. . . Thursday August 19, 2004

Making Calls Next to Madonna

When I first moved to New York (I lived there for three years in the early nineties) there was a phone strike going on. So for the first three or four weeks I lived there I would have to make all of my calls from a pair of payphones on Spring Street in Soho.

One morning while I was talking to my parents, I noticed a striking blond head of hair in close proximity. I glanced over and saw that the person who had struck a pose at the adjacent payphone was none other than Madonna. I felt I needed to share this news. So I quickly ended the call with my parents (who preferred Klezmer to the Material Girl during this period) and called a guy who had been my college roommate for a couple of years.

“Dude.” I whispered. “Madonna is using the friggin’ payphone next to me right now.”

The former roommate (who I haven’t really talked to since) responded that it probably was just someone who looked like Madonna. Folks, this was arguably the most photographed female artist in the history of the Western Civilization at the peak of her pre-Kabbalah powers. I’m pretty sure I’d recognize her. (The exchange reminded me of the time I mentioned to a friend that I had been playing at a craps table with Manute Bol and the friend explained that it was probably just a guy who looked like Manute Bol.)

The point of all this is that I was a New York greenhorn. Only a Big Apple newbie would even glance over (much less make a series of calls) because a celebrity was using a nearby payphone. In New York, the stars are not the stars. The city is. There are few places on earth where equality reigns more supremely than in a corner store on some random block in NY.

New York is the city that never sleeps. But more importantly, it is the city that doesn’t care. And I predict that characteristic will be on full display during the Republican Convention.

Contrast New York’s reaction to having a convention with what we saw in Boston. Bostonians left. And it seemed like that departure included pretty much everyone other than convention volunteers and cab drivers. There was no traffic. Restaurants were empty. And remember, this was a Lefty city welcoming a bunch of Lefties into town.

In New York, people will not leave. The city is not shutting down. In fact, there is a major sporting event (the tennis U.S. Open) going on at the same time as the convention. Aside from those who live and work within the Madison Square Garden security zone and the dancers at Scores, I’d be surprised if a lot of New Yorkers even cared or noticed what was going in midtown.

The city will also play host to thousands and thousands of protesters. Their reaction? They set up a special website to welcome peaceful protesters and offer them discounts at certain stores and restaurants. Mayor Bloomberg explained: “It’s no fun to protest on an empty stomach. So you might want to try a restaurant. Or you might want to go shopping, maybe for another pair of sneakers for the march.”

I bet Madonna could walk right up to Madison Square Garden and use a public payphone and no one (other than a NY newbie on the phone with his mom and dad) would even give it second thought.

Concentration is important!