Ipswich and Gomorrah

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New York City

I was in New York City last week, and the experience was terribly confusing. That place disturbed me, I’m telling you. It is virtually indistinguishable from Ipswich, with only the slightest of peculiarities differentiating the two towns.

New York, for example, appears to be built on a grid, with long, straight streets criss-crossing the city like a stretched-out checkerboard. These people would not know what to do with Lord’s Square. There would be traffic jams.

Also, their street-numbering system is a tragedy, shockingly unimaginative for a town that is home to the world’s greatest advertising agencies. Do we number our streets in Ipswich? No, we do not. (Except for First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth. After that, it’s totally names.) We give our streets delightful names, like Labor in Vain, and Heartbreak, and Turnpike.

But in New York, au contraire. Numbered “Streets” run east-west, numbered “Avenues” run north-south, so our hotel at West 34th Street and 8th Avenue was boringly easy to find. There is nothing in New York City like the place in Ipswich just before Hood Pond where Linebrook Road becomes Boxford Road unless you turn left off of Linebrook Road onto Linebrook Road. There was no hope of finding a great Bed & Breakfast by driving to the end of North Main Street where High Street becomes East Street, and the next-door neighbors are suing you for the “& Breakfast” part.

I missed Ipswich.

Another distinguishing mark of New York City was that New Yorkers seemed to be more than willing to inconvenience me. As I walked down the street, people moving in all directions frequently cut in front of me or bumped me, or both. I was repeatedly obligated to hesitate, change my gait, alter my course, or, on a number of occasions, rub my shoulder.

This was a constant reminder to me: “We’re not in Ipswich anymore, Toto.” But it was also somehow satisfying to realize: New Yorkers could not function in Ipswich. Not at Five Corners. Or even Depot Square. Heck, they couldn’t even make a left turn off of Town Farm Road. New Yorkers lack the requisite Ipswich skills: (a) making eye contact with a total stranger, (b) making primitive hand signals in order to communicate with that stranger, and (c) (most important of all) understanding the unwritten rule that the other person, no matter how grossly they are violating the most basic of traffic laws, MUST — GO — FIRST.

(Now that I have seen a few Broadway shows, my dream is to write a theme song for the Town of Ipswich. The main lyric will be something like: “No, please, / you go. / Go ahead. / I insist. / I can’t / pull out first. / It is pointless / to resist.” Of course, this is just a first draft. I’m open to suggestions.)

Furthermore, in New York City, no one greeted me warmly. No one greeted me at all. Nobody said, “Hi, Doug. Loved your column this week.” And not a single person said, “Hi, Doug. Your column this week was odd. Are you feeling OK?” So I knew I wasn’t in Ipswich anymore.

Here’s something else I learned: In New York City, if you hear English being spoken, you’re the one talking.

Also, I visited FAO Schwarz; it’s billed as the biggest toy store in the world, but it’s obviously just New York’s answer to Green Elephant. I almost missed Macy’s, which at first I mistook for Family Dollar, until I noted that Macy’s actually puts displays in their display windows. (Apparently this is an old-fashioned idea, to which Macy’s still clings, not having stepped up to Family Dollar’s superior modern display-window strategy. I trust before long, Macy’s will also feature the backs of cabinets and cases in their windows on 34th Street.)

In spite of how disconcerting New York was, I did have some thrills. I went up in the Empire State Building — climbed the last six flights with my very own legs, to avoid the line for the elevator — the Big Apple equivalent of the cupola atop the Crane estate. And I took a cruise around the Statue of Liberty, where my grandfather arrived at Ellis Island exactly 88 years before, on his way to finding my grandmother. Not exactly a world-changer like John Winthrop Jr. arriving at Ipswich on his way to finding clams, but a pretty big deal to me.

I also saw Aladdin, Pippin, The Phantom of the Opera, and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. (Broadway is fabulous. Almost IPAC-quality.) And I had a late-night dinner at Sardi’s, with Joan Rivers. (Although she was at another table. With some other people. Non-Ipswich people.) Sardi’s is pretty good, but they could learn a few things from Ipswich’s dear departed Chris DeStefano. Also, they have caricatures on the walls, but none of people from Ipswich.

So. There. I have been to New York City. To be honest, all things considered, I can’t really recommend it. For the most part, other than being disorienting and expensive, it’s basically just Ipswich, but without the charm.

Also, they don’t have Town Meetings. How do they vote anything down?

Oh, wait. It’s New York. Anything goes.

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