Crazy people

The panicked diner next to us pushed back from her table, stood up and whipped around to see who had snatched her jacket from the chair. We were seated outside a Spanish restaurant in Manhattan's West Village, enjoying the warmth of the New York evening. Among the jovial passers-by tripping along the sidewalk, an opportunistic thief had fled. But who? 

"Was it the goat?" suggested the waitress.

It wouldn't have been my first guess, to be honest. A discussion was had between staff and other diners and it was agreed that yes, a goat roaming the streets of the West Village was the likely culprit. It was a deduction of Holmesian proportions, no doubt aided by the generous quantities of Sangria that proceeded it.

20 minutes later, our group had settled up, left the restaurant and walked across to 7th Avenue, where we were confronted by one man and his goat, a scruffy brown kid with matted hair and no jacket to speak of.

"Why are you walking a goat around New York," I asked.

"I need the exercise," huffed the owner. Touché.

"But why do you own a goat?"

"You don't have pets in Britain?"

Wasted bums screaming and lurching through the streets before lunchtime, evangelists spreading the word from their kerbside pulpits - that's standard colour for a city of any size. New York really pushes the crazy boat out.

The previous day had offered irrefutable evidence of this. As I sank my teeth into a burger on 3rd Avenue, a young woman called Moira passed by the cafe window. One of the eight million people in New York I'd never met, and I knew her name. It wasn't her face I recognised, but her breasts and the fact that I could count the freckles on them. The 29 year-old activist had recently made headlines the world over for her topless strolls around the East Village, on the basis that men were allowed to do so and it wasn't against the law. So why not, eh? A local approached her and asked to take her photo, and topless Moira posed accordingly.

Then there was the man playing golf on a cleared lot in SoHo, smashing balls into the wall of the adjacent store. The person dancing on a Times Square street corner with a cardboard box on their head, a collection bucket in hand and a hand-scrawled sign slung around his neck that read "I AM THE WEED MAN. I NEED MONEY FOR WEED." The haggard and haunted pensioner wearing a fur coat and blue felt fedora, furiously snatching at passing motes of dust. The woman in the Bowery passed out on top of a distressed piano. The gentleman wearing a cat hat.

That's not an unusual day. That's New York. It's a city where people can reinvent themselves, be who they want to be and live their lives accordingly. A city where you can wear a box on your head, let it all hang out, take your pet goat for a stroll or wear a cat on your head. There are sights to be seen in NYC, but its people are an attraction in their own right.




"Twitchhiker – How One Man Travelled the World by Twitter" is Paul's book about his social media adventure around the world, published by Summersdale and available on Amazon.
Paul's next book, "Tales from the Edge of America" will be published in Autumn 2012. You can subscribe to the book's mailing list to find out more.