Lame Adventure 358: Grumpy Young Man

I work in Tribeca, a picturesque neighborhood in Lower Manhattan lined with ancient cobblestone streets and ornate pre-war buildings radiating character and charm.

Franklin Street

Franklin Street

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.

Authentic cobblestone street.

Authentic cobblestone street.

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.

The view out my office window.

The view out my office window.

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.

Bright blue frigid cold sky.

Clear blue frigid cold sky.

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.

Powell Building

Powell Building

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.

[pause]

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.

I know shit from Shinola.

Shinola on display in Tribeca.

*Thank you Kate Shrewsday for adding “bat squeak” to my vocabulary.

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115 responses to “Lame Adventure 358: Grumpy Young Man

  1. Thanks – I needed a brisk motoring through downtown.

    Love it,

    R.

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  2. V,
    Excellent writing! Your words painted a vivid picture of the neighborhood and its inhabitants. While I enjoyed the photos, they served as support to your eloquent prose. Interesting commentary about the six-year-old’s choice of language and his mother’s lack of response. Maybe she didn’t hear him? Who knows. I’ve noticed they seem to be growing up faster, these days, but that’s amazing.
    Cathy

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    • Isn’t there a TV series called something like “Kid Say the Darndest Things”? I think this little guy would have surely been censored. Maybe his mom wasn’t paying attention. I wanted to ask, “Hey kid, what was that you just said?” But it was so cold I just kept moving.

      Like

  3. Dear LA woman, it’s been about a year since I discovered your site via a link from your comment in the NYT Townies section. You may or may not recall that you and I had taken the time to air our thoughts regarding the Barista who was having to come to grips with the fact that even though he’d been published in some high-brow magazine (Paris Review) some people only recognizes him for his work pouring coffee. And for the record, in case I hadn’t already vented (as opposed ro veinteed) on the subject, I hate that pretentious word–the guy wasn’t the least bit Italian. Shit, I’m Italian and I refuse to use that word.

    Digression aside, why I even brought it up in the first place is that no sooner had I read your post that I REFLEXIVELY hit the comment button without any real thought as to WTF I was going to say. Most of your loyal 7 readers who actually read my shit (maybe 1 or 2) wonder WTF whenever I put pen to paper (metaphorically speaking).

    So that’s the point of this. At what point do your loyal readers get so conditioned in the Pavlovian sense that theyfor hit respond while bringing nothing to the table.?

    BTW my mother would have dislocated my jaw if I ever said shit at that age. If she hasn’t just turned 82 on Monday she’d probably dislocate it this morning if she read my response.

    Like

  4. Snoring Dog Studio

    What would you expect? She made him wear orange corduroys. That alone would make me curse.

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  5. Snoring Dog Studio

    I read your comments, Mike G. I and that other person are loyal and appreciative.

    Like

  6. Of course the momster didn’t admonish her perfect spawn–you know why? Because parents these days are more concerned with being their kid’s friend, not the one, you know, who tells little Schyler that swearing in public is not polite, and to only reserve the salty language for the hired help.

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  7. I’m sure you and your fab readers are well-aware of the blog STFU, Parents! it’s precious!

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  8. Hilarious and sad and shocking and what are parents thinking these days????
    I think they drop all kinds of bombs around their own homes and can’t possibly blame the little tykes for picking up a new word now and then….
    Love the sleeping bag comparison. I always new there was something funny looking about those coats..

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  9. I love your walks around New York, LA! Even if it’s chilly, they’re always fun!
    What that kid said doesn’t surprise me in the slightest… you should hear what they come out with over here. Actually, you should see what some of them DO as well!

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  10. Great tale of city kids, and laced with the most excellent vocabulary. I’m uneasy, batsqueak-wise, too. When did that become ok for a six year old?

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    • A week ago last Tuesday? Okay, probably never. May the late Art Linkletter rest in peace.

      Like

    • Comforting to know that Maddie and Felix are two young class acts, but then again they’re growing up near a forest. Maybe that’s a factor in the politics of social behavior? Don’t be rude around a tree, or risk one uprooting and squashing you.

