HELP ME REMEMBER A SONG LYRIC?”
“How does that song go: ‘…the cat’s in the cradle…’?” Everyone wanted to help, even if they couldn’t. Four people knew the lyric: “ …and the silver spoon.” For some reason, one woman laughed, pointed at the Barnes and Noble on the north side of Union Square, and said, “Bookstore.” Another interrupted us before we could even finish the question: “And the steel guitar,” she said. “One hundred percent, it’s steel guitar.”
9/10 said “yes”


“DO YOU KNOW WHERE LITTLE WEST 12TH STREET IS?”
Those who didn’t know admitted it. “I know where West 12th is. I don’t know what the Little’s about.” One response started with, “Oh, God.” Another: “Je-sus…;” One woman outlined our options: “You’re looking at a twenty-minute walk versus a $7 cab ride. Your call.” The single “no” came from a mother-daughter pair. “Uh-unh,” they said, and briskly walked on. Lesson: The maternal instinct to protect one’s child from strange direction-asking men is the only thing that can overpower urban camaraderie.
9/10 said “yes”


“WOULD YOU WATCH MY DOG WHILE I RUN INTO THE HEALTH-FOOD STORE AND BUY YOGURT?”
Before I could ask, one woman was already on bended knee: “Look at you, Mr. Doggy! Aren’t you a doggy-woggy!” Most required more cajoling, especially the man indicated as a half-point above. I’m going to venture that, given his heavy eyelids, wariness, and sweatpants, he was stoned. “Why don’t you tie him to the meter?” he asked. “He howls when he’s tied up,” I said. He eyed me. “You won’t ditch me with him, right?” “No,” I said. “I’ll do it,” he said finally. The one refusal was from a gray-haired woman who, with an apologetic smile, said, “Not a dog person.” (Thanks to my friend’s beagle, Memphis, for assistance with this item.)
8.5/10 said “yes”


“CAN I BORROW YOUR CELL PHONE? MY CELL’S DEAD AND I NEED TO CALL MY GIRLFRIEND.”
A man in red flannel just said “no” outright. A woman with a purple tinge to her hair looked very sympathetic, but said only, “I’m sorry.” I learned approaching a bunch of guys helped my chances, but even those who did lend me their phone looked sorry they’d done it. Although the buddy of one guy who helped me out did lean over the phone, exclaiming to his friend, “Oh my God, his girl’s digits are in your Fave 5!” We laughed.
3/10 said “yes”


“WE’RE SUBLETTING AN APARTMENT AROUND HERE AND LOCKED OURSELVES OUT. IS THERE A HOSTEL AROUND HERE THAT YOU KNOW OF? IN FACT, COULD WE CRASH AT YOUR PLACE?”
Mostly nervous laughter and wordless head-shaking. One woman, who was clearly eager to direct us to a hostel, said “Forget it” when she realized what we were actually asking. Another said, “No, no, no.” A couple just walked away. One kindly woman, however, actually seemed ready to do it. “I’m sorry, I would,” she said. “I just don’t have the room. It’s just me and my husband.”
0/10 said “yes”


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