Between deliveries, sometimes I like to sit on a park bench and just, well, I'll be honest, stare off into space. I'm not a particularly deep thinker. On one such occasion, I found a free bench in the park near Columbus Circle and I was doing my thing, eyes fully glazed and mouth slightly ajar. It was one of those weather-less days wherein the temperature was neither cool nor warm; a slight breeze was the only evidence of an atmosphere. Suddenly I heard the voice of an old woman next to me asking how old I was. It was a jarring question because of its forward nature and because contemplating my own mortality is never something I particularly enjoy. I told her and noticed that she was not the usual crazy person who engages in random conversation, but a rather well put-together woman who looked to be somewhere in her seventies.
She smiled as though remembering herself at my age. "It's so important to appreciate every day you're alive." I nodded, not finding fault with this logic. "When I was your age, I went out all the time. I danced. I went to nightclubs. I ventured into strange men's apartments. Life was an adventure." I thought about my own wild adventures in a mental montage of memories: Me eating ice cream while watching television. Me working. Me playing Candy Crush on my iPhone at two in the morning. Somehow I don't think I was living up to her standards of "appreciating every day you're alive." She asked me what I did and I told her I delivered flowers, to which she looked me up and down with a concerned face and asked if I was Carlos. I said I wasn't and she apologized before moving to another bench where a twenty-something year-old Latino boy was sitting. I saw her engage him in conversation and then, after a few minutes, watched in horror as the two of them shared a long, slow intimate kiss.
To this day I have no idea what that was about, but I no longer engage strangers in conversation on park benches. And if I do, I now use the name Carlos.
I was recently at a dinner gathering with some friends. The host, a co-worker who lives with his girlfriend are usually up on the latest ... everything. They stopped gluten before it became a national pandemic, they brought a hybrid before The Inconvenient Truth was released and they were the first to find a sub-prime mortgage and lose their house before the rest of the country. Still, they were both doing well and to be honest, I have always felt a stinging envy because they were financially much better off than I and able to do things like eat at nice restaurants and go on vacations. During our conversation, I couldn't help but notice his girlfriend would walk with a sense of strident purpose to and from the kitchen with the accentuated gait of a Lipizzaner Stallion. "What's up with the walk?" I asked employing my usual lack of temerity not considering she may have been the victim of a subdural hematoma stroke. She replied with the surety of someone explaining basic math, "I need to get my 10,000 steps in today and I'm only at seven thousand."
She went on to explain that our bodies should walk an average of 10,000 steps every day, or roughly 2 miles, in order to maintain a regular metabolism. And that, because of the sedentary nature of her work, walking that much was difficult. To counter this problem she purchased a digital counter to indicate how many steps she walked. I looked at my friend (her boyfriend) with a glare that simply inquired into the nature of her sanity. He responded by pulling out his own digital counter and laying it down on the table with the assurance of someone who was at a poker game turning over a royal straight flush. It read 11,632. I guess that's why he was able to enjoy the act of sitting down and avoid participating in this in-home parade of the overly kinetic. I suddenly imagined them at 11:00 at night realizing they needed another thousand steps, desperately and silently marching around their apartment like two lunatics; walking from one room to another like flies looking for a window. My natural curiosity arose and I asked what I thought was an obvious question: "So you're just going to walk around the apartment like a Roomba until you reach your goal?" She looked at me with a stare that questioned the nature of our very friendship and hissing a venomous "Yesss."
Now, I do appreciate the fact that people want to stay in shape and I encourage most Americans, who are more obese than at any time in our recorded history, to take a walk now and then and eat a salad. But when you walk ten miles a day as an unavoidable facet of your job, I feel as though I'm watching someone go to a country with food scarcity so they can diet more effectively. I asked her why she didn't join a gym and walk on a treadmill or do something crazy like go for a walk through the park. You know, find an added benefit to her 10,000 step goal. She looked at me as though I had just thrown up on her rug. "Who has time to go for a walk?" I thought that while I was in no way a wealthy person, how lucky I was not to have to multi-task the act of walking.
