How Old Is Pretty Boy From Back To The Outback Notes from the Couch – Barefooted In Central Park – A Priceless Afternoon

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Notes from the Couch – Barefooted In Central Park – A Priceless Afternoon

This month I took an extended vacation to reacquaint myself with New York City. It has been eight years since I left Manhattan and the changes that have taken place in this city are no less than striking. With the European dollar quite strong here, multiple languages are spoken on every street corner- French, Italian, German and Spanish are commonplace- and the cost of living has skyrocketed. If you can find four walls, a floor and a ceiling with a private toilet for under $2,000 per month, consider yourself very fortunate.

Thanks to the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), the city taxi cabs now provide new modern luxuries- color television screens report local news and weather, air conditioning is readily available and all cars are equipped with credit card machines. The TLC has even started catering to folks with Attention Deficit Disorder- Last night while viewing the local news I learned that if I were absentminded enough to forget my wallet, cell phone or other personal item inside a taxi cab, I could simply report the total fare charged for my trip and the approximate pickup/drop off points, and the appropriate driver would be contacted to return my belongings (that is, of course, pending nobody has already stolen them). Before long I imagine the TLC will be handing out free supplies of Ritalin/Adderall to every passenger.

The cost of essential miscellaneous items in Manhattan is astonishing. Several days ago, I purchased a single roll of toilet paper, a package of dental floss, and a bottle of purified water and the total cost of my purchase equaled dinner for two at Outback Steak House (alcoholic beverages not included). The high cost of living here is neutralized by gasoline savings-a two- week unlimited metro card is only $47 and allows one access to public transportation anywhere in Manhattan; even better is traveling by foot- it is economical and doubles a great daily workout!

Speaking of workouts, living on a fixed income in Manhattan has inspired me to perfect the art of gym hopping. This is a highly specialized four step process. Step 1: Enter gym, smile brightly, and express a profound interest in becoming a member. Step 2: Appear delighted when the membership director offers a guided tour of the facility. Present as a naïve, innocent tourist fresh out of the south and enamored with the New York City lifestyle. Remember to say “y’all are so kind” as often as possible (New Yorkers are highly jaded and this is refreshing for them). Step 3: Inquire sweetly about the possibility of sampling several different classes at various times, and gush with syrupy pleasantries when the request is granted. Step 4- After utilizing the maximum number of free visits allotted, quietly disappear and move to the next unsuspecting and geographically desirable health club. I justify the guilt by reminding myself that most health clubs offer guest passes to members, and since I live in another state, I qualify as a guest of sorts.

With the gym hopping plan in full force, I have enjoyed 3 complimentary yoga classes, two Pilates classes, multiples runs on the treadmill (fully equipped with media entertainment), access to the free weights, nautilus machines and several nourishing lunches at the health club restaurant (these I did in fact pay for). I have exhausted my stay at Equinox and my next plan is to explore the posh Sports Club/LA where rumor on the street suggests the annual membership is somewhere in the range of $5,000.

There are significant cultural differences here as well. I had to contact Verizon Wireless to request an upgrade to the unlimited text message plan on my cell phone, because New Yorkers seem to communicate exclusively through text messages. Happen to be running late? Send a text. Change in plans? Send a text. Bored? Send a text. Further in line with cell phone etiquette, I have learned that blue tooth headsets are shunned here. Multiple times since my arrival I have been the recipient of hostile, angry comments and curiously concerned glances- clearly those folks unfamiliar with wireless head set technology deducted that I was either an eccentric weirdo or stark raving mad and conducting an extended and highly animated conversation with myself.

Since my arrival in Manhattan I have endured several unpleasant encounters with members of the geriatric population. As I navigated my shopping cart through the narrow aisles of the local Food Emporium, a woman who appeared older than my 93 year old grandmother glared at me and barked angrily “hurry up and move”. Apparently I was still on southern time and New Yorkers do not appreciate anyone breaking their frenetic stride. Hey, I am a New Yorker myself and I should already know this; perhaps the Charleston water has somehow altered the neurons firing in my brain. I was torn between crying and bursting into a fit of hysterical laughter. Instead a pathetic and barely audible “why is everyone being so mean” escaped my lips. Later, a good friend informed me that shopping carts, just like blue tooth headsets, are unacceptable in the big city. She explained that the proper etiquette in Manhattan is to buy only several items at a time, thereby eliminating the need for shopping carts and allowing more space per square inch in the narrow supermarket isles.

