Grocery Store: Shelf tag reads $2.99/each, price tag on each item reads $4.99/each, scans at the register at $8.99/each if you notice it, and the manager has to be called to fix it—after you wait for 20 minutes for someone to wander to that corner of the store and check for you—with angry New Yorkers complaining the entire time about your holding up the line.
Subway: It’s always when the subway car is standing-room-only that you hear, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are delayed because of train traffic ahead of us…” Ten minutes later, doors still open in sweltering, humid, smelly underground heat, you remain standing, immobile, with your face in an armpit and and a random briefcase corner stuck in your ass, hearing for the tenth time, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are delayed because of train traffic ahead of us…”
Car: You come out and find a parking ticket on your windshield for failure to display your meter payment receipt, and as you swear at yourself for forgetting, you look down and realize that it’s right there, prominently displayed in the window. Once again you take it home, copy it, and mail it in for a “by-mail hearing” only to find yourself paying the ticket anyway two weeks after that.
Fifth Avenue: The semi-homeless semi-vagrant in the filthy, smelly shirt says “Afternoon, sir!” to you as you pass each other, and though you ignore him and keep walking, he decides for some reason that you are the One Person In New York That Understands Him, and for the next ten minutes he follows you, telling you repeatedly that “I like you, yeah, you’re all right!” and that “I’ve always been known as Hershel the Boa, because I’m like a snake, sneaky and I can smell well, which gives me a advantage when I’m transactin’, like I have a extra sense in a different organ, like a completely different organ. You know? I know you do, I can smell it, see what I’m sayin’? That’s why you’re all right!”
Manhattan: You brought $20 in cash for a couple hours’ parking (and spent $10 on bridge tolls getting there) but once in the neighborhood you find that a couple hours will cost you $28, so you swear with indignation under your breath and begin trying to find noncommercial street-side metered parking. Half an hour later, thanks to traffic you’ve managed to go exactly three blocks across Manhattan (and all of them were double-parked and commercial anyway). You decide to give up and pay the $28, just as soon as you can make your way around this block and back the three blocks in the other direction to the parking lot. Shouldn’t take more than another 30-45 minutes and an additional $20 in gas.
Apartment: You’re busy sitting at your kitchen table paying your $350 electrical bill (for a one-room apartment with fuses so small you can’t run most major appliances) but you have to stop when the lights go out, something that happens in concert with the explosion beneath the manhole in the middle of your block…again. You decide that since the lights are off, you’re going to go out, but you find that you can’t get in your car and drive away because three Con Edison trucks have precisely blocked you into your oh-so-luxurious street-side spot. One has even given you a nice dent putting down its stabilizer. Thanks, Con Edison!
Park: The holiday walk in the park would be great, except you keep stepping on stray pizza slices, piles of Chinese take-out beef and broccoli, and half-eaten hamburgers as you pick your way down the path between trees amply hung with last summer’s now fading and hole-ridden stuck kites, like season-appropriate ornaments. Eventually, you give up, pick your way back home, let the dog eat the the twelve-course meal off of the bottom of your shoes, and go to bed to the sound of teenage drag racers in muffler-less Hondas on 21st Street.
Corner of the Block: The conversation with neighborhood acquaintances turns to money and they complain that “The job would only have paid $300 thousand, I mean, can you imagine having to live on that? In this town? I turned them down flat.” Using your adjunct lecturer’s salary as a basis for comparison, you do your best to imagine, but fail miserably.
Restaurant: You’re sitting in a restaurant and a guy walks in with a parrot on his shoulder. Ten minutes later a woman walks in with a dog in her purse. After the parrot attacks the dog and they both erupt into yells between tables, you find yourself eating amidst the din and reflecting on how it all sounded like the beginning of a pleasantly dirty joke until the yelling started.
Out and About: You need a restroom. This is a problem, because between the subway ride and walking home from the station you are 40 minutes away from your own. After a great deal of walking about, inquiring, and pleading, you finally find a bodega that will let you use theirs if you buy at least $5 in goods. You pay a $3 ATM fee to take out $20 and buy $5 worth of 4-year-old beef jerky only to find a seatless toilet in a closet the size of a coffin that smells like a refugee camp and a cigarette factory in one. As you walk out with shoes sloshing from the one inch of water on the “restroom” floor, you realize that it took you 45 minutes to find it.
Home and Away: You take a walk through Manhattan to relieve the stress that you feel about the time that you don’t have and the tight budget that you’re on, but by the time you return it’s six hours later and you’ve spent $200 on Very Unique (Though Overpriced) Things That You Know You’ll Never Have a Chance to Buy Again in a series of Independent One-of-a-Kind Organic Import Boutique Shops. You top it off at an overcrowded bar with a $12 Mass-Market Beer That’s Even Overpriced At The $2 It Costs In The Grocery Store, largely to help you forget what an undisciplined consumerist one helplessly becomes in New York.
Mechanic: You go to have your annual inspection done, but they tell you that they can’t get to it right now, so you need to leave your late model car for six hours. You take the subway home and call in six hours. They tell you that the car won’t pass as it is. You ask what’s wrong. They tell you that in order to pass the inspection you need new rims, new tires, new breaks, new rotors, a new muffler, new wipers, a new exhaust system, a replacement horn, a new windshield, a new blower for the defroster, and a new cylinder head. You can’t take it somewhere else to have it inspected, of course, because New York State law requires you to pass at the same shop where inspection initially took place. After some negotiation back and forth, you settle on new tires, new wipers, and a new blower, which they say will take another day to complete. After six days of three follow-up calls per day, your car is finally ready, and your annual inspection (and related “repairs”) only cost you $3,000. As you drive away, you try the wipers and now, strangely, the wiper handle turns on the blower. You try the blower control and the wipers go. When you return to the repair shop, they tell you that they can fix it, no worries, for only the cost of labor, and it will only take a day…
— § —
Okay, there’s some exaggeration here.
But not as much as you’d think if you haven’t lived in New York.