      Like

  11. Not sure why but I can’t see a single picture!!

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  12. I would have been dragged by my hair all the way home and then made to eat a bar of soap if I had used such foul language. And that is precisely why I enjoy a colorful vocabulary as an adult ;0) I would have proudly walked through the sea of fashionably chic moms — me in my dockers, landsend loafers, red sox knit cap and butt ugly winter coat.

    I stopped swearing in front of my kids when my four year old daughter asked me if the car in front of us was a fucker man. I am not a quiet driver..

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  13. She’ll get over it.

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  14. My 16 yr old daughter isn’t even allowed to say it. Both my boys have tasted soap. I wouldn’t have a fit if she DID say shit but she knows she’s not supposed to.

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  15. Oh the memories of growing up in the sixties and getting ass whippings for this kind of thing. That does strike me odd that this 6 year old so casually responded to his mom this way. But I must tell you ashamedly that my 5 year old nephew’s response in the back seat of the car to his father rolling down the window allowing an insane blast of air into the car was “Oh shiiiit!” The problem is that my sister and husband curse, not incessantly, but they have done it in ear shot of the little one. So it would be hypocritical for them to punish him for it. My sister has spoken to him about it, telling him it isn’t nice and that she and daddy would have to be more careful. He’s a good obedient kid but that does concern me a bit. They have doled out a couple of butt whippings, but as one of my friend’s said about beating her kids, it really doesn’t help — she said it teaches them violence. Another one of my friends said she thought it was barbaric. You know, this is why I opted out of having critters — there’s too much of these considerations — oy!

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    • Now that you’ve donned your sociologist chapeau, Sandee, I think you might be onto something here. My sister went out of her way to watch her language around my heir and niece, Sweet Pea. My sister didn’t make a big deal about us swearing around her kid, but we got the message that she didn’t condone it so we made an effort to censor ourselves. Sweet Pea, who’s now 18 and essentially an adult, swears sparingly. She’s a rather mannered young woman. I think it has a lot to do with her parents setting a positive example that sunk into her head. You talk like a character out of a David Mamet play, your spawn just might, too.

      Like

  16. Hehehe! I wrote a story based on the relationship I have with my mom called “Your Spawn, Mona.”

    Like

  17. V,
    I have commented above, but did want to share a story…It’s my impression that kids, from any era, seem to latch onto the “forbidden words.” Recently, my sister shared the story about her two-year-old grand daughter who seems to be somewhat delayed in her development of speech. The child will mimic one-syllable words but until recently, wouldn’t use two syllables.

    Then, last week, as the two-year-old climbed the stairs from my sister’s garage into the house ahead of her grandmother, my sister dropped the child’s McDonald’s Happy Meal, spilling its contents onto the concrete floor of the garage and exclaiming: “Oh crap!” Whereby she heard a soft child’s voice say at the top of the stairs: “Oh, cwap.” And thus two syllables…

    Like

    • Cathy, that’s hilarious! Thanks for sharing. I completely agree with this statement you made, “It’s my impression that kids, from any era, seem to latch onto the “forbidden words.” I certainly did, but I had enough self-control, sense, fear and respect to refrain from saying them when in the presence of my mother. I’m old school, so I think that’s a good thing.

      Feel free to comment over here whenever the mood strikes.

      Like

  18. I am embarrassed to admit that my three year old used the f word (or the fuck word, as my Aunt Eva used to say) in perfect context today. I was contemplating just going with it, as I know that any attention to these things tends to exacerbate things. Your anecdote has made me realize what I would appear like to the world if I did: a giant douchehole who is letting her kids run wild(er). So tomorrow we taste soap.

    Also, cold is fucking terrible.

    Like

    • Jen, if I recall the basic math about twins, with the assistance of my abacus, calculator and fingers, you have two three-year-olds, but only one has dropped the f-bomb? If the other one hasn’t, I’d be very inclined to let the one that has take a meeting with the family censor.

      You are subject to quite a bit more cold than me over there in Calgary, so you’re allowed to drop all the f-bombs you like, but you’re also age six several times over.

      Good to hear from you pal!

      Like

    • Thanks for giving me a new word, “douchehole.” At first I looked at it on my iPhone as I traveled to Hoboken in what most likely will be called the FSOTC–fucking storm of the century–and said to myself hmm. After careful reflection and a trip down memory lane to freshman year biology, I said, yeah for every douchebag there must be a corresponding douchehole. Of course I am particular to “twat” but again, thanks for the new word!

