Thursday, October 22, 2009

NYC is Not Where the Wild Things Are

They say that New York is a city where anything goes. You could dress like a giraffe, and no one would bat an eye. A man could likely even wear a kilt without causing a stir. But apparently, wearing a bowtie goes beyond even what New Yorkers will tolerate, at least in midtown.

At The King's College, men in the House of Churchill distinguish themselves with various forms of greatness, but also by sporting the Churchill bowtie on Tuesdays. As faculty adviser to the House, I occasionally join them in this.

On my way toward Penn Station this past Tuesday evening, as I waited for the light at Broadway and 33rd, a pedicab driver pulled away from the intersection and said loudly in a mock Brahman accept, "That's why I wear my bowtie!" I thought to myself, "Oh my! I've just been gratuitously mocked by a pedicab driver. By a pedicab driver of all people!"

Perhaps I should have thrown a coffee at him, or even a garbage can. No. It would not have been in keeping with the bowtie. Besides, I remembered this video of a brawl in the street between a pedicab driver and a cabbie. (Go on. How can you not watch it?)

For those of you who are from out of town, "That's New York for ya" is a gross mischaracterization. New Yorkers, even New York cabbies, are a whole lot more civil and friendly than this. In my more than four years here, I have never seen anything even remotely like this. In fact, I have found New Yorkers to be remarkably polite and considerate of one another. (Read my earlier post, "New York--City of Marvels and Manners.")

But it seems that Gotham is also a lot more conventional than it's reputation would lead you to think it is. You can play a guitar in your underwear in Times Square and call yourself the Naked Cowboy, but if you walk down 34th Street dressed that way, you'll make people uncomfortable. (I have not tried this.) I'm not even sure that a man could wear a kilt without getting jeered. And even a distinguished looking bowtie is a step outside the acceptable, inviting cultural punishment from the street.

I'm not complaining, mind you. All of this just confirms my belief that a sustainable, livable political community--which New York City is--requires a degree of mutual consideration and fellow feeling, but also a healthy level of outwardly expressed mutual censorship...some, but not too much.

I love New York. And New York loves me, but not always.

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