I'm a floral delivery worker. That's what I do. And when I do it, I get the wonderful opportunity to see things that most people don't because I'm on the street all the time. Last week I saw a man in a suit get hit by a cab on 47th Street. He was thrown through the air, rolled on the pavement, got up and continued on his way only after screaming an obscenity at the cab driver. He reacted as though a neighborhood kid hit him with a Nerf football. And this wasn't a man who looked as though he went to the gym and was in great physical shape. "Shlubby" is the word I would use to describe him; an average person. But what gave him his impervious powers I realized, is that he was a New Yorker and therefore, very hard to kill. I went home and thought about this unique City and why it constructs such Terminator-like characteristics and this is what I've realized:
1. We're All War Veterans: Yes, many of us experienced terror first hand, but I'm talking about a larger issue. The everyday life of the New Yorker and how it prepares you for potentially life threatening situations every day. True, the City has cleaned itself up considerably in the past two decades, but still, it is a boot camp that trains you for situations that most Americans would find insurmountable. New Yorkers can get plopped down in any war zone and have a better chance of survival than some recruit from the Army. Getting yelled at by your commanding officer? Please, I get yelled at by people on a daily basis for no reason. Dodging live ammunition? Just walking across the street, as illustrated above, can become an obstacle course replete with Tron-like bicycle riders, cab drivers going the wrong way and aggressive panhandlers who have all read The Art of the Sell. Surveillance? On an average day most New Yorkers (especially women) need to assess any given amount of questionable persons walking towards them and determine if they are threat or a friendly.
2. No Hesitation: They say that the first thing that can kill you in battle is hesitation. Think too long, and you can die in your foxhole, or whatever we're calling it these days, by a mortar or tank. New Yorkers are singularly the most quick-thinking people on Earth because we have to be. The subway's delayed? A typical commuter can develop a new travel strategy to get where they're going faster than an air traffic controller on Thanksgiving. How about finding an apartment? If you manage to find a vacancy, you have five minutes to decide if that's your new home before someone else takes it. That job you're perfect for? Guess what, 7,000 people are also perfect and you need the jump on them. Hesitation does more than kill in New York, it can rob you of your future.
3. Teamwork: Another quality that you have to learn here is that no one can survive alone. Rambo wouldn't last five minutes in this city without help. He'd be in a squalid studio apartment somewhere in Newark because, when you're Rambo, you don't have a network of friends who can help you get a job or an apartment. He'd put on his headband, strap on his credit report and resume to his chest to some 80s rock song and venture out into the concrete jungle only to be shunned as a camouflage-wearing weirdo. In New York, it's not who you know, it's who knows you, and in order for people to know you, you'd better find a tribe of like-minded individuals or be banished to the hinterlands. And in an emergency, let's just put it this way: if you want to face New York in a confrontation, you're facing 8 million of us and we're all veterans.
There is an unspoken rule about flower delivery service and since this is a written post I feel absolutely no guilt in sharing. The creed is simple: "Neither long distances nor entertaining street performers nor a couple having an all out argument on the street shall delay me from my appointed duties." Yes, it's sort of limited to a very specific set of obstacles, but in New York, those are the greatest deterrents for us, the humble flower delivery service men and women. It's our Kryptonite.
I once had to walk forty-seven blocks to deliver a beautiful bouquet in a large glass vase and I felt like Frodo returning the ring to Mount Doom. You will ask, quite rightly: "Just take the subway" and to that I would normally say: "What a good idea." But when you take the subway with a vase filled with flowers, you are essentially playing a game of Crazy Person Roulette. I will get into that in future posts, but suffice it to say, if you take the subway, the best case scenario is someone yelling at you about the global threat of the floral industry and the worst case scenario is that you lose your flowers to someone simply named The Viper. It's just better to walk, that way you're at least a moving target with many escape routes.
When you make deliveries all day, believe it or not, this can sometimes be a little tedious; there's a lot of walking repetitive routes and seeing the same sights over and over again. But once in a while you'll witness a man juggling axes on Madison Avenue before the police arrive or someone painted entirely in gold singing Miley Cyrus songs. These are things that you can't easily walk away from. I once lost an entire hour watching a trumpet player so bad that I couldn't turn away. Time melted as he searched in vain to find a note, any note, that sounded even remotely like the Godfather theme. I thought it was some meta-performance art piece on the banality of street performance. I mean, no one would ever willingly put themselves through such degradation on purpose, right? Eventually, someone offered him $50 if he would just stop playing and he broke down and wept. Street performers are like catnip for the floral deliver person.
