June 17, 2007

Our Lady of the Stereotypes


It was the afternoon of New York’s annual Puerto Rican Day parade. I remember noting that unlike previous years, I hadn’t seen any news reports about people who live along the Fifth Avenue parade route boarding up their windows or throwing up makeshift walls in an effort to protect their property from the hordes of drunken, pissing, criminal-minded parade goers. I didn’t know if the lack of such reports was due to the fact that it hadn’t been happening this year, or was the result of a media blackout in an effort to keep people from getting all riled up. Either was possible, I suppose.

      It was neither here nor there, really. Just an idle observation.

      I had left Morgan’s place around four o’clock and headed for the Astor Place subway station, half-wondering what I might encounter as the parade crowd dispersed. Things can get kind of crazy sometimes, especially in Brooklyn.

      I hadn’t even reached the subway yet when I began noticing it. Not craziness. Something far, far worse. Morgan would later suggest that I had crossed over into an alternate universe, which makes as much sense to me as anything. I left her building, and stepped smack dab into the World of Cartoonish Stereotypes.

      It wasn’t Hipsters—they’re in fact becoming a diminishing commodity in the East Village. Nowadays instead of being overrun with young musicians and struggling artists, the neighborhood resembles downtown St. Louis, full of bland, hooting, illiterate college students and tourist shoppers swinging massive bags from the Gap and Benetton.

      They were all present and accounted for, but then, while trying to cross Eighth Street, I found myself dodging wildly in order to avoid the Asshole Italian Tourist Couple—beautifully groomed, seriously overdressed, gesticulating madly with shopping bags as they both babbled away, paying no attention whatsoever to where they were going.

      (I have a theory about Eurotrash tourists. I think that the nations of Western Europe—France, Italy, Germany—so weary of Ugly American tourists, have made a pact amongst themselves to only allow assholes to visit the States.)

      A few minutes later, I found myself nearly alone on the subway with what appeared to be a group of extras from The Warriors. Seven or eight guys probably in their late twenties, their faces etched with looks of stern regard as they posed in a menacing fashion at one end of the train. Sad thing is, there wasn’t anything interesting about them. They weren’t like the Baseball Furies, the High Hats or the Gramercy Riffs—they were more like the generic gang members you saw in the background during the opening scene of the movie. No real style or imagination. They wore bandannas and denim vests festooned with pins, buttons and hand-scrawled glyphs. They said little—except for the one guy who kept making references to “fifty-round clips.” Mostly they just glared and tried to look tough.

      Christ, I thought, in a city full of Bloods and Crips and Latin Kings, I end up with The Orphans.

      Now, I’ve always argued that at heart, The Warriors has very little to do with the gang problem. Instead, it’s really a celebration of the efficiency of the New York City subway system. And sure enough, when we pulled into the Jay Street station, they all left the car, crossed the platform, and boarded a waiting A train—where, I imagine, they did some more posing and glaring.

      Even after getting back to Brooklyn, I could tell I was still trapped in the Land of the Stereotypes. There in front of me on Ninth Street was the Young, Affluent, Indulgent Mother with her Son Named Orson.

      “Come here, Orson,” she was pleading with the 3 year-old, who was sitting a few yards away in the middle of the sidewalk next to an empty stroller. “Penny wants to go to the drug store—Penny doesn’t want to go over there.” (“Penny,” I quickly deduced, was the name of the woman who was speaking.)

      Both astonished and nauseous at this point, I stepped around Orson (resisting the urge to kick him hard) and continued down the sidewalk toward my apartment, wondering what other kind of wacky cartoonish stereotypes I might run into before reaching the safety of home.

      I didn’t have to wait long. There they were heading my way—the cadre of Self-Satisfied Granola Lesbians in their bib overalls and big smiles, kerchiefs wrapped tight around their scalps. They'd probably spent the morning working at the Food Co-Op or hosting some kind of empowerment meeting.

      I figured I’d seen enough, so I chose to avoid walking past the Gospel Evangelical Church and the Synagogue, and just headed straight for my apartment.

      I didn’t know if I should be surprised or not by what I’d run into on the way home, this parade of unoriginal types. I mean, people say that it’s a bad thing to consider other people stereotypes. But the people who make that judgment have apparently forgotten that stereotypes are stereotypes for a good reason. And it often strikes me—especially on days like that—that there are an awful lot of people in this world who spend an awful lot of time trying really really hard to transform themselves into stereotypes. To get the wardrobe and the vocabulary and the hairdos and the thought patterns right. And that, to me anyway, is a profoundly sad thought.

      By the time I had reached the safety of my apartment and stepped out of that alternate universe, I was confronted with a very difficult question. Do these same people—the Asshole Italian Tourists, the Generic, Clownish Gangstas, the Indulgent Park Slope Mothers, the Granola Lesbians—look at me and see just another stereotype too? And if so, what is it?

      Here are a few possibilities, just off the top of my head:

      The Creepy Shut-In

      The Annoying Movie Geek

      The Middle-Aged Man Who Still Only Wears Clothes His Mom Buys Him

      The Surly, Blind Drunken Writer

      The Nostalgic Fool Who Insists That Everything Was Better Thirty Years Ago

      The Jerk Who Wears a Hat

      Well, I’m sure there are plenty more, but it’s a decent start. And I’m worried that the fact I was able to whip those out so easily might well mean that I never did break out of that alternate universe after I got home. I may well be stuck here.

      At least I can comfort myself with the thought that I shouldn’t worry too much about how those other people might have judged me, given that they didn’t seem to notice me at all. And that’s the way I like it.


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