Jessica Gross

Archive for September, 2008|Monthly archive page

The Point of Commonality

In musings, people watching on September 29, 2008 at 10:56 am

On Friday, my father took me on a dinner cruise around Manhattan. When we got to the Statue of Liberty, the band played America the Beautiful and the whole cruise emptied onto the deck to take pictures. I scoffed at the multitudes snapping digital shots of the big green lady (“Do you think this is what it was like coming in to Ellis Island?” someone joked).

As I tried to overcome my hokeyness aversion and appreciate the statue’s symbolic power, another ship passed by. Everyone on our boat started waving at the strangers on the other one. My brother, who was standing next to me, commented on how weird this was. “It’s like, the farther away you are from the point of commonality, the less you need to have in common,” he said.
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The Way We Sit

In people watching on September 26, 2008 at 4:15 pm

In a women’s studies class in college, I read a decade-old article by Jocelyn Hollander comparing men’s and women’s style of sitting. In the article, which isn’t available online, Hollander notes that men usually sit with their legs spread wide open while women sit with their legs crossed. Why? Because women are supposed to be diminutive and take up less space, and men are encouraged to take up space — not just physically, but in the professional, social, and domestic realms, too.

During a meeting in my office today, I did some investigating. Props to Hollander: many more women than men were crossing their legs, and more men had their legs spread apart. But a couple of guys had their legs crossed, and a couple of girls had one ankle on the opposite knee in a stereotypical guys’ pose. On other investigations, too, I’ve noticed men crossing their legs: in subways, on buses, lounging in restaurant chairs. Is this a new trend? A New York trend? Or do I just notice the leg-crossers because I’m looking for them?

And what does it all mean?

Do some investigating of your own. Report back in comments.


In people watching on September 25, 2008 at 12:28 pm

No, not this, this.

New Yorkers with children never jaywalk. Even when the street is carless, they stand at the crosswalk, straining their ears for any sign of wheels. When the walking man appears, they grab their children’s hands and say, “Okay! Ready?” in a voice full of saccharine sunshine. Are they really worried that if they jaywalked, they’d lead their kids to fatality? Or are they instilling good street-crossing habits?

I find this atrocious. Jaywalking is a passion of mine. The thrill of running across the street, of breaking the law! How could a person deny children this pleasure?

And where does the jaywalking ban for children put me? If I dart across like a felon, it probably ruins the parents’ gig. But I can’t live my life in kiddie-rules jail!

Newspaper Moochers

In people watching on September 24, 2008 at 5:51 pm

I have an old-fashioned subscription to The New York Times, and I read it at the gym. Sometimes, as I’m tossing my just-read paper, a sweaty stranger asks for it. This morning, a chunky guy huffing away on the Stairmaster yelled out.

Stairmaster man: [unintelligible garble]!

Me: What?

Stairmaster man: [unintelligible garble]!

Me: What?

Stairmaster man (annoyed): I was asking if you could save your paper.

Me: Oh. (I place the newspaper on a bike seat and scurry away.)
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New York One-Liners

In people watching on September 23, 2008 at 6:03 pm

Last night I talked to an NYC woman who got married in Las Vegas a couple of months ago. She described the pink courthouse and the woman whose bright red dress matched her highlights. “Las Vegas is where tacky goes to get new ideas,” she said.

Superb. I started thinking of one-liners for New York. A few:

  • New York is where culture goes to get more pretentious.
  • New York is where dogs go to get clothes.
  • New York is where crazy people go. Period.

Post your own in comments.

Scary Subway Times

In people watching on September 23, 2008 at 11:32 am

I descended onto the subway platform just as a train was leaving this morning, so I knew I had enough time to sit on a bench. One had two people separated by three seats, so I sat in the middle. (NEVER sit next to someone if you don’t have to. Everyone in New York has personal space issues.) I put my lunch bag on the seat to my right, in between me and another woman. As soon as I set it down, the lady erupted like a crazy jack-in-the box: “Get that off me! Get that off me, you moron! Get that off me!”

Note that the bag was not on her, but next to her — a foot away, really. I thought pointing this out was unwise, so I lifted the bag from the seat and put it on the floor. As I sat there, my thoughts went through this progression:
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Reading Big Books on the Subway

In people watching on September 22, 2008 at 5:50 pm

I’ve been reading Atlas Shrugged for the past few months. (I am a slow reader.) My copy of this book is about a foot tall and five pounds. At first, when I read it on the subway, I was embarrassed — what was I trying to do, prove something? “Hey, passengers! I bet you thought I was illiterate. But I’m not!” I tried to be inconspicuous by laying the book on my lap and hunching over it like a dying person.

But as the months passed, I grew proud of the feat I was accomplishing. Yeah, I was reading Ayn Rand! Check me out, subway! I started whipping it out while standing, right in other passengers’ faces. This was even better, because I was reading while balancing.
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In people watching on September 19, 2008 at 5:41 pm

Since elementary school, I’ve been a fan of the backpack. (In fifth grade, I even sported the uni-shoulder look, until my second-grade brother adopted it and usurped my coolness.) I saw swarms of children festooned with these dorky sacks on a run this morning. My heart swelled. Then I saw the offender: the backpack on wheels.

In my youth, the rolly backpack was a big no-no. Its use prompted wincing, even groaning. But the child doing the rolling today didn’t look outcastish. He looked like an incast, in fact — good posture, purposeful gait, spiffy clothes. His presentation said, “Yeah, I’m a seven-year-old with a rolly backpack. What of it?”

So is the backpack-on-wheels in vogue these days? Or does it just take an overconfident child to make it legit?

Refusing to Be Social

In people watching on September 19, 2008 at 12:32 pm

Two women, strangers, were walking their dogs on the Upper East Side. As they passed each other, their dogs sniffed each other and said hello. The women did not make eye contact. They stood there for a full minute, refusing to acknowledge that there was another person present. It’s all about the dogs.

But it’s not just an obsession with dogs. It’s an obsession with being antisocial. New Yorkers refuse to speak to strangers. I’ve smiled at people on the street, I’ve said hello, I’ve waved, and the ratio of “Good morning!” responses to startled faces is one to 43. I don’t think it’s fear — I think it’s a cultural norm. If you’re from the Midwest, you think saying howdy-doody is super-friendly and cool. But true New Yorkers? They know it’s a loser thing to do.

Seriously, though. If your dog is slobbering on another dog’s face, can’t you at least smile at the other leash-holder?

Hogging the Stall

In people watching on September 18, 2008 at 9:54 pm

Back to bathroom etiquette.

In a restaurant restroom with two stalls, I was waiting in line. I was not waiting patiently. I made throat-clearing noises to notify the pee-ers that I was there. Minutes passed.

Then I saw it: a shadow of two hands texting on a Blackberry on the floor of one of the stalls. This woman wasn’t even going to the bathroom — she was texting! Texting!
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