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2004-11-17 - 4:34 p.m.

“Don’t look up.”

This is the first and most important advice you give to a visitor to the city if you are at all concerned with their health. There is nothing in this world that bothers a New Yorker like a tourist slowly plodding down the street, clogging the tight sidewalk traffic while he takes in the bright vistas of the pretty, pretty tall buildings. Start taking pictures and you’ll be shot, or at least rudely bumped in the shoulder region while attempting to stutter your shutter.

For New Yorker’s the city exists at street level. The sweeping vistas and skylines that New York is known for, the pictures that inevitably end up on advertisements and framed in doctors offices; we don’t see those. We see crowded block, chock full of people who just aren’t walking fast enough, or have decided to hand out fliers for Puma’s new line, or are protesting the cause of the month, or are asking for money for the charity of the month. (Greenpeace is the January charity, and Children’s Amnesty is February’s. If you get your timing just right, you can watch changing of the guard. Sometimes they even wear the fuzzy Popsicle hats.) We see bodegas, and a small army of nail salons. (Really, why is there this much attention needed on the hands? I’ve never gotten a paraffin dip and so far as I can see my fingernails still remain intact.) We see loud banners and awnings advertising every amenity known to human kind. We don’t see tall buildings, and we never, ever look up.

My first job in the city happened to be just by the building most often noted on Manhattan’s craggily face. At base level, though you’d never know it. It simply looks like another block. The first time I had friend of mine up from college, I took her to the middle of block right in the shadow of The Big Apple’s Everest.


“At what?”

“Look up.”

Both our eyes scanned upward – I’d pulled her out of the way of oncoming traffic. I’m not sure it had the same effect on her as it did on me, but it usually makes an impression. On the bad days of those first few months in the city, I’d walk by, look up, and remind myself, I live here now.

Then a native would kick me, and I’d keep walking.

I had to return a camera to a friend yesterday. She happens to work on the fiftieth floor of a posh building in midtown. Not only was there an abundance of actual marble, rather than drywall made to look like marble, but even the security turn-styles looked classy and modern. I wandered off the express elevator and dropped off the goods. Before I made my way down, I decided this would be a beautiful opportunity to evacuate my bowels. The four cups of coffee I slammed over the day had finally caught up to me, and something told me the desecration of marble would be considered somewhere in the vicinity of criminal. Thankfully there were a couple public restrooms in the hall.

Strolling in, I made with the quiet man nod to the guy I regrettably made contact with as the door opened, then saddled up to the urinal to get down to business. It took a few moments to get him in the mood, so I flushed the urinal a couple times, and started looking around the room.

There was a window just to my right. I didn’t think anything of it, or at least, I was trying not to think anything of it. It was relatively low and only a foot from the urinal. Bad placement. When I happened to look through the glass though…

I’ve decided I want to have a big important job for a big important firm that has offices unnecessarily high in a huge building, just so occasionally I can get this kind of view. There, waiting to pee, I looked down over all of Manhattan, and the edges of Newark. The lines upon lines of buildings ran into oblivion at the horizon. Entire neighborhoods seemed shrouded in mist as I looked south. Nothing stood tall enough to block any part of the view, and I suddenly wanted that camera back.

I also prayed no one had a pair of binoculars trained on that particular window.

Walking home, the sun already set and nestled down, I walked down the street, dodging the standard foot traffic. It was probably the breeze that lifted my chin, and there was the Empire State lit in dark blue, above everything else around it.

New York happens on the sidewalks, but sometimes it doesn’t hurt to look up, even if you're holding your manhood at the time.

P.S. If you are terribly bored, I have a survey up, ripe for the destruction of a few minutes.

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