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New Year’s resolutions from a newly returned New Yorker

December 2011

“New Year’s Day is the time to make your resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them.”

Mark Twain was correct. But here goes.

I hereby resolve …

 Never to jaywalk when more than three cars are zooming in my direction.

 Never, when swiping a card through subway turnstile and an incessant message says, “Swipe Again,” “Swipe Again,” “Swipe Again,” will I get down on my knees and sell my soul to Satan if he will take vengeance on the transit system.

 Never, when a stranger asks, “Hey, man, how about that game last night?” will I arrogantly reply, “Game? Oh, you mean the Intra-Mural Kyrgyzstan Chess Semi-Finals. Yes, quite a nail-biter.”

 Never, when six portly post-party-goers hog the sidewalk as I walk in the opposite direction, will I assume my Night of the Living Dead zombie visage and walk straight through them while they separate like the Red Sea in horror.

 Never, when New Yorkers are talking politics, will I say, “Actually, I’m an Evangelical right-wing Republican.” I did that once, and three women fainted, one man stared in horror, while the leader said, “This can’t be … we’ve never been face to face with …” I had to tell them, “Just kiddin’.” But the damage was done.

 Never ever take a subway during the weekend, when construction work makes all routes invalid. At each stop, a voice will blur, “Get off the subway. If you are going to Mrfppdd Station, walk to Pxrfirlee St. and take the Ovvldaes Subway to Klmmdif. Otherwise dfrde downstairs and ask for the Efkri9vf.” Everybody looks around in total chaos. Actually, I once thought to follow the instructions, and 30 minutes later exited on a lobster-boat anchored off Newfoundland.

 Never, when walking on East Third St., which is owned by the Hell’s Angels, and my dog pees on a parked motorcycle, and a gang approaches, will I run for my life. Instead I will fulminate with Jeremiah’s fury, the only two words I know in Laotian: “Khao Niu! Khao Niu!!” As they back off in confusion, I resolve not to tell them that “Khao Niu” means glutinous rice.

 Never, when at a classical a concert, and the composer is in a fun mood (a Bach jig, Beethoven scherzo), will I smile. New York audiences, who have the emotional excitement of dead mackerel in the Tokyo Fish Market, stare in disapproval.

 Never will I walk normally. The basic strolling pace of New Yorkers is equal to the six-minute mile. Should you walk at a worldly “normal” pace, you resemble an optical illusion: one person standing amid a blur of a billion feet. Nothing is more disconcerting than being an optical illusion.

 Never use the word “kilometre” or “kilogram.” The only “meter” permitted in New York is the taxi meter. The only “gram” is one’s father’s mother.

A New York Herald political cartoon from 1905 shows not much has changed with N.Y. transit. Photo: W.A. Rogers, 1854-1931

 Never joke with a dog-owner. New Yorkers may be amiable enough, but a Manhattan dog resembles an Indian cow or an Ancient Egyptian cat. Don’t screw around. I once approached a woman who had a six-inch-high King Charles spaniel with a non-stop wagging tail. “Ah,” I said, as he licked my hand, “Another vicious dog destroying civilization as we know it.” She looked daggers at me. “Actually,” she said, “he is quite gentle.”

 Uh-oh, my own spaniel has been yearning to get a resolution in edgeways. Let’s see what he says: “I resolve not to chase a ball before it leaves your hand.” Boring. Try another.

“I resolve not to deceive you by standing sadly at the door when you depart. To be honest, I can’t wait until the key is turned and I can get some sleep without you playing all that dumb music.”

Better. Go to sleep.

 Never go to a coffee shop, diner or fast-food restaurant and politely return the dish, even if it looks disgusting. “Whatdya wanna do? Ya wanna new plate? I’ll give ya a new plate.” Never eat off that new plate. Especially when you see the chef peeking behind the kitchen door giggling.

 Never, as a classical music reviewer, eat potato chips during the soft moments of Bach B Minor Mass. Even during the triumphantly loud Sanctus, it is best to circulate the potato chip around in the mouth several seconds so it becomes suitably moist.

 At an opera, when you hear coughing, the cougher may be reluctantly excused. Never turn around during intermission to ask her if she is rehearsing for the final scene of Traviata or Bohéme. Or ask him if he wishes to be driven to a tuberculosis sanatorium.

 If planning a concert of modern music, where coughers may abound, never carry a dead mackerel in your pocket, planning, when hearing the coughing, to throw the fish at the malefactor, shouting at him, “Here! Feast on this, ya damned walrus.”

 Never mention the name of any foreign country to a New Yorker. New York is the world, the cosmos, the Soul of the Lord of Creation. Should you make that error, be certain to straighten out your mistake and say, “Actually, I was referring to that cusp in Einstein’s universe when time turns back on itself, and the Black Hole swallows up everything up which is not New York.” You will be forgiven.

 Never try to catch any kind of transport between 4:30 and 6:30 pm. Subways are sardine cars, buses never arrive, or whiz past stops, walkers will trip you up (See Resolution No. 9), businessmen will blindly walk into you, schoolkids will skate over you. And taxis? Nobody ever gets a taxi between 4:30 and 6:30 pm. “Where, then,” you ask, “do the taxis pick up passengers?” I would imagine—since I have never seen a taxi stop for anyone—that they pick up passengers at the infinite time-space continuum somewhere in Brooklyn.

 Never speak English to a New York taxi driver. You could try Abyssinian, Croat, Hokkaido, Swatou or Khmer and actually get to your destination faster. English, though, is verboten.

 Finally, never wish New Yorkers Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. The word Christmas is far too religious. And New Year could refer to Rosh Hashanah, Thai Songkran, Bengali Baisakh. Chinese Yuan tan, Islamic Muharram, Laotian Pimai, or ancient Babylonian Akitu.

I’m afraid I don’t know the Canadian word for “Happy New Year,” but whatever it is, I wish it, along with peace, compassion and joy.

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