Stranger in a Strange Land

UrbanEye, a New York Times email newsletter, is meant to be a daily
aid in deciding “what to see, eat, do and wear in New York City.” It is
useful for the infrequent visitor to New York to know what he is
missing when he isn’t there. Since discovering the newsletter, I’ve
devoured the theater and art suggestions in particular, and made notes
in my Moleskine of what to see when I make my semi-annual sojourns.

I pay no attention, however, to the “what-to-wear” pretensions of
UrbanEye. Those sartorial suggestions are infrequent—and only implied
within the gallery, theater, and music listings. I should have perhaps
taken the hint, though, by the very fact that fashion is mentioned in
the “sell line” for the email sign up, that how you present yourself,
even when at leisure, is more important in New York than here. (I could
have also picked up that idea from my daughter, who was home from New
York for a few days during a school break recently and brushed off her
mother’s offer to pay for a haircut with, “Mom, I get my hair cut in
Manhattan.”)

This insensitivity to fashion is how I ended up at the Armory Show in
ill-fitting Nautica jeans from Costco and a faded hemp shirt I once
bought in Duluth because I was cold and had forgotten my jacket.

The Armory Show is an annual assemblage of art galleries from around
the world. Art is flown in from Tokyo, Vienna, Berlin, Paris, London,
Milan, Madrid, Tel Aviv, and San Francisco and displayed in one place
for New York collectors to be led around by experts and told what to
buy. (At least that’s what happens according to the Times, which ran a
recent front-page story about an arriviste collector from Florida who
required “introductions” to the galleries in order for them to allow
her to spend a quarter-million dollars of her money.)

As I walked around the show, I realized that I was indeed dressed as if
I had originally set off for a day in the swine barn at the Minnesota
State Fair and had somehow gotten off at LaGuardia Airport instead of
Larpenteur Avenue. As I browsed among stylish New York men in their
draped Italian suits or five-hundred-dollar jeans, and the
coiffed-and-coutured women on their arms, I unintentionally began to
focus my gaze more on the attendees in the halls than the art on the
walls. I pulled out my notebook and scrawled a reminder about my next
visit: “In NY, wear BLACK jeans.” As I closed the book, I looked up and
saw coming toward me an attenuated young man in pegged black jeans and
a skin-tight black silk turtleneck. Setting off his wardrobe were his
goatee and fringed hair—both of which had been bleached to a degree of
whiteness only dreamt of by Gwen Stefani—and a set of platinum dog tags
which seemed to mark him as a brand-new second lieutenant in some fey
ninja army.

I opened the notebook again and added, “Put The Devil Wears Prada on Netflix list.”