You know the story: coddled (post-)college kid comes to the big city, buckles under pressure, cue tears. Today’s tale is from a “twenty-something former film student, frequent subway-crier and headboard enthusiast,” who called a late-night locksmith when she couldn’t get into her apartment. When the work was done, the guy asked for $613, which she rightly called “exorbitant,” enough so to call the cops, who showed up and subsequently bullied her into paying. (“Pay the man now or you’re under arrest.”) Consumerist relayed the story, adding some dry tips like, “Agree on an estimate before they start services.” The Awl, meanwhile, advised all “NYC Young People: You Never, Ever Call an Emergency Locksmith.” As one of those young people — one who has been ripped off! — I just want us all to be a little bit tougher.
The generic New York City twenty-something is faulted, among other things, for being so soft that we prefer a self-esteem boost to sex. It’s a disgusting stereotype. Similarly, in a place obsessed with authenticity, the uphill climb to real New Yorker status gets more slippery every time one of us drops tears, especially in making a show of something self-centered when really it’s a universal experience.
What I mean is, you’re supposed to get ripped off in New York City. It happens to everyone! Once, in an old East Village apartment, the crud in our pipes was so severe as to render our bathroom sink unusable. No Draino made a dent. Because roommates are useless and my own attempts with a wrench made things worse, I called a plumber. He used what looked like torture instruments to clear decades of pipe grime in a few minutes and then handed me a bill for a quarter of what I made in a month. Instantly I realized I got played because I failed to check with our landlord first and I forgot to ask for an estimate, and so I trudged to the ATM. I just wanted to use the sink as soon as possible! (What an idiot, right?) Out of embarrassment, I never told my roommates.
I didn’t tell my blog either.
It’s not this girl’s fault that her story spread — part of me finds it sympathetic, too. It’s also not her fault that she ended up with both a locksmith and a cop who were bigger dicks than most. Being that it was late at night and she obviously did not feel safe, an authority figure should have stuck up for her. She wrote wisely in a follow-up: “Please don’t believe that because you are young, or old, or female, or alone, you deserve to be treated without respect.”
And yet it makes me cringe. “I have never had so much as a speeding ticket. I have never done drugs. I never drank underage,” she wrote in her first post, crystallizing the awful entitlement we’re so often accused of. Because every time she inches toward taking responsibility, she back-peddles: “But I still can’t believe that this happened to me…I feel let down by something. I don’t know whether it’s my expectations of justice or my own naivete. Something has failed me tonight. I feel shocked and massively depressed.”
It’s $600 bucks! More importantly, everyone is safe. She still lives in the greatest city in the world, where she has an apartment and a job and a cell phone and the option to have any sort of service person (or foreign cuisine) come right to her door at any time of night. It sucks, sure, but it won’t really tomorrow and less every day after that.
There’s a larger issue here with my knee-jerk defensiveness: it’s hard to be grouped with every last young person in this city — from the morons trying to find husbands in Murray Hill laundry rooms to the tearful, confessional bloggers — but I think if we all just emoted a little less and scowled a little more, then everyone — from that masturbating bum to the aggressive bar-hopping banker — would back off, back down and leave us alone a little more often.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 19, 2011