How to Be a New Yorker

Terribly useful rules for life

A New Yorker's response: "How can you not?"

Parker continues: "Other places may give you a sweet and soothing sense of level; but in New York there is always the feeling of 'Something's going to happen.' It isn't peace. But, you know, you do get used to peace, and so quickly. And you never get used to New York."

Dysfunctional families being what they are, this might be why most New Yorkers seem to be in therapy.

Les and Joan Rich on their wedding day, in 1961. “She was the most beautiful girl,” wrote Les.
Courtesy Steve Rich
Les and Joan Rich on their wedding day, in 1961. “She was the most beautiful girl,” wrote Les.
Les Rich mugging for the camera with Joan in the early 1960s.
Courtesy Steve Rich
Les Rich mugging for the camera with Joan in the early 1960s.

Be unflappable. The interests, behaviors, and banal possessions of the rest of the world do not interest you. Frankly, you've seen it all, and nothing is that shocking. This worldly affect must be employed in all cases, whether you are shopping for cheese next to Willem Dafoe; experiencing an earthquake, hurricane, or other natural disaster; confronting a man in assless chaps who is wearing a rat that is wearing a baby rat for a hat; crossing heedlessly in front of a speeding Mack Truck; or being stopped on a subway train for a few minutes longer than expected. Celebrities and weirdos and the pedestrian dangers of life are not in the least bit interesting; you see them all the time. (Covers mouth to yawn.)

Exceptions must be made, however, for in-home washers and dryers, dishwashers, people who own cars, air conditioners managing to stay in windows (or not), zoo animals flying the coop, snow in October, and any and all YouTube videos featuring any of the above as well as subway fights. A real New Yorker stares and whispers in awed tones, "Only in New York!" only in the privacy of his own Internet connection. If you see something, say something—but keep it between you and people you don't hang out with in real life. Or, as the Riches put it, have a personal panic-prevention program in case the subway does stop. (#1: "Whip out your Times and read, for the first time in your life, every word of Arthur Krock's column." #4: "Look around and try to guess which of your fellow passengers will be the first to panic.")

In that first New York City apartment, not once but twice, cops came to bust brothels operating on our floor. When they attempted to batter down our door instead of our neighbors', we opened up, pointed them in the right direction, and explained cheerily, "Oh, we're not hookers!" To our great satisfaction, the mystery of why that man was always washing sheets in the shared laundry room had finally been solved.

Make your neighborhood your own small town. What separates the "real" New Yorkers from the tourists? You care, and in caring, your neighborhood becomes your own, with the familiarity of small-town living: There's your coffee shop or bodega, where they adorably pretend never to know your order; your local bar, where a drink is on the house seeing as how you left your wallet there last week, and they confiscated the cash; your restaurants, where they will generously not grind the steak into the floor with their heel before serving it to you well-done; and the charming folks in your building who always want to socialize with delightful tales of yore: "Did you know that a man died in the elevator in the late '70s? He was there for three days before they found him!"

The ultimate in putting down roots, of course, is to have your own family here and to share your hometown and all its idiosyncrasies with them. Charles Ardai, entrepreneur, writer, and lifetime New Yorker, says: "People told my parents they were crazy to raise two kids here. No one says that to me now that I'm raising my daughter here. I wish they would. I want to raise my child somewhere no sane person would raise a child. That's how you make a New Yorker."

The secret to raising a kid in the city, say the Riches: "Have a brilliant child. . . . He won't mind spending long hours at home on your small terrace, because he'll be busy out there taking samples and working on the city's air pollution problem."

Lament the way things change, even as you know it is inevitable. Despite our hard-edged reputation, we are, in fact, a bunch of nostalgic saps. Tough guys on the outside, pure mush in the middle. And we hate change, we really hate it, even though change has been a New York constant since before New York was born. In How to Be a New Yorker, the Riches write: "Long ago we realized that New York is the only place for heart-on-the-sleeve romantics like us, who shed tears over old monstrosities coming down, like Pennsylvania Station, and new ones going up, like the World Trade Center. Far from choosing Manhattan for its rigors and challenges, we live here because it's the only place we've ever found that's sentimental enough for us."

To be a New Yorker is to complain about how things are not the same as they used to be, whether you're Theodore Dreiser writing in the 1900s or Sandee Brawarsky writing about the Bowery in an essay titled, precisely, "Oh, It's Not What It Used to Be" in The New York Times in 2000. (Now, in 2011, it is even further from what it used to be.) As Colson Whitehead puts it in "City Limits," his intro to The Colossus of New York, "You are a New Yorker when what was there before is more real and solid than what is here now."

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