From a 1897 German cartoon.
Whenever someone talks about how they never meet any native New Yorkers—this is an odd cliché people are given to—I want to tell them, just go to Fairway Market on a Saturday with no makeup on. You’ll see everyone I went to high school with, and their parents.
As of this writing, I have cried in public three times today. I’m in the sort of scalded, defenseless mood where anything can set me off, from a nasty slur from a drunk person to a sad human-interest story in the tabloid press. You would think that New York would be the ideal place for public tears: the fabled loneliness in a crowd should, after all, afford some privacy. This is one case where you’d hope the clichés are true. (The Fairway one is another.)
But no! The same city that allowed Kitty Genovese to be murdered in front of its collective eyes will not tolerate public tears. “Are you okay, miss?” someone will say. “Is everything okay?” “You okay?” And then, when you sniff out that you’re fine, when you reach for some pathetic shred of self-respect—“Are you sure?”
What would they do if you said, “No, I’m not. I feel like I have no skin.” What would the social obligation be then? I have no idea, because I, too, have bothered crying people. Just the other day I saw a woman sobbing on a Manhattan street corner and I asked her if she was okay. Tentatively, of course. But there was no question of shirking; for some reason this breach of the social contract demands collective action. She muttered that she was fine and regarded me with hatred.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.
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