In my youth, Pace Picante Sauce commercials were on high rotation, showing incensed cowboys riled up after Cookie attempts to serve them a salsa made in “New York City.” One of them goes so far as to suggest they “get a rope,” presumably to hang Cookie for his offense. From these commercials, I learned that New Yorkers did not know squat about Mexican food. And that meant something was wrong with them. I presume they didn’t show this ad in NYC itself, but from what I’d learned on TV about the city, they were too busy getting beaten up on dirty subways and mugged in littered streets filled with apathetic people dressed only in neutrals.
I watched the Sweathogs on Welcome Back, Kotter, and they always seemed in need of a good scrubbing. They lived in a land called Brooklyn, but I knew it must have been close to New York City, because there were no trees around. Where were the pine trees and the live oaks? Did they all live in ghettos and tall buildings with no yards? Where did they learn to ride bikes and rollerskate? Where was the laundry blowing on the clothesline in the sun? Oh, wait, there it is.
I’d stayed up past eleven by elementary age, so I knew the funny comedians lived on the east coast and yelled, “Live from New York” each Saturday night. But I also knew Johnny Carson was in Burbank, and he was happy and funny. The mean, bitter guy with the gap in his teeth and the bald keyboardist lived in New York. Something just wasn’t right with that town.
Movies depicted a congested mecca of highrises and brash, fast-talking businessmen in Wall Street and The Secret of My Success, as well as a decadent drug-infused nightlife in Bright LIghts, Big City. New York was a city where Ninja turtles lived in the sewer, where dirty, grimey homeless people begged for money in Trading Places, and ghosts infested grand hotels in Ghostbusters. Even the muppets had a hard time taking Manhattan and finding work. And it was in NYC where Kramer battled Kramer, the first time that it had occurred to me that a mother would ever conceive of leaving her child to find herself. What kind of sick place was that?
Nevermind the Civil War, Yankees were odd. They talked funny. Their accent was nearly incomprehensible. They said “youse guys,” an abomination of grammar, when we used “y’all,” a contraction of “you” and “all,” which made perfect sense. And we’d heard tale of the Yankee reputation for callousness and poor manners. Not only did they not smile and shake hands with strangers, they ignored them altogether. What kind of hospitality is that?
Consequently, I never had a desire to go to New York, no matter how cool and funky Monica and Rachel’s apartment was on Friends. I knew the truth; a one bedroom could cost a THOUSAND DOLLARS a month, and they had rats!! Yuck!
Then the Twin Towers fell, and we all watched in horror. Our hearts went out to New York City; people in Texas wore “I (heart) New York” shirts and Yankee baseball caps. The whole country rallied around the fallen and felt the devastation. But it just made it even more clear: I never, ever want to go to New York. No matter how good the bagels or the reuben sandwiches, no matter how pretty the trees in Central Park, I never needed to visit that place.
Then in 2005, the Discovery Channel gave me a reason to want to visit The Big Apple. Cash cab. Now that looked fun! Getting inside a taxicab is far from desirable, whatwith the Hep C and polio virus inevitably covering all of the upholstery (is there any regulation as far as when to wipe those with Clorox wipes?), but that would pale in comparison to having Ben Bailey crane his giant bald head around to invite me to get paid (PAID!) to show off my incredible talent for trivia. Oh, glorious day (or night, when winnings were doubled) to ride and play, answering questions about general knowledge.
I still get mad when I watch the episode in which two men risked all their earnings on a video bonus round, which required them to identify the rodent-like animal roaming about. The question even referred to the Captain & Tenille song, but they still got it wrong. How does one not know about a MUSKRAT? “Muskrat Love!!” I wanted to yell through the TV set. I wanted to shake those Guidos, who weren’t even born when the song came out. Well, that’s what you get for not knowing your pop music! Out of the cab. Kick ’em to the curb, Ben. I couldn’t live in a city where people cannot properly identify muskrats. I won’t even visit.