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  19. After hearing this story, I was tempted to pull a Milton (by which I mean question what you think you heard, not threaten to burn down the building if my red Swingline isn’t returned safely), but given your adamant denial of that scenario, I can’t see any other explanation.

    I like cursing, but not in young kids. I think 14 is the right age to drop f and s bombs. My mom always used to tell me that cursing was the sign of a weak vocabulary. She was a wise woman, but she was wrong here: it is self-evident that your vocabulary grows for every swear word in your arsenal.

    I’ve always loved the name Tribeca–it sounds so exotic to me. Isn’t the name an amalgam of some kind.

    And how, in a world of BatPats, Vooms and M. Redglare, does poor Milton remain merely mortal?

    Like

    • Smak, “Milton” pre-dates all actually. His “character” has popped up in humor essays that pre-dated this site. The name — professorial, classic, writerly (think the English poet) — works for him since that’s essentially who he is. What a bland explanation of a colorful guy, so I should add that he has quite a fondness for glitter.

      You’re right, Tribeca is indeed an amalgam — for TRIangle BElow CAnal (Canal’s a street in lower Manhattan). New York is big in amalgams — Nolita NOrth of Little ITAly, FiDi (FInancial DIstrict), SoHo (SOuth of HOuston — and its pronounced HOUSE-ton, not WHOSE-ton).

      I was definitely cursing like a Teamster by age 14, but not around my mother. Must prepare to head out into the FSOTC– Mike G.-ism for fucking storm of the century. The white stuff is falling right now and sticking.

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  20. Yes, potty-mouth brats are running rampant these days. Perhaps their parents are so far in debt they can’t afford decent bar of lye soap.

    I couldn’t help but notice the bars on your window and the mention of a uniform. Do they also stamp a number across the front of your shirt to distinguish you from the other employees? I think I’ve worked at a few places like that.

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    • As usual. all spot on observations Russell. I blame the economy for every problem in the world, but if I can’t somehow blame the economy, I blame religion.

      My company’s a mom and pop shop. We don’t do stamps, but most of us now wear several hats in homage to downsizing.

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  21. The thing that struck me about “Sheeeeeeee ahhhhhhhhhhh taaaaaaa” is that if you took the s-word and wrote it out in hangul – the Korean alphabet – and then read it back in English, that’s the exact pronunciation the word would have. Maybe Milton’s onto something.

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  22. Hi there Lame! Love the stroll, even in the cold. Powell Bldg looks awesome …. and yes, I believe you heard the kid right!

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  23. I haven’t heard the expression “shit from shinola” in a lonnnnng time. I didn’t know you worked in Tribeca. It’s nice down there, except for the entitled moms and stuff. I’m always amazed and horrified at hearing kids curse, and/or hearing parents curse in front of (or worse, AT) their kids. Although I’m glad he at least cursed appropriately and in the proper context.

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    • The Shinola wall in Tribeca did bring to mind that expression which, generally, is not at the forefront of my thoughts, Weebs. I was taken by equal surprise when that youngster mouthed off like that coupled with his mom being unfazed with it. Guess I’m just not hip to new-age child lingo.

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  24. As someone living in Hinterland, the only thing I’ve heard about Tribeca is the film festival. Thanks for the info on the fashion and language as well. Always a pleasure to know more about your neck of the woods. 😉

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    • I’m sure that the s-word is uttered up in your part of the world, Arti, but I suspect out in the Hinterlands, it’s not permissible for small-fry to do the uttering, especially in the presence of their mothers. Nice to hear from you!

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  25. No shitty pidgeons on your windowsill?

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  26. I’m confused about one part of this. The view from your window suggests you are up a few stories. If so, why are there bars on the window? Are the pigeons in NY clad in leather jackets and bide their time by breaking and entering? If so, NY is awesome!

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    • Why the bars are needed outside our fifth floor windows Mike has always been the source of a lot of head-scratching amongst my colleagues. I tell them that it’s not because of fear that anyone might come in (with or without feathers) but the fear that one of us might actually get out.

      Like

  27. Hard to argue against that. But I am praying for career years from about, say, 18 of the guys that make it to Fenway this season.

    Like

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