How to Survive the New York Asshole


March 16, 2011 by The Citron Review

by Rachel Hurn


Move to New York.

New York is where assholes live and where non-assholes go to become those people’s neighbors.

When you move into your new apartment you will spend an entire afternoon discussing with your neighbors where to store each individual tenant’s bicycle, which you have not yet acquired the money to buy. When you do buy a bike, and you store it at the bottom of the stairs, you will receive a note taped onto your brown, leather seat that says, “This is not what we discussed.” Don’t make friends with your neighbors.

Pedal to Williamsburg. Williamsburg is the town with all the hipsters. Ask the first person you see—a boy who is dressed like a 1930s train hopper, if this is the town with all the hipsters. Ask if he is a hipster. He will ignore you. Find a place to lock your bicycle—a street lamp, perhaps, or a signpost. Don’t be alarmed when you get back to your bike and your handlebars have been meddled with, are facing the wrong direction. While a blond child dressed in a hand knit, wool sweater watches you snap your wheel back into place, he will scream and cry and cough phlegm onto the pavement. Don’t look away when his parents notice your disgust.

If you don’t want to lose everything and become a homeless asshole, don’t carry cash. But when you do carry cash, only carry enough for a black cup of coffee—$1.50. Order decaf. Argue with the barista when they want to charge you $2.50 for a decaf Americano. Hold up the line (there is always a line). Tell them this is not what you would do if you owned a café. You would not charge people an extra dollar for ordering decaf. Thank the barista when she hands you your $1.50 decaf Americano.

Americanos are for assholes who get what they want and don’t say thank you. But you are trying not to be an asshole, remember? So thank the bus driver. Thank your grocery bagger. Thank the person in front of you for holding the door open to the gym, because, after a few visits it has become clear that gyms are chalk full of assholes. Shower in the locker room before getting in the pool. Only take two towels. Wear flip-flops. Lock up your tennis shoes. Sign in, and dip into the lane with a big “M” painted on the opposite wall—your speed—medium. Swim at a medium speed. Watch out for other swimmers. Don’t splash water or flail your arms. When the man behind you pulls on your leg, DON’T cause a scene by asking him what the hell his problem is because his answer will be, “I just wanted to pass you,” which you already should have known. Each time he taps your ankle after that, don’t let him pass.

Ah, you’re chugging right along now. You’ve completed your orientation into the Park Slope Food Coop. Scan your ID card each time you enter the store. WORK YOUR SHIFTS. Buy organic limes and bananas and free-trade coffee and vegan sushi. Also buy “minimally treated” New York State apples. Minimally treated is a stage below organic, where the food is treated with pesticides. They are cheaper, and you need that extra $1.50 for your decaf Americano. When your cashier repeats, with a hint of condescension, “These apples are ‘minimally treated,’” stare at her, with unwavering eyes, and pull out your wallet.

Say, out loud to your professor and fellow peers in your creative writing program, that you don’t agree with the author’s narrow-minded assessment of the race situation in downtown L.A.—a place where, the author writes, “only the Mexicans come to work.” Don’t state the obvious—that you are white. You are an educated, white female. You are an educated, white female from L.A. who does not work. Because if you do your professor will roll her eyes. Return the favor when you see her name listed with a quote, on the back cover of the book, claiming the author’s racial critique as “genius.”

“Genius” is not how you would describe the children who you teach part-time in the Lower East Side. Promising is a better word. Promising suggests hope. Give the students the names of your favorite authors. Give them all of your energy and your last year of good hearing. Give them four hours of every single day. When you feel you are reaching them, check your bag. They have stolen your phone. Find a higher paying job.

Decide you still believe in God. Decide you still believe in Jesus. Continue to attend church. Don’t look down on homosexuality. Don’t look down on Jews or Muslims. Go to dinner with the two other Christians in your school program, and when you tell them that you’ve been doing a lot of radical thinking lately, they will pull away from you in visible judgment, and ask, if you “still consider your self a Christian?” Don’t get upset. Don’t throw the pumpkin milkshake they have bought you onto the floor. Okay, get upset, but don’t throw the milkshake.

Milkshakes are for suckers. Drink beer. Get onto the subway—two beers in—with a guitar and a keyboard and your band mate, and arrive late to your show. Play hipster-music for a crowd full of hipster-kids. Try, with all your might, not to laugh when you realize this is the one time you have not been treated like an asshole.

Turn down every man who tries to sleep with you—this will be every man you meet. Don’t take it personally when, at a feminist poetry reading, one man sits so close to you his arm rubs up and down your thigh each time he bends down to “stretch.” When you raise your arm to ask a question, jab him in the neck.

New York is not like California. Move to New York and tell people, repeatedly, how much New York is not like California.


Rachel Hurn is currently earning her MFA in Creative Nonfiction at The New School in Manhattan. Since moving to New York, Rachel has been teaching creative writing to high school students in the Lower East Side, has learned how to get into the Met for free, and, to avoid writing, has joined a band. She lives in Brooklyn with her roommate and her organic limes.


5 thoughts on “How to Survive the New York Asshole

  1. New York for real people.
    This is not sugar coated, this is real.
    How to actually survive the move to New York…

    Facts and tips that are practical and useful!
    This is reality!

  2. Theo says:

    Honestly, most brilliant piece of writing I’ve read all month. New York IS full of skinny-jean wearing as*holes but I’m surprised at the $1.50 decaf Americano. Wow! Where do they sell coffee this cheap? Guessing it’s not Starbucks.

  3. Great essay! I moved to California for four years but came back. I keep telling my friends from there that nowhere else is like New York.

  4. T. O'Garra says:

    Brilliant! Laughed out loud so many times. I have never been to NY and now absolutely have to, just to play the how-not-to-become-an-asshole game. Keep em coming!

  5. pwlsax says:

    It’s a jumbly little piece of short takes and blunted points, the literary equivalent of the shaky-cam. The real message is that there is no surviving the New York asshole, because New York makes assholes of us all.

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