Volume 73, Number 42 | February 18 - 24, 2004


Irritation: Bleeps, shrieks and sidewalk freaks

By Wilson

Recent statistics in the news report that crime is down in New York City. But sadly, irritation, a lesser offense, has hit an all-time high. Never before have so many people, intentionally or otherwise, been more annoying, especially Downtown in the Village.

This under-analyzed and overwhelming transgression affects all the senses. We’re talking “Tommy” — the movie, the musical and the designer. The people in my neighborhood have become walking logos — eye-scorching, double-strength branding devices. The North Face puffy winter jacket, which displays its obnoxious logo on both the front and the back, is everywhere and in your face. So is that mass-marketed messenger bag everyone has with the outline of the Manhattan skyline. It’s excessive and aggressive advertising, from which there is no escape. And in public, you can’t turn the page or press the mute button.

My ears are ringing (not just from people talking about me, and by the way, I know who you are). That stupid “I’m a locked car” noise, which for no reason whatsoever emits a couple of discordantly loud chirps just as you pass by, has started to drive me crazy. So have those increasingly and ignorantly depended-upon high-pitched, backing-up bleeps and shrieks on everyone’s car. Factor in one certain “StickerMania” vending contraption on St. Mark’s and Second, which has this cheery lady who at all hours of the day and night loudly insists you get your picture taken, and it’s enough to make you lose your mind.

But the most annoying irritation by far has got to be the “Excuse me, Miss” people. Because whenever I hear “Excuse me, Miss?” it’s from someone who wants an expensive cigarette, for me to help feed their dog, to give money to Greenpeace (which hits the streets in multiples, forming a gauntlet the very second I leave my apartment). So now, in a defensive act of self-preservation, I’ve decided to make believe I can’t hear, that I’m deaf, or don’t speak English whenever I hear those three little words.

It never ends; they’re everywhere. Recently, a two-person team came at me with an “Excuse me, Miss?” and I just started talking loud about nothing, the way cell phone people do. With today’s teeny-tiny technology, no one could tell that I didn’t even have a phone. I discovered a whole new avoidance tactic by just blurting out non sequiturs, powerful commands and erratic exclamations. Defense! I even got to hear all the nasty or bewildered things they’d say about me afterwards, thinking I couldn’t hear. And you wouldn’t believe some of the looks on their faces…. (I simply must get one of those camera phones someday.)

Another time (this was in Midtown, but it could happen here) I was on my way to work and knew what to avoid at which intersections, which meant stay away from the northeast corner of Fifth and 42nd because there’s an employment agency nearby that has these guys who go out on the street and ask young females walking alone if they’re “looking for work.” You see, women who aren’t prostitutes, in general, do not like being solicited by strange men on 42nd St., day in day out. So when a friendly looking woman around my age came up and said, “Excuse me, Miss?” and I could have sworn she was going to ask me for directions and it turned out she was from that damn pimp employment agency, I felt so violated I literally growled in her face and she screamed.

Last summer, there was this one con artist who had a whole new take on “Excuse me, Miss?” He kind of looked like a young Keanu Reeves type and worked by the triangular gardens near Stuyvesant St., which is officially called the St. Mark’s Historic District and District Extension. (See how well I know my neighborhood?) Anyway, this good-looking dude, let’s call him Keanu, was absolutely charming, simply brilliant. He played the role of a little lost tourist/student, wore a backpack, looked the part. With map or guidebook in hand, this was one gifted actor.

“Excuse me, Miss, do you speak English?” was his opening line, the setup. You see, quite often, this being New York City, English isn’t always a person’s first language. I mean, there’s a lot of foreign students and immigrants and tourists around here, so Keanu’s objects of “affection” could identify. And perhaps Keanu would become a Big Apple moment, a coffee break at Starbuck’s, a romantic “Sex and the City”-type escapade or chance for a feeling of religious piety and decency by helping those in need.

After Keanu received a positive response, he’d feign relief and joyful rapture, and chattily proceed to rattle off some lame story about how he wasn’t from around here and accidentally got separated from “the group” (and his wallet). He’d look scared, polite and sincere, and make moist and poignant eye contact throughout his pitch. At some point, our handsome and well-heeled young man would throw in a pathetic “I’ll messenger you the money within one hour from my father’s office” line for good measure. This dude was slick. These women got duped.

I haven’t seen Keanu around lately. Then again, I might have scared him off. One sunny, bright blue day, I was out doing errands, and on the way home I, much to my dismay, saw him putting on yet another performance, on my block, practically at my apartment, when some unknown force caused me to turn back.

The girl was busy digging in her purse, pulling out both coins and bills. And suddenly, with Keanu’s undivided attention, I literally morphed into action. Sticking out my middle finger in a powerful, theatric and highly exaggerated manner, I went, “Hey, do you speak English?”

Keanu was shocked. I was animated. “Understand this?!”

Changing color, Keanu grasped at his chest, staggered and fell backwards as if he’d been shot. Even though I was at least 15 feet away, he felt me, felt my kinetic rage.

The girl got the hell out of there, he deserved the Oscar and I just kept giving him the finger, striking him again and again until he took off.

Satan Be Gone! Matrix Revolution!

Just cleaning up the neighborhood. I’ll be back.


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