Food Feature: Vend for yourself

How to make out in New York City like a cheap slut

In the big city it's the little things that count.

New York City is a city full of wonder. Like people wondering, "Is that bum going to kill me?" Yes, but not if you give him your pants. You shouldn't have worn that cowboy hat and the flame embossed leather chaps anyway, Ms. So-Five-Minutes-a-Go-Go.

Yep, that's what visiting the city may take from you: your skewed fashion sense, an arm and a leg, maybe even your pants and the shirt off your back. It just doesn't have to be your best shirt. With some proper perspective you can better appreciate the little affordable wonders of the Big Apple.

Flying in to LaGuardia, Manhattan is laid out to your left like rows of toys. Most people would say the big city is nothing to toy with, but the New York of today is not the New York of 10 years ago. When I stepped from my cab, I found myself in Disneyland. My quick-on-the-draw cabbie had thought I said 42nd Street instead of 22nd Street, so I ended up near Times Square instead of Chelsea. But it wasn't the seedy, sex-stained Times Square of old. As I passed the ESPN Zone restaurant and Warner Bros. Store I almost gagged on the sterile smell in the air. Like a hospital, Times Square has become antiseptic, which, for me, is not copasetic.

Ducking in to the closest subway, I paused to catch my breath. Ah, there was the smell of the city, just barely distinguishable over the smell of feces. Sitting across from me was a man, I believe, who reeked of shit and felt the need to serenade the car with Diana Ross tunes in a ravaged falsetto. As he sang, he gummed potato chips, spitting out most of them when he got to the chorus. Which reminded me, I was hungry.

Getting out of the subway in the darling heart of Chelsea's brownstones, I made a beeline for the nearest corner, praying there was a vendor on it. Why I was so worried, I don't know; there's a vendor on every corner in New York. Right next to the guy selling real (yet oh-so-affordable) Rolex watches and Louis Vuitton bags.

Now, I could occupy you for hours with stories of the sheer pleasure I get out of New York's vendors and 24-hour groceries, from pretzels to hot dogs, egg creams to boiled peanuts. Visiting New York is like being utterly baked, like being stoned silly for a week, what with all the spotty, whirlwind memories and voracious appetite for snacks. I'd probably get fat if there wasn't so much walking involved.

Some people go to the big city for award-winning cuisine and expense-account hot spots. Me, I just want a Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia on a stick after a hard night on the town checking out NYC hip-hop at the sweltering Knitting Factory as fitness fools jog Broadway at midnight like they're being chased. Come to think of it ...

Indeed, there is nothing like starting your daily commute from Queens — where I stayed in beautiful Astoria, home to some fine Greek tavernas where old Greek men drink coffee at 2 a.m. — with an egg-and-bacon breakfast sandwich on a roll from a corner deli. Or walking in to an annoyingly arbitrarily houred SoHo boutique — only blocks from friends' David Bowie and Molly Ringwald sightings — with a big gauche pretzel, trailing salt. The line between high and low class is fun to blur, the one between real and surreal even more a treat to obliterate.

Yeah, that's what gets me off most in New York: contrast. Like the shocking contrast between the usual stale piss smell of New York transit and the fresh sea air when emerging on Coney Island. You expect to see sweaty, salty smelling indie rock bands like Guided By Voices, Superchunk and Quasi in the dark basements of the Bowery, not risking their studio tans at high noon. But the Saturday I was there, the transplanted hipsters did brave the sun to gather underneath the famous Cyclone roller coaster at the end of a street marked by a windswept papier-maché siren at a free Village Voice-sponsored event. My favorite memory of Coney Island, however? A Nathan's hotdog, of course.

So, I've regaled you with talk of hot dogs and hot spots. Do I have any cheap talk left? Well, I've still got tales of tail. That's right, the only thing I love more about New York City than the snack food is the eye candy. I love the ladies. There is no better place in the world to feast on cultural diversity than on long New York train rides. To my left, people make up and break up, and a crazy bum harasses couples. But to my right, gorgeous young Latino, Asian and you-name-it mixed ladies — as mouth-watering and exotic as any food — sit in haute style. I have to make sure I don't stare too hard, or let my third Popsicle of the day drip on my shirt. It's the little things that count.??

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