Randy Cohen

Looking out my bedroom window on this bright January morning, I see that the parking garage across the street has again deposited several cars on the sidewalk, using it as a kind of annex. Folks heading for work have to squeeze past the Toyotas. This is illegal, of course, as are many routine transactions of New York life, from running red lights to selling insurance to transit cops. B. told me that all the delivery men from all the Chinese restaurants bring you your food on stolen bicycles. Thieves sell bikes to restaurants at a price so low, their felonious origins are undeniable.

When I lived on 13th Street, there was a numbers parlor around the corner, halfheartedly disguised as a stationery store, with two packs of yellowing loose-leaf paper and a dozen Flair pens fanned out in the window. On summer days, the door was propped open; any passerby could see the counter shielded with heavy glass and the sign above it listing that day’s winning numbers. I knew about it. The neighborhood knew about it. Surely the police knew about it, but of course did nothing. Corruption or incompetence? Indifference, perhaps.

New York is not Lagos or Mexico City. I needn’t bribe the mailman to get my letters. But what I want to know is, when a firefighter genuinely risks his life to douse the flames at the fabulous apartment of a grotesquely rich man, does he slide a Rolex off the night table into his big black boot? I just want to understand how actual life differs from the official version.

New York is not Mexico City, but twice a year, we parents at the 96th Street school-bus stop collect money for Mr. R., the driver. “You have to give, or he’ll drop your kid in Times Square alone,” someone jokes. And it is a joke. New York is not Lagos, Mr. R. is a responsible man, and the money is a gift.

Picked up a flier at the Cinema Village for their Hong Kong Sexploitation series. Naked Killer sounds promising. “Kitty (Chingmy Yau) is a beautiful young woman painfully torn between heterosexual love and the heady kicks of blowing men away.” Fortunately, we live in a country where you needn’t choose between one and the other.

Apropos of movies, I thought there’d be a great script in the memoirs of Daniel Mendoza, the 18th-century Jewish boxer. Mendoza rises from street tough to become the first “scientific” fighter. Mendoza battles Richard Humphreys, his best friend, for the championship. Mendoza loses all his money and ends up a music-hall performer. Mendoza and his buddies get drunk and bust up a Purim party. I pitch the idea, but no one is buying. J., a development executive, explains: “It is a great story, and here are the three reasons no one will make it. It’s about boxing. It’s set in the 18th century. It’s about a Jew.” Well, yes. I should have seen that.