Finally, there's the couple arguing publicly. Now, I realize that this may sound a little cynical, but when you walk the streets of New York during a work day, it's surprisingly quiet. People busy themselves going to and fro and have no time for honest engagement, it's an oddly sterile environment. But once in a while you see something that pierces the quiet of the day in both volume and raw emotion. When a couple has a fight on a street, it's your favorite reality show, soap opera, and Law and Order episode all rolled into one. You, the viewer, have an opportunity to figure out who did what to whom and whom is at fault. I've heard phrases like "you put it in your mouth!" And "you have nothing I would want to steal!" I just stand there covertly pretending to be on my phone while I untangle the heated discourse of complete strangers as their relationship unravels on 51st and 5th. I don't mean to sound as though I am without empathy, but when you walk seventeen miles of concrete on any given day, you look for entertainment where you can.
However, I am a floral delivery person and it is my appointed duty to deliver the flowers on time and in a beautiful condition, and, as my creed dictates, I shall adhere to these standards. Unless, of course, it's a really great break dance group dressed in 80s clothes. I am only human.
I deliver flowers. That's what I do. It's not a glamorous life, but it's fun, I enjoy it, and I meet interesting people. I also spend a lot of time on the street walking through neighborhoods I wouldn't normally travel. The one thing that I can always count on, and I will begrudgingly admit, is getting a hot dog from a street vendor. It's like going to see an Adam Sandler movie or watching a couple fight in public; it's a guilty pleasure. I've seen New York go through a lot of phases, from the disaster of the 80s to the clean-up in the 90s to the gentrification of the aughts, but nothing has prepared me for the encounter I had today with the hot dog vendor.
I had just finished a delivery on the Upper East Side to a man who had clearly violated his marital vows as no one sends three dozen roses to their wife with a card reading: "To the most beautiful, forgiving wife that any man would be lucky to have". Here's a tip. If you do something wrong, don't point to your out that they are "forgiving", it's like saying "thank you for letting me continually be a disappointment". It was one o'clock and I was hungry. I could have stopped off at a cafe and had a thirteen dollar sandwich, or I could spend five on a hot dog and still feel like I had eaten a meal. So I chose the latter. My usual vendor, who works the corner at 57th and 5th was not there, so I approached what looked like a computer programmer in an apron. He was wearing an oxford, cleanly shaven and bespectacled with just a hint of "go getter" that made me uncomfortable for someone slinging questionable meat products.
I asked for a hot dog and was treated to a litany of choices: Bavarian Bratwurst, Beijing Dumpling-Dogs, Soup in a Bun, Pizza Wurstel ... it went on and on. So I just asked for a regular hot dog, you know, the kind that you don't want to know what's in it and there's a forty percent chance of a perforated bowel. The hot dog vendor just looked at me, his face a mask of disgust and told me that there are plenty of other carts that I can patronize if I wanted "that sort of thing". So I thought "Hey, I've got an open mind. I'll give it a try." I ordered the French Croissant Weiner and handed him a five dollar bill to which he looked at me and continued to hold out his hand. I looked at the prices and saw that what I was holding in my hand would cost me eight dollars and fifty cents. For basically a hot dog. Eight dollars. And fifty cents.
I handed him back his hot dog and wished him a good day. If I wanted to pay that much for a guilty pleasure, I would have brought a ticket to an Adam Sandler movie.
There are tons of articles on the internet that provide gift ideas for your male significant other. However, there is one that stands out for us. An article written by Kait Smith shows a fascinating infographic with some Valentine’s Day statistics of which this is the most striking: “45% of men and only 19% of women think that men should also be spoiled on Valentine’s Day.” These numbers ought to change, and more women need to recognize the need to treat their partners. After all, “there is nothing a man wants more than to be wanted! What better way to show it than on Valentine’s Day!”