Polite Explorations

On a trip to New York about 10 years ago, I was chided by my editor and friend Marc, who’s a native New Yorker, because I was “too polite.”  He told me I was wasting my time and everybody else’s by my interminable pleases and thank-yous.  In this part of the world, he told me, people weren’t rude; they were simply brisk and efficient.  Unlike, say, me.

Well, some things you can change about yourself and some you can’t.  I’m so southern, so polite, that I’m capable of walking into a tree and saying, “Excuse me.”  It was drilled into me at an early age and I’ve stayed drilled.

Besides, as I like to frequently point out to him, Marc and his family have since moved to the suburbs.  What does he know?

So, anyway, I’ve been politely exploring the city.  We saw Tarentino’s new movie, “Inglorious Basterds,” which had the same cartoonish, black-and-white moralism as a Western.  But then, I’ve always liked Westerns and, if you can’t be black-and-white about Nazis, you might as well paint the whole world an unbecoming gray.  The audience burst into applause at the end; we wondered whether  this happened in other cities and whether the movie will be showing in Germany.  I’m thinking no and no.

Then, Saturday afternoon, we went to the West Village to see the new production of “Our Town.”   I’m wondering how many plays I can drag my husband to before he rebels — but I’m going to get to every performance I can while we’re in the city.  At some point in my life (probably when I finally wised up and stopped sitting in cheap seats behind pillars, where I couldn’t see or hear most of the action), I fell in love with the theater.  It’s one of the greatest pleasures of my life to go to plays and performances — like this production of “Our Town” — where a new world gets created out of the genius of writers, actors and stagecraft wizards.  What makes theater different, I think, is that the audience has to participate in this joint act of imagination — or it won’t work.

Something I also love here is that I see person after person bent over a book — in subways, in parks, in restaurants.  Maybe they don’t realize no one is supposed to be reading these days.

For the first few days we were here, my husband wandered around in a cap with a Buick logo on it.  God.  I worried that this might be taken a little too seriously, given our age.  Finally and fortunately, he junked it.

“I just don’t think New York was ready for the irony,” he said.

I told him I’d ask Marc about it.  Even though he’s in the suburbs, he might still have an opinion.

Photo taken by James W. Pennebaker, known in this blog as "my husband."

Photo taken by James W. Pennebaker, known in this blog as "my husband."

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

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7 comments… add one
  • Hi Ruth;
    Glad to hear you are taking in the theater. And, the movies.
    I suspect you’ll always be ‘southern’ polite. It’s in your bones, no?
    Love that people are seen everywhere reading books…not “Kindle books” either, I hope….”real books”, the old fashioned kind. Vive le book!
    Love to hear about the big city.
    Keep writing!

  • I agree that we New Yorkers, as refreshingly impolite as we are, do not necessarily “get” automotive irony. Maybe if Jamie had a hat from some Madoff corporate funcation, or a Lehman Brothers t-shirt, it would have inspired more local comment.

    Anyway, welcome to New York, we’ll try to keep you entertained.

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    Marc — Only someone who hadn’t gotten his driver’s license till he was 30 would take a Buick cap as being automotive irony.  Oh, well!  You’re entertaining us already.

  • you write ” …the audience has to participate in this joint act of imagination — or it won’t work.”
    Thinking about how that is the same, yet different, with music.
    Enjoying reading about your explorations, Ruth. Thanks.

  • Carolyn Link

    I love reading your NY posts — I can almost imagine I’m living in the city, too. Thanks!

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    Kate and Carolyn — Thank you.  I’m trying to keep up a brisk pace with this.

    Kerry — The production of Our Town was especially striking because it took place in a small theater in the round, with audience members facing one another — so really required a fair amount of concentration.  I do think a music performance is similar in that it will never happen the same way again.

  • I’m really glad to hear there are so many New Yorkers with heads bent over books.  I see it here, too, on Cape Cod, where folks are on vacation and could be thought to have more leisure time for books, so your confirmation makes me feel better about the book store closings and dire predictions about our industry.  I liked your comment that “maybe they don’t realize no one is supposed to be reading these days.”

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