I work in Tribeca, a picturesque neighborhood in Lower Manhattan lined with ancient cobblestone streets and ornate pre-war buildings radiating character and charm.
It is a trendy area housing some of the most expensive real estate on Manhattan Island. This is also a location that’s heavily populated with swells, many of them the name-brand variety.
In mid-afternoon, when I run errands, I encounter pampered youngsters clad in their colorful cold weather togs as they’re being met after school by their trophy wife mothers or their fulltime nannies. Everyone looks fashionably chic until I wend my way through the crowd, upsetting the style balance in my drab uniform, the type of duds that scant wages can afford. Compared to the beautiful mothers in their cutting edge fashions, my modest attire, best suited for office work or captivity, bears a distinct resemblance to offal.
One area where everyone is equal, at least when outside, is the great outdoors where we all suffer the consequences of the elements. Now that the season is the dead of winter, there have been days when the temperature has been frigid cold. Often, noses and eyes run like faucets. Even when bundled up, any exposed skin can instantly suffer searing pain. Therefore, it is best to walk at a quick clip, if only to sooner regain sensation in one’s face.
On an afternoon when the air was feeling particularly arctic I was walking up Hudson Street toward the pretty Powell building behind a handsome lad that looked to be about six.
He was walking hand-in-hand with his mother, who was in her thirties. He was wearing a blue parka and bright orange corduroy slacks. Mom was nestled in a floor length shapeless black down coat that looked familiar to me. It brought to mind a sleeping bag with sleeves. She must have missed the winter fashions newsletter. Appropriately, they were walking briskly, but not as brisk as motoring me. Just as I was overtaking them I overheard a snippet of their conversation:
Mom: When we get home I’ll make you a sandwich.
Boy: Shit! It’s cold!
Although I was thinking the exact same thought myself, overhearing the little man drop the s-bomb was a most unexpected surprise. What really made me feel a bat squeak* of unease was that his mother seemed a-okay with it. I did not hear her admonishing her son in the least.
Had I the nerve to casually bleat that curse in the earshot of my mother when I was six, she surely would have detonated. As a child growing up in the sixties and seventies, an era when you served time rather than take a time out, my mother would have beaten every future utterance of both that word and the substance out of me. A beating that might not have ended until I reached age thirty.
That evening, I dined with my friend, Milton, and recounted what I had heard.
Milton: Are you sure he said “shit”? You know your hearing’s not the greatest. You could have misheard. Maybe he said another word that sounded like shit?
Me: What word sounds like shit other than shit?
Milton looked perplexed. He suggested:
Milton: Sheeeeeeee ahhhhhhhhhhh taaaaaaa, it’s cold!
Me: That kid didn’t say, “Sheeeeeeee ahhhhhhhhhhh taaaaaaa, it’s cold!” That kid said “shit”. Even my deaf ears know the difference between shit and shinola.
*Thank you Kate Shrewsday for adding “bat squeak” to my vocabulary.