A lesson for you tourists:
Plaid is bad
If you ever want to feel like a field mouse in a room full of cats, just head to Times Square – and wear plaid.
I know, I did. It wasn’t loud, ugly American tourist plaid either, just a simple pattern with a subdued color. No matter, it was fresh red meat to the capitalistic vultures of Times Square, who could teach their nearby Wall Street brethren a thing or two about reading the markets.
The hawkers, ticket scalpers and panhandlers had spotted a mark with me. I was offered all sorts of cut-rate, discount tickets to some version of the American dream, from restaurant discounts to topless joints to fake luxury goods. Even practicing good, common sense, “no eye contact” New Yorkese didn’t help. If I was wearing that shirt, I obviously was desperately seeking tickets to School of Rock or a date with some girl named Roxy.
The shirt, which I bought at Costco, should have come with a label: “Warning: You will be singled out as a tourist wearing this shirt outside the south.” I can’t imagine what happened to some poor schulb wearing a Hawaiian shirt. They probably forced him to buy tickets to the revival of Cats.
Just to test my plaid economic theory during my recent visit to the Big Apple, I went back to my hotel, put on a white shirt and headed back out to the Great White Way.
Nothing. I was just another stuffed shirt, seen-it-all, done-it-all New Yorker. I couldn’t have bargained for a cheap knockoff Rolex if I’d pulled out a $100 bill, or better yet, 10 Hamiltons [Note: see last week’s column.].
If you want to see naked capitalism at work, there’s hardly a better place for it than New York. I was in New York many years back and walking back from the Javits Center to Times Square through what was then called Clinton, but was really Hell’s Kitchen. It started raining – not much, but a little. Some of us stopped under an awning to wait out the brief shower. Instantly, as if they had risen up from the ground like slugs, guys were hawking cheap craptastic – but suddenly useful umbrellas for $2. It wasn’t raining too hard, so I passed, and walked on. Then the rain came down harder and I stopped under another awning. There they were again, more guys selling umbrellas. This time they were $3. The harder the rain, the higher the price. I didn’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind was blowing, so I bought one. I’m sure the price went up as the rain increased. I got a little lesson in economic theory to boot. But where were these guys when it didn’t rain? How did they magically appear like some ghostly apparition selling cheap umbrellas? The law of supply and demand can rarely be seen so starkly.
Speaking of Hell’s Kitchen. The powers that be, along with several real estate developers, about 20 years ago tried to change the name of the onetime area that housed poor and working-class Irish-Americans to something less forbidding. The name Clinton sort-of stuck. This was not named after former New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, by the way, but DeWitt Clinton, a much earlier New York senator and governor who was largely responsible for the Erie Canal, the internet of its day. Now, as the area has lost its assorted ruffians and unsavory types – at least the poor ones – in favor of upwardly mobile young professionals and rents have skyrocketed, the old moniker is back. These young urban dwellers want to say they live in a place with a cool name like Hell’s Kitchen, even if they’re not in danger of a nightly mugging. Saying “I live in Clinton,” sounds like you’re descended from some family dynasty, while saying, “I live in Hell’s Kitchen,” makes it sound like you’re risking your life just to exist there. Never mind the fact that there’s a Starbucks every block. But being cool always makes economic sense.