New Yorkers are a special brand of people. You come here – you love it or hate it. There’s no in between. Sometimes you start out one way and then flip to the other. Anyway, there’s no neutral. Since we’re all a little quirky, you’ll meet some perfectly sane people who have developed a variety of specialized phobias. New York has touched more than one nerve deep in a person’s psyche. Of course, nothing prevents us from subscribing to garden-variety phobias such as claustrophobia (fear of small spaces), arachnophobia (spiders), or acrophobia (heights). Wait, scratch that — acrophobia generally gets conditioned out early, since we’re a city of vertical spaces. Still, there are a few people who have it, and have to manage it.
Here are the more common phobias, at least in New York City.
There is an unreasoning hatred and fear of cockroaches that we New Yorkers often develop. My kids won’t go within 20 yards of the laundry room if a waterbug sighting has been reported. I don’t like creepy crawlies either, but I’m not sure exactly why our friend, the cucaracha, is so feared. Yes, they like to share our personal space, and no, I don’t like that. Still, most of us don’t run shrieking when we see a housefly or a ladybug. My husband, who sobs over dead baby mice and has started an apartment-wide catch-and-release program for silverfish and millipedes, happily smashes waterbugs with his slippers. The most traumatic story another neighbor has up her sleeve is the time she saw a cockroach dangling from the tail of her kitty-rolling-its-eyes clock.
Cockroaches are not particularly harmful (no more than most neighbors, anyway). They
don’t spread malaria or Zika. They don’t bite you while you sleep. There’s just something about them that we loathe and hate.
Every now and then, I meet someone who is otherwise quite normal and intelligent, but who simply won’t set a toe in the subway system. These people often arrange their whole lives around not taking the subway. They budget for car service. They move to apartments that are within walking distance of their jobs, or they only look for jobs within walking distance
of their apartments. They know every bus route, express or local, MTA or private. They even – gasp! own a car. They have no problem with elevators, open-air terraces high atop buildings, crowded art shows, or any other typical NYC situation. But they just won’t take the subway.
New York has a great range and variety of odors, and some of these odors are pleasant. In fact, there’s a whole smellscape that has been mapped. Most of us are used to this. We can identify the heady spices of Little India, the roasting chickens at the Malecon, and the scent
of the ginkgo tree’s fruit in autumn, which is a cross between aged Romano and vomit. Hell, we even built a park with a skating rink over a sewage treatment plant! And just to show we don’t care, we even built a RESTAURANT up there. Yeah, every now and then if the wind is wrong, you do get a little whiff. But it passes, and then, I guess, you go back to your burger (I’ve been skating there but never to the restaurant). The point is, we are not living in a smell-neutral city; some New Yorkers can’t handle that. They are extra sensitive. They call their spouses
to see how the hallway smell situation is, and then pump them for details about cooking odors or cat-litter changing exercises before they will enter the lobby. They have learned how to hold their breath strategically. It can’t be an easy life. I’m not sure where they should move to, but I do know that there are whole swathes of the Midwest where you can tell which way the wind is blowing by whether you’re smelling the stockyards, the beet factory, or the oil well. So that’s out. Maybe Hawaii is nothin’ but vanilla and fresh sea salt?
Let’s say you are a New Yorker who wants a little q/t with nature. You long for the sight of a green forest, the sound of the breeze whispering in the branches, the scent of real fresh pine that is not at all like those little trees some benighted fools still hang in their cabs (for more information, see smell-o-phobia above and also here).
You rent a cabin for a long weekend in the Adirondacks or Poconos. It’s heaven! The trees
loom charmingly over you on all sides, and the sunset is beautiful. You sip your wine as you watch it sink slowly into Moose Pond. The porch light comes on, and you realize it’s time to get undercover before the clouds of blackflies and lyme-disease ticks are replaced by clouds of mosquitoes, moths, and night-blooming mantises. You go back in the cabin. You turn off the porch light. Suddenly, you are plunged into the type of complete and utter blackness that prevents your hand from being seen in front of your face. It’s like someone threw you in a barrel after slapping an astronaut-grade sleep-mask over your eyes. There’s not even a little glimmer anywhere. Your eyes freak out. You spend the next 3 nights making sure no one turns off the light in the bathroom, the porch, the kitchen, or the hall so you can actually get some sleep without waking up in a universe without light and wondering, for just a split second, if its morning and you have gone blind.
Full disclosure: I have this one.
Even people who live in less dynamic places than New York City may have change-o-phobia. New Yorkers have it bad, and New Yorkers who moved here from somewhere else have it worst of all. We expect New York to stay “real”, just like it was whatever year we showed up. New York does not accommodate that wish. The city changes, and that produces major shpilkes. I went through it when H&H Bagels shut down and then got replaced by a fake. A timeless classic! Are we still a civilization?
Other change-phobics like to cite these perfectly valid reasons for their agita:
- The Dodgers left.
- Penn station got torn down.
- They built the West Side Highway.
- Hipsters moved into Brooklyn.
- Straight couples with babies moved into Chelsea.
- Gay couples with babies moved into the Upper West Side.
- You can’t grow tobacco plantations in the Bronx any more*.
Everyone needs a little consolation, so when New York changes faster than you do, spend the day at the Jumel Mansion. After a step back in time to the 1790’s, you’ll feel recharged and ready to face a more contemporary existence.
*But you can grow pumpkins on a roof