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buying new york
By Dennis Batchelder 9 April 2005

This morning, Irina and I decided to walk the forty blocks from our downtown hotel to Penn Station. Along the way we were tempted by all kinds of goodies for sale on the streets of Manhattan.

We started at the WTC site, where big signs proclaimed "to preserve the dignity of this location, please do not buy anything from street vendors". When a guy came by with "you wanna buy some pictures and souveniers?", and I pointed to the sign, he said, "that sign is a fake, man".

We headed into Chinatown. Women walked up to us, pulling watches from their pockets. Men shoved picture catalogs of "hot purses" under our noses. Tables on the sidewalks were overflowing with fruit and vegetables and fish and mushrooms.

I bought some Chinese coins - six for two dollars. I have no idea what kind of coins they are, but they look cool, and besides, I saw more of them for sale later at a buck each, so they must have been worth it.

One lady had a big box of DVDs. Casting furtive glances over her shoulders, she whispered "four dollar each, and three for ten dollar". How could we resist? We bought seven movies for eighteen dollars. The latest movies, too. What a deal!

Another lady in Chinatown asked us, "you like that flying pig? Come inside for more". But when a policeman walked up behind me and said to her, "excuse me, I'm from the fifth precinct, can we talk?", she shook her head. He asked, "do you speak English?", and she shook her head. "Of course you don't", he said, and walked back to his cruiser. "You still want the flying pig?" she asked us once he was gone.

Up in Little Italy, most street vendors were hawking ties and scarves and handbags. Next was Noho - this was mostly clothes. Nobody was pushy here - and there weren't any crowds.

We stopped at the Strand, where we bought five used books for two bucks. Back outside, a guy with a lilting Irish voice was selling clear consciences. "Give your change to the homeless. Just a dime would help - yes ladies and gentlemen, the price of a stick of chewing gum. Instead of buying your stick of gum today, donate that dime to help the homeless".

The last area was a black neighborhood. One table was covered with necklaces. "Yo, stolen gold here. Five bucks each necklace. Stolen gold - who cares if it's stolen? You can't beat five bucks for stolen gold". That table had a big crowd around it.

DVD vendors here were selling the same movies we bought from the Chinese lady, but these guys were saying, "five dollars each, and five for twenty". We felt pretty smug with the deal we got. But maybe it was the extra selections that commanded the increase: porn with titles like "Black Booty Call", "Chocolate Kisses", and "Big Bad Black Asses".

We got on the train, fired up the laptop, inserted one of the DVDs, and it was just like being in the theatre - complete with a guy's head blocking the bottom part of the screen, and the audience laughing. Somebody had sat through the movie, taped it, and made the DVD. We had the privilege to watch the movie through their eyes. Every time they moved, the screen tilted. The head in front of the camera moved around, and we couldn't shift for a better view. At one point, the camera fell, and we saw the arrest scene sideways. What a treat. To top it off, the movie stopped 90 minutes into it, and we missed the ending.

Irina asked what lesson I learned from our wasted DVD purchase. I said, "next time we should only buy the porn, and we won't care how it ends".

buying new york - usa