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June 06, 2012
Dear Diary
By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *

By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *

With the summer months almost upon us, New York City is sure to be swarming with tourists gazing at skyscrapers and getting caught up, if temporarily, in the frenetic pace of living that New Yorkers take for granted. 
New Yorkers have been described in various ways.  Nothing fazes them; nothing surprises them.  They roll with the punches. They’re resilient, tough, non-judgmental and tolerant, and yes, sometimes pushy and rude. Their humor is tinged with sass and sarcasm–offbeat and edgy.  They’re slick, sophisticated, practical, alert, creative, quick to size up, and quick to speak.  It’s that New York state of mind.

New Yorkers know a good deal about the different faith traditions that enrich the city’s communal character. Though St. Patrick’s Day brings out the Irish by the thousands, everyone is Irish on March 17th.  So it is with other nationalities and traditions. It’s that New York state of mind.
It’s the city that never sleeps perhaps because it’s the most caffeinated city in the world.  Here, Starbucks is queen of caffeine.  It’s that New York state of mind.

New Yorkers laugh at themselves pointing out the foibles of city life whether in Central Park or anywhere else in town.  Many write to “Dear Diary,” a regular Monday feature in the New York Times to share their experiences.  This week’s essay contains some short entries in “Dear Diary.”  Written by New Yorkers about themselves—and all with good humor and practical wisdom, they give the reader a glimpse into life in the Big Apple.

States of Emotion

Dear Diary,
On the bus: Lady enters with very small dog held in bag and stands in front of undersigned and kids.
Kids: What’s the dog’s name?
Lady: “Zac.”
Kids: “As in Zachary?”
Lady: “No, as in Prozac.  He’s my Prozac.’  (Roger Bernstein, February 5, 2007)

Dear Diary,
I was walking on Broadway in the lower 90's.  As I approached the corner of 93rd Street, I became aware of a slightly muffled cacophony of yelling and barking coming from around the corner.

As it grew louder, I saw two very small dogs, each clad in a little knitted coat pulling an elderly woman, who was tugging at their leashes as she lurched forward, imploring her charges to slow down.  The pair scampered left and right and communicated their unease in a constant refrain of barks and yips.
As she passed me, I could only make out part of a single sentence about the din: “And you,” she yelled, looking squarely at the smaller white-and-black four-pound terror on the left, “have to put that Napoleon complex behind you!”  (Michael Oliver, April 22, 2012)

Dear Diary,
Sometimes, when threading your way through a New York crowd, you catch a strand of conversation but never see the people conversing.  I caught this gem in the middle of a fast-moving rush-hour stampede toward Pennsylvania Station:

Guy 1: “I need to get a bottle of wine.”

Guy 2: “Should we get it on our way to therapy?”  (Virginia Still, October 5, 2009)

Web of Deception?

Dear Diary,
One wonders what web of deception lay behind this cell phone conversation, overheard at Prince and Greene Streets in SoHo:

“I have to go now–they’re calling my flight.”
(No airplanes were observed in the vicinity).  (William Downey, February 5th, 2007)

Connecting the Dots

Dear Diary,
As I was ascending the escalator of the 63rd Street subway on my way to work, I overheard quite a funny exchange, but because I am an escalator-climber and my interlocutors were escalator-standers, I caught only a snippet of the conversation.

A little girl, probably around 6 years old, exclaimed, “I’m going to get $2,000!”

The woman with her, presumably her mother, replied in a calm and practical tone:

“My dear, don’t be silly; if the tooth fairy gave everyone $2,000, nobody would have any teeth.” (Jane Farren, April 27, 2012)

Dear Diary,
My son was to be confirmed at St. Joseph’s Church in the Village. For this sacrament, he was required to choose a person of the Roman Catholic faith to be his sponsor for church membership.

As time grew closer to the ceremony, I asked him whom he would like for his sponsor. His little brother had a suggestion: “How about Nike?”  (Mary Ann Orbe, May 1, 2006)

Dear Diary,
While walking on Atlantic Avenue near Third Avenue in Brooklyn, I came upon two creative street people with a sign that read:

“Let’s Do Lunch! You Buy It!!!”   (Carol Kolins April 9, 2007)

Knowledge of Other Faith Traditions

Dear Diary,
One recent afternoon, I was waiting in line at the silver counter at Tiffany.  A woman ahead of me had just purchased a bracelet and was filling out a gift card.  She looked up and asked the salesclerk, “How do you spell ‘bar mitzvah’?”  The salesclerk didn’t hear her.  I intervened.

“Bar mitzvah?”  I asked.

She smiled and nodded.

“Didn’t you buy a bracelet?” I asked.

“Why yes, I did,” she answered.

“So it’s for a girl?”

“That’s correct,” she said.

I explained: “Well, bar mitzvah is for a boy.  Bas mitzvah is for a girl.  So you should say, “‘Happy bas mitzvah.’”

She thanked me, and then I asked, “Do you know if they are Sephardic or Ashkenasic?”

Her face dropped.  “Oh my, I have no idea.  Does it matter?” she asked.

I replied: “No, not for the purpose of a gift. But if they are Ashkenasic, it’s bas mitzvah, Sephardic is bat mitzvah.”

“So how do I spell it?” she asked.  I told her.  She smiled and said: “I’m visiting from Milwaukee.  Thank you for all this information, it’s so interesting.”  She looked a bit sheepish and said, “I don’t know any of this; I’m a Catholic.”

I said: “So am I.”

Surprised, she asked, “My goodness, how do you know all this information?”
I responded matter-of-factly, “I live here.” (Brian Honan, August 16, 2004)

September 11th, 2001

I was in mid-town Manhattan on that clear, brisk, fateful, September day.  Within minutes of the explosions, confusion was transformed into organized chaos.  That New York state of mind took control and went into action.  Public transportation in and out of the city halted immediately.  Alert but calm city police and fire fighters and volunteers, wearing blue, red, purple, grey, or orange uniforms or vests to identify their functions, went into harm’s way to save the wounded or directed and re-directed traffic.  They guided the throngs pouring out of office buildings; these in turn clasped the hands of those less able to cope in order to form a living chain.  They led people to the bridges so that they could walk across them away from danger.  Sirens blared as emergency vehicles drove the wounded to hospitals.  The narrative is all too familiar ...

On that clear, brisk, fateful September day, the world community, riveted to television sets, witnessed that New York state of mind.

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address is [email protected].
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