American Splenda


“You red-headed nigga! I saw you on 2nd Street!! You had an office . . . in someone’s funky ass! And you’re from Europe!” Ah, the poetry of an old junkie’s delirium unleashed in the midst of a crowded F train—how many times have you wished you could savor it in the comfort of your home or office, far from such distractions as, say, old junkies and F trains? Now you can, thanks to the tour de force of collective eavesdropping that is Overheard in New York, where each week editor Michael Malice winnows hundreds of text submissions to the site down to a few dozen tiny masterpieces of overheard wit, whimsy, and above all, unabashed cluelessness and vulgarity.

As in this two-line Mamet play, witnessed at 59th and Park: “Dude #1: ‘I’d like you to kick me in the nuts. The idea is to black out, end up in the hospital, and push this off on someone else. Ready?’ Dude #2: ‘I was born ready.'” Or this Q-train mini-slam: “You think I won’t step up and kick some nigga’s ass just because I’m a bitch? I’m bisexual. Yeah, I’m bisexual: I’m half bitch, half nigga.” Or this urban pastoral straight from Central Park: “Chick #1: ‘Is that your cell phone ringing?’ Chick #2: ‘Julie, those are birds.’ ”

Sure, snicker at the dumbasses. But make no mistake: not since Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor comics blew in off the streets of Cleveland has the quotidian American vernacular been so lovingly and transformingly transcribed. And never has the new conventional wisdom about New York’s public sphere (i.e., that the isolating effects of iPods, cell phones, and other narrowcast media spell its doom) looked lamer. New technology can’t stop New Yorkers’ obsessive interest in each other’s business. It can only give them new ways to get all up in it.