My first encounter with the NYC public transportation system involved another highly unpleasant verbal assault from a member of the geriatric demographic. Apparently I was breaking a cardinal rule of mass transit cell phone etiquette by speaking too loudly; an elderly woman in front of me shouted, “try speaking a little louder sweetheart- the folks in the back of the bus can’t hear your conversation!”

My research into the New York City singles scene has quickly revealed that New York singles are not only jaded, they are bordering on bitter. A close female friend who has dabbled in the NYC dating scene for the past 10 years informed me that all eligible single New York men inevitably retreat to a mysterious land called “The Island of Lost Men”. When I asked her to elaborate, she launched into a tirade about men who simply fade into thin air over the years, never to be seen or heard from again aside from the occasional unexpected text message. She described two very distinct types of NYC men- those who retreat permanently to the island of lost men, and others who retreat to the island but then reappear periodically at random intervals. Sadly, this particular friend has apparently sworn off men completely. When I even mention the “D” word to single women over 30 in Manhattan (D stands for dating), they all seem to get a faraway, glazed look in their eyes before reviewing the myriad of reasons why dating in Manhattan is a waste of time. There is something very sad about this picture, in a city where there are possibly more eligible singles per square foot than anywhere else in the world.

I met one woman, several years divorced, who walks around the city with a miniature Yorkshire terrier in her handbag and claims that the dog brings her more joy and fulfillment than all her past lovers combined. Another woman claimed she finally found happiness with an overweight and nerdy bald man who makes her laugh and seems to appreciate her finer qualities more so than the arrogant “pretty boys” she dated in the past.

The single men also seem to be jaded and bordering on bitter. Several have described their relentless struggle fighting off the dreaded “gold diggers”; women who are fixated on professional occupation, real estate holdings and overall net worth. Manhattan men often describe the women here as cold, businesslike, opportunists and social climbers. One man adopted a puppy hoping his daily outings to the doggie park might facilitate contact with a more down to earth and genuine woman, another man claims to schedule multiple dates back to back, designating women into thirty minute time blocks hoping to maximize the statistical likelihood of meeting Mrs. Right. I will qualify by acknowledging that not all New York singles have this attitude, and many do find lasting love here- however the disenchanted folks tend to speak much louder.

Still reeling from the high cost of living here, I have attempted to compensate by sticking to a reasonable food budget. Staying mindful of the wallet can be challenging in a city where culinary temptations infiltrate every street and avenue. If one desires to save some precious dinero in the big city but still enjoy the wonderful food, pizza is always a trusted fallback. The average cost of pizza is $2.65 a slice, and NYC pizza is pure heaven- thin crispy crust, greasy and bursting with flavor. For those with a sweet tooth, Tasti- D- Light, a frozen yogurt and ice cream franchise, graciously offers generously sized samples of their daily flavors, and the bagel shops are plentiful; a takeout bagel sandwich is certainly more reasonably priced than a full service meal in a restaurant complete with tax and tip. My favorite is H&H Bagels in my old neighborhood in the east eighties.

The weather in New York City this week has been in the seventies with plenty of sunshine. Today I took off my shoes for a while and relaxed barefooted on the lawn at another old favorite hangout, Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park, where folks enjoy picnics, Frisbee tosses, sunbathing and good old fashioned relaxation. As I sat there listening to Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind on my headset (yes iPods are considered acceptable here) and enjoying the warmth of the afternoon, I admired the beauty of the midday sunlight reflecting off the glass windows of the high rise buildings surrounding Central Park. I admired the striking contrast of pure simple nature mingling with sleek urban architecture. The glamour and glitz of Manhattan can be alluring, and the cost of living is surely daunting, but a sunny afternoon barefooted in the park is priceless.

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