I know exactly how you feel, Mrs. Clinton.
Just a few months ago, I, too, was moving to New York in search of a new job. I, too, was a carpetbagger, selling my wares to people I didn’t know, who didn’t know me. Or care.
I was looking for a place to live, just like you. I was learning the lay of the land. I was trying to make fast friends-fast!-who would support my ambitions and give me a boost when things were down. Just like you.
Yes, Mrs. Clinton, you have enlisted in a battle that is waged every day-the battle to become a New Yorker. I am one among its legion of veterans. And having made it this far, having been lost and lonesome in New York and having lived to tell the tale, I want to share a few lessons I learned. A few tips for fitting in.
No. 1: Don’t pretend to be what you aren’t.
Contrary to popular belief, New Yorkers are not mean. But they are savvy and they will not be played for fools. They can tell a real Yankee from a Cub in Yankee clothing.
When I first got here, I tried to act the part. I dressed in black, top to toe. I bought fat, clunky heels. I even tried to wear those little barrettes that everyone sports around town. But they slid from my hair, utterly embarrassed by my charade.
It takes more than a few months, more than a few years to become a true New Yorker. And the harder you try, the louder they will laugh as you fall. So don’t work at it, Mrs. Clinton. The best thing about being a New Yorker is you can be yourself.
No. 2: Ignore the rest of the state.
I know. This is a tough one for you, as you toy with a statewide Senate race. But we newcomers learn two things early on: (a) Upstate hates the city, and (b) the city ignores upstate. It’s the “Green Acres” rule: You can’t belong to both. So you have to choose. And correct me if I’m wrong, Mrs. Clinton, but all signs point to you making your bed in or near the city.
Now this is not altogether a bad thing. We saw those placards in Binghamton-“Carpetbagger Go Home!” Upstairs don’t want you here. And how does that saying go? “The enemy of my enemy …”
Luckily for you, the city and upstate have one thing in common-their name. So whatever the audience, you can still safely say: “How could anyone live anywhere but New York?” Upstate, they’ll think you’re one with them. But we in the city will know what you mean.
No. 3: Love the Mayor / Hate the Mayor.
For New Yorkers, it’s either one or the other. No middle of the road.
But here’s the rub. Even if you despise Rudy Giuliani with all your being, even if he’s ticketed you for jaywalking, even if he sent your porn shop packing, even if you are the candidate running against him for the Senate (which, as a matter of fact, you are), all true New Yorkers end their tirade against the Mayor with the following words: “But he has done a lot for the city.”
It’s the dragnets thing. Rarely has a more reviled man had higher praise. So give the Mayor his due as you set out to do him in.
No. 4: Steer clear of “Door Open.”
This is a different world from the Arkansas you know, Mrs. Clinton. Down there, when someone dashes for the elevator, you lunge for the “Door Open” button. And you hold it heroically in place until all have passed safely through the mechanical jaws.
Not here, Mrs. Clinton. Not in New York. Look next time you’re in an elevator. Which button is used and worn? “Door Close.” New Yorkers don’t like to wait. And if you make them wait, you’ll never win friends. Or voters. So keep your hands to your sides and let the elevator take its course.
No. 5: Routinely cancel appointments.
One big mistake new New Yorkers make when they first arrive in town is actually showing up. And on time.
I’ve had more people cancel on me in my six months in New York than in my 10 years of business elsewhere. New York is, by definition, changeable, so everybody does it. They cancel. They reschedule. They cancel. They reschedule. No excuses are necessary.
It’s an art form. And-in a twisted way-it’s also a measure of friendship. You cancel the most on those you know best. It’s the people with whom you’re closest you end up seeing least.
So the next time you’re lined up to meet a prominent group of voters, call half an hour before and say you just can’t make it: “The day I’m having!”
Be assured: They’ll love you for it. There was certainly something else they needed to do. After all, this is New York.
Terry Golway is on a short leave. He will return later this month.