The Virtues of Discourtesy: New York

Merit of Discourtesy
New York As The Court Of Louis XIV

It’s going to happen, I tell you. Once too often I’ll go into one of those suck-up restaurants that spread now like dry rot in old tires. It will have the nauseating cutesy-sweetsy menu. You know the kind: You can’t get ham and eggs, side of grits, some really nasty greasy toast. No. You have to buy “The Hearty Frontiersman — two USDA Grade-A eggs especially selected for your dining enjoyment, cooked just the way you like them, drizzled with fresh Monterrey Jack cheese, with a mouthwatering touch of . . . .”

Those places make me want to kill something. The food sounds like a moist perversion. I don’t want my eggs drizzled on. I’d rather not think about it.

It gets worse, though. The waiter will say, “Hell-ooo, I’m Steve, your waitperson! Oooo-oo-ooo! I’m going to do everything to make you visit with us enjoyable. We’re so glad that could come . . . .”

I know myself. I’ll whip out a bolo knife, chop Steve into chunks, and beat the kitchen staff to death with them. Then I’ll wait for the police, glowing with the inner peace that comes of having found meaning.

That’s why I like New York. People there have enough respect for each other to be honestly rude. You can read a menu in Manhattan — most places, anyway — without feeling imaginary fingers on your knees. In a breakfast dive in Brooklyn, the waiter, who isn’t concerned about your inner being, says, “Yeah.” You say, “Two over medium, whole wheat, cuppa mud.” He says, “Got it.” That’s all. It works.

Of course you can’t ask for grits in New York. It’s a nice place, but limited.

The rudeness of New Yorkers is almost a tourist attraction. It’s a phony one. New Yorkers at least have the consideration not to subject you to saccharine smiley-facism. They’re not cuddly. That’s why I like them. You can talk to N’Yawkers without feeling as if you had grabbed a sticky doorknob. The city can be rough, but it’s human.

Now, it’s true that a New Yorker doesn’t want your life story. There are too many people, all with life stories. You don’t say to him, “Hi! I’m from Busted Fork and, gee, it sure is a big city, and, you know, we aren’t used to tall buildings. Just look. They’re everywhere. Tall. You know, buildings . . . .”

A resident of the city will listen to this performance and think, “Yeah. OK. Yeah. Whaddaya want? What, I gotta wait for the Ice Age? Come on, spit it. Hey is this guess-my-secret or something?” He’s perfectly willing to help, but he believes in same-day service. He wants to see his kids again. He doesn’t care about your mama’s spoonbread in Bug Tussle.

But if you just say, “Hey, where’s Davidoff’s Bolo Knives?” he’ll say, “Eighth Avenue, two blocks on the left.” That’s genuine courtesy — answered the question, no therapy.

New York has doesn’t tolerate sick self-absorbed do-goodery, for which god bless it. If you told a waitress in Brooklyn, at least anywhere in Brooklyn that I know, that you wanted a Hearty Frontiersman, she’d probably send you to a gay bath. Don’t even think about drizzled anything. She’d regard you with a look New Yorkers use upon discovering that they are talking not to a human, but to a giant decomposing carp. It combines horror, resignation, and loss of faith in the essential rightness of things. It says, “How do you exist? Have you thought about stopping?”

Another manifestation of the general decline is the phrase, “Have a Nice Day,” which justifies decapitation. I find myself perversely wanting to say, “No. I don’t like nice days.” Or “Actually, I’d rather have beri beri.” Or “May I attack you with my bolo knife?”

When one stranger meeting another says, “Good day,” it means, “I acknowledge your existence, and wish you well to the extent that strangers can be expected to.” But have-a-nice-day is meddlesome, hortatory, contrived, like, “Have a, yuuummmmmmmm! mouthwatering day exactly as you like them with just a sprinkle?.” “Good day” is courtesy. “Have a nice day” is factitious solicitude. It gives me the creeps.

The modulated insincerity and meretricious goodwill savor of the PC plague. See, the world isn’t what we know it to be — a vale of imperfection with occasional bright spots. No. It’s a pinball machine with grinning Smiley Faces rolling around like yellow marbles. Breakfast isn’t breakfast. It’s a heartening Traditional American Experience that you deserve, with dollops of tasty fresh Grade-A Unction?..”

What about a couple eggs, bacon, hold the smarm?

I saw a builders’ catalog once that listed toilets. So help me, they had names like “The Cerulean Princess” (cyanotic, no doubt), and The Woodland Dawn. Then you get those syrupy recordings over and over when you’re on hold for forty-five minutes. “Your call is very important to us. A customer-relations executive will shortly stroke you like a starving masseuse . . . .” The tone invariably suggests that she wants to sit in your lap.

The sense of being managed galls, especially of being managed by idiots. The implication is that, if you call a toilet the Roseate Verge of Morn, I won’t know it’s a toilet. I’ll think it’s a sister piece to the Nike of Samothrace, and keep it in a glass case filled with helium. Call a Belgian waffle the Charlemagne avec Cr?me des Mouches, and I won’t have the brain to notice that it’s a waffle like every waffle ever made — pancake, with little square holes. No. I’ll think I’m doing the squat-and-gobble with Louis XIV, right there in Howard Johnson’s.

New York can give you a cold shoulder or a hard sell. Go into a discount camera store and the salesman will be on you like a buzzard on carrion. “Hey, best camera ever made. Gotta lens. Lotsa buttons, see? Little thing on the side here. You need this camera. Buy it.” It’s straightforward commercial bullying, but that’s OK. It’s what salesmen do. He’s trying to con you about the camera. He isn’t trying to con you about yourself, to shape your character, or make you feel empowered.

I tell you, it’s part and parcel of the whole gummy zeitgeist that urges you to eat plenty of roughage, drink nothing but purified water, slather sunscreen on yourself till you feel like a Vienna sausage in mayonnaise, and never, ever offend anyone. The Mommy State, the PR society. Insufferable niceness. If instead of calling the old, poor, crippled, and blind what they are, and instead call them Senior Citizens, underprivileged, mobility-challenged and Differently Visioned, why, then, everything will be better.

I could live with being crippled. If anyone called me mobility challenged, I’d pull a gun. Which I may do anyway.

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