How to know everything there is to know

One thing that makes a New Yorker stand out from the crowd is their absolute stubborn refusal to accept that they could ever be wrong. You could be an undisputed world expert in a particularly obscure field of quantum physics, and yet you would still find a New York street cleaner who’d be more than happy to pick a quarrel with you regarding your chosen specialism. And don’t even think about chancing your arm in an argument with a New Yorker over a topic they think they might know something about. Like coffee, swearing, or honking your car horn when it’s least necessary.

The necessary adjunct is that if you’re never going to be wrong, then you need to know everything. Luckily New Yorkers aren’t shy in proclaiming their knowledge of anything and indeed everything. Google is good, but if you really need to get an answer, then you need a New Yorker. You may not get the right answer, but you’ll get it with a hell of a lot of conviction.

I’m lucky that – in the shape of The Special One (who has been resident in New York for around 20 years) – I live with the world’s leading expert on absolutely everything. It’s like living with a living breathing encyclopedia, albeit one that occasionally makes the kind of claims that make Wikipedia look like the font of all knowledge. There is literally nothing that she doesn’t know the answer to, whether it’s the identity of the 1946 FA Cup winners or the colour of the pants I’m wearing right now. And woe betide you if you dare even timidly question her belief that it was a) the Birmingham Raiders and b) neon pink.

Just occasionally though, it would be great if a New Yorker could put their hand up in the air and say “you know, maybe I am not the all-seeing one.”

On Saturday, I went to a local dry cleaners to pick up some clothes that had languished there for about five weeks; what can I say, I always like to test out their policy on how long they keep clothes. Anyway, as I walked in, a clearly frantic young woman was stood at the counter with a white silk Armani top laid out on the counter. The owner, a Chinese man who from previous experience has good but limited English, stood patiently as the woman pointed out some stains that had accidentally found their way onto the top.

Now, there are two things to say about these stains. Firstly, from where I was standing (which was pretty close), I couldn’t see even one. Secondly, there was not a single place on the blouse that she did not indicate had a stain on it. The owner looked on in disbelief as she urged him to place a ‘stain’ sticker on around forty seven different positions. According to her, the top was less ‘blouse’ and more ‘all over stain carrier’.

Having indicated all the stains, the desperate woman asked if there was any chance that the dry cleaning was going to make the stains any worse. Given that the entire top was apparently stained, I don’t know whether she thought that the dry cleaner was going to pour a gallon of crude oil on top of it, but that seems to be the only way that he could have made it worse.

Once the woman had finally accepted that the owner had at least seen all the stains, she then asked whether he thought that they would all come out. The owner insisted that they would.

“But why do you think they’ll come out?” she bleated.

“Because it’s the dry cleaning. All the stains will come out,” he insisted.

“But what makes you say that?”

“They’ll come out, I really think.”

“But what makes you think that they’ll come out?”

“The dry cleaning process will just get the stains out.”

“But what makes you say that?”

The woman turned to me, smiled awkwardly, and gave me the conspiratorial look that says something along the lines of “this guy just isn’t really getting what I’m saying, is he?”

Finally my indignation at her became too much, and I snapped “it’s because he’s the expert at dry cleaning, and you’re not.”

The woman turned back to the man, took her ticket, and stomped out. To be fair, she slammed the door like a complete expert.

15 thoughts on “How to know everything there is to know

  1. Brooklyn

    I know I may be acting out the NYC stereotype you describe but:

    Dylan: Are you sure the dry cleaner shop owner was Chinese? Typically, in NYC, Asian dry cleaner shop owners are Korean.

  2. Dylan

    Brooklyn – are you my wife under a pseudonym?!

    Yes, am fairly confident that I have managed to make a correct identification, but will check when I go back on Wednesday…

  3. Expat Mum

    This type of person drives me up the bloody wall. We have our fair share in Chicago, but they are obviously NYC transplants. Do they not realise how utterly anal they look? How do they sleep at night? Do they ever stop fussing? Oh, look. Now I’m doing it.

  4. Lisa

    “It’s like living with a living breathing encyclopedia..”

    I don’t know anyone like this.
    At all.
    His name is not Ian.


  5. Brit' Gal Sarah

    Oh your comments section truly despises me Dylan. Now it requires me to try and post 3 times and probably still won’t recgnise me as Okie Brit’ Gal –

    This whole little scene was like a vignette from the Devil Wears Prada, and makes me think this was someone elses Armani she had unwittingly stained LOL! Nice repost in defence of your dry cleaner.

  6. Brooklyn

    “Brooklyn – are you my wife under a pseudonym?!”

    Dylan: No.

    I don’t think I need to be psychic or even a know-it-all NY’er to guess that she made the same point. Am I right?


    As a matter of NYC small business/ethnic history as I have observed it, in the past, through the late ’50’s and early ’60’s, “wet wash” launderies were operated by Chinese. Thus, the now ethnically offensive (and happily defunct) “No tickee, no shirtee” cliche.

    Those type of launderies seem to have disappeared with the growth of laundromats and laundromats offering “drop off” service.

    Beginning in the ’70’s (I think, maybe later) Korean immigrants appeared to enter, and then dominate (in terms of numbers), the corner store dry cleaning business, following the pattern of Korean immigrant’s entry into and numerical domination of the corner green grocer/deli business.

  7. Josephine

    I’ve worked for a veterinarian originally from Yonkers, New York for the past thirty years.
    There isn’t one thing this man doesn’t know about any subject. Just ask him something, or don’t ask him, he’ll give his opinion anyway !
    He has a sign sitting on his desk, saying ” Be resonable do it MY way “….that sums him up completely, ” listen to me …do as I say, I know what I’m talking about”.

  8. Alasdair

    Brooklyn – since Dylan is a sassenach, I’m sure he knows how to orient himself around ethnicities properly …

    (innocent grin)

  9. fishwithoutbicycle

    You mean wikipedia isn’t the font of all knowledge!! Whoa, my world just turned on it’s axis.

    Dry cleaning isn’t a stain cure all – I say this as an almost know it all New Yorker and avid CSI viewer, because if the stains happen to be blood stains and you are a regular ol’ Patrick Bateman trying to avoid being caught by the fuzz then may I recommend cold water, because dry cleaning actually bakes blood stains into your clothes, that’s according to Grissom anyway!!

