Best of Grizzard - New York City

  • Friday, May 10, 2024
  • Jerry Summers

With the welcome migration of Big Apple folks to the Choo Choo City bringing their ideas (and money) to the next “best midsize city (and county) in America” according to the most recognizable local alumnus of peaceful Columbia University in April-May, 2024, it was surprising to discover the words of wisdom of author, comedian and cynic (a good word) Lewis Grizzard (LG) in 1985.

Although conditions are slightly different in New York City (NYC) in 2024, LG in his unique way, made a subtle suggestion of things to come in the five boroughs in the future which might result in a southward evacuation to our town of less crime, cheaper housing, lower rent, no traffic problems, 25,000 daily bicycle riders, etc. etc, etc.

LG in 1985 wrote “Shoot Low, Boys- They’re Riding Shetland Ponies” (Ballantine Books) and commented on his observations during a prior trip to the former homes of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants baseball teams:

“Not long ago I was strolling down New York's Fifth Avenue with a native. He pointed out things I'd never thought to observe before.

"Watch the Japanese tourists," he said. "They'll take pictures of anything, even the sky."

That made sense to me. I explained to the New Yorker that in most other parts of the world the sky is blue, and that the visitors from the East probably were intrigued by the fact that the sky in New York has a brownish or yellowish tint to it.

Then my guide told me how to distinguish a native New Yorker from a tourist. "Watch their eyes," he said. "New Yorkers never look up. They either look down or straight ahead. Only visitors to the city look up."

In addition to being bored with tall buildings, I suspected that most natives had suffered some misfortunes with pigeons and therefore did not look up.

My friend further explained that if I watched closely, I would observe that three out of every five New Yorkers would be wearing headsets. "It's our way of dealing with noise pollution," he said.

But if their ears are plugged with loud music, how are they going to hear the two-second blast of the horn which taxi drivers politely give before driving over pedestrians?

Further down Fifth Avenue, my guide showed me yet another point of interest. Along the sidewalk, a crowd gathered to watch large amounts of money changing hands in a little card game being played on top of cardboard boxes. It was like the old shell game: three cards face down, two black and one red. The dealer switches the cards around; the object is to find the red one. I saw people betting as much as a hundred dollars.

"Don't get involved," said my friend. "The people you see winning are shills for the dealer. The tourists see them win and so they give it a try, but they almost always lose."

"Isn't that illegal?" I asked. "Of course, it is," said the native, "but they have lookouts for the police. If a cop heads their way, they simply grab their box and go to another street." "You said tourists almost always lose. Does that mean some occasionally win?"

"Yes and no," he answered. "If they do happen to win, one of the shills follows them down the street, mugs them and gets the money back."

About that time we passed a group of Japanese tourists. I nodded and said hello to them. They all took my picture as if I were unusual.”

(Any comparison between LG’s Fifth Avenue stroll and the areas in the Fort Wood Historical District in Gig City between East 10th and 12th streets, Market Street and Central Avenue are purely coincidental due to changing times?)

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You can reach Jerry Summers at jsummers@summersfirm.com

Jerry Summers
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