Leditor to the Editor, redux

This post is the second response to a Leditor to the Editor from one Rebecca L. of New York. So flush was I with material, I deigned (sometimes I deign) to give her two, totally different, replies.

As I’m sure you recall, Ms. L. was concerned about a recent attempt to do good that went awry. You can read the full letter (and originaly reply) here, but it's not necessary. Basically, she wrote that she wanted to know what to do, the next time her inner do-gooder told her to help a vagrant on the subway (it didn’t work out so well last time).

And so, without further ado, I give you, Response Redux. Enjoy.

Dear Rebecca,

You must be new to the city.

And as such, let me be the first to say, “Welcome”, and that your concerns about any “homeless” or “vagrant” problem here are unwarranted. And that is for the simple reason that New York City has no such problem and enjoys 100% employment and has for some time.

No, what you undoubtedly saw was an ACTOR, Stanislavsking it, for the next time one of the city's 87 billion "Law & Order"'s holds Crack Addict auditions. These are highly competitive roles and require hours upon hours of research. And, because half of the city’s economy is derived from the Dick Wolf empire, the city graciously allows them to perfect their craft on our streets and in our subways.

In fact, their devotion to their craft serves a duel role: as a hedge against the city’s increasing Disney-fication. City officials have long known that the chief draw of New York, particularly for domestic tourists, is the city’s image as gritty and uncompromising. And your average New York tourist – the kind who once paid an arm and a leg to see a bunch of damn “Cats” – likes coming here so that he can feel a little tough.

But without these actors, and without this carefully cultivated sense of danger, we’re in danger of losing tourist dollars to places like Newark and Baltimore. And if that happens, then what, I ask you, is the difference between us and Branson, Missouri?

Hopefully, that answers your question. However, left unanswered is how to rectify the situation. After all, what you did was disturb a trained actor, deep in his role, possibly throwing him off his game -- and with it, the entire New York City economy.

If he's to be any good – and this city, No. 1 -- then he has to live the role. But how can you expect him to become a crack addict for the camera if someone does something so out of character as to help a vagrant? That's not part of the real-life experience of your average homeless person. What you did was tantamount to walking up on stage, mid-performance, and asking Mercutio if he’s got any Milk Duds.

From the sound of your letter, it appears he was practicing for the “Law & Order” role of "Victim, Crack Addict". It's not the highest profile part -- that would be "Defendant, Crack Addict" -- but it's a part, and actors can't be choosers. (Incidentally, "Defendant, Crack Addict" isn't, forgive the pun, all it's cracked up to be: It may be the more compensatory of the roles, but episodes where the defendent is a crack addict generally turn out to be legal bullshit episodes where the show delves into the crevices of, say, search and seizure law: the biggest couch with the most pennies of any field of law. And therefore, it’s a showcase for whomever is playing the crack addict’s lawyer (usually Eric Bogosian)

Your question, then, isn't What You Should Have Done, but, rather, What You Should Do Now. The kneejerk response is to go back and say you're sorry and that you understand he's an actor. But apologizing to him is no different than helping him: It addresses him out of character.

What you should do is return to the scene of your transgression and address him as the average person might. For instance:

  • Point at him and laugh as you pass
  • In fact, I would suggest you stand there and loudly make jokes about him, in front of his face.
  • Make a big "P.U." face to let him know that you think he stinks
  • The classics are also a good way to go: Tell him to get off welfare and get a job

But, whatever you do, the important part is to make a big to-do about it -- this is an actor after all, so it needs to be a big production. And, don't worry about other passersby who yell at you to stop or say "That's cruel!" and that "You should be ashamed of yourself!": They're actors, too. So, they'll know exactly what you're doing. And they're going to want to tell you that you're doing a good job but, because they don't want to break the fourth wall either, will address you in character, as someone who's an asshole.

And that goes for any police who show up; the lawyers who inevitably get involved; the significant other who leaves you because you're just not the person they thought you were: These are all actors, all playing roles so that when the world watches “Law & Order” (or its spin-offs), they see what the professionals in the field call "verisimilitude". And THAT is what makes families, year after year, decide to see for themselves some of the eight million stories in the Naked City (and, in the process, spend assloads upon shitloads of money).

Hopefully, this in some small way helps.

I thank you for your letter and hope you keep reading.


PS. Think of it this way: New York City is essentially one big "Westworld". Fortunately, we get to be Yul Brynner. They're stuck being Richard Benjamin.
PPS. Incidentally, an assload is worth two shitloads, which itself is worth four fuckloads. Buttloads you can forget about, as they're metric.

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