Strange Fall Rites of the Manhattan Tribe

Published by Wednesday Martin

Manhattan may be the exception to the adage "Absence makes the heart grow fonder." It's hard to come back to a smelly, noisy, cramped town after a beachy, rural summer idyll. Lots of us hate it — complaining about being back in town after time away away (in the Hamptons, Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket, most often) is a Fall tradition here. But distance and absence have certainly make the city look more fascinatingly strange, exotic and foreign to me after 11 weeks at the beach (don't hate me — I worked while I was there!) Manhattan and Manhattanites, now I see you as you truly are — a tribe (or collection of tribes) with rites, rituals and ways of being and doing that truly set you apart.

After nearly three months away, New York City is dirty and loud. But it's also fast and furious. All in one week we had Fashion Week (ten blocks from where I live, much of it) and the back to school firedrill (all over the city school started the 9th of September). Now throw in endless robocalls from candidates for the primary for New York City mayor and comptroller (made especially fascinating by Spitzer and Weiner, two total jerk offs — literally — running. I am glad they both lost). Oh, and the Jewish fall holidays, Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (a somber holiday of atonement). And the 9/11 anniversary. What a busy, stressful transition back to reality New Yorkers have.

But it's not just the pace, it's the habits and practices that make Manhattan look more strange and interesting to me than ever these last weeks. Here are some of the most striking aspects of Manhattan tribal living, captured in photos (above):

Cab culture. Hailing cabs is just what we do, many of us several times a day, but it looks so odd. We stand in the street basically (even more perilous now thanks to bike lanes) with an arm up. Usually we are texting or talking on the phone at the same time. We cannot live without multitasking, hello?! Cab hailing has its own etiquette. Except outside Grand Central and at our airports, there are no cab lines. What do we look like, London? No, here it is every man and woman for him/herself. God help you if you take "my" cab by popping in front of me on the street or avenue (they're almost all one way). I will bash your head in with my child's car booster seat. Cab hailing can be tense and Manhattanites aggressive and territorial about cabs, particularly at rush hour or when it's raining. That's what I meant to say. Some people who live here now use apps to call a cab or car service. They must be from Boston.

Dog tribe rites.  There are "dog people" all over Manhattan. They really love their dogs. Their dogs are their children, their accessories and their second full time job, all rolled into one. Manhattanites are just insane about dogs. The dog tribe stick to their own. They chat and drink coffee together while their dogs play off their leashes in a given park (it's technically against the law if you're not at a dog run, but we allow it anyway. Dogs need to get their dog on, is our basic attitude). Dog Tribe members have their own accessories — a long plastic thingie they use to throw the dog's slobbery ball, and wrist or fannypack dispensers with little blue plastic bags in them — for picking up doggie doo. Sometimes Dog Tribe members chit chat with one another while holding a steaming hot dog poo in their hand in a plastic baggie. Yep, that sets them apart all right.

Do not confuse Dog Tribe members with dog walkers. Dog walkers are all business. They will come to your house while you're at work to walk your dog. Sure, some of them like dogs, but they don't craft an entire identity around dog ownership and relating to their dog. Err, not that there's anything wrong with that.

Maternal and allomaternal schlepping. Ed Koch described the thing that unites all New Yorkers, rich and poor, East and West siders, black and white — "We are a town of schleppers." We carry stuff from place to place, by ourselves, usually, because it is expedient and because we don't have cars to speak of. Robert Trivers coined the term "alloparent" to describe a person who assists in the rearing of a child but is not its parent. Sarah Hrdy and other primatologists and anthropologists say being cooperative breeders — that is, raising our kids with the help of alloparents like nieces and grandmas and that nice lady down the savannah — is what allowed homo sapiens to thrive where other hominids and hominins bit the dust. In Manhattan we hire our allomothers. Nursery school teachers, nannies and au pairs help us raise our kids and balance work and life. Here are some photos of alloparents and actual mothers schlepping their kids. In a walking city, we get very resourceful (and often, very fashionable) about how we cart our kids and their gear.

Enjoy the Fall in Manhattan/What We Do and How We Do It photo album! It's true I forgot to mention a ritual called School Phase In that mothers (and fathers) all over the country are going through right now. I wrote about it for though, so you can read it here. Also check out my last post on Fashion Week (#NYFW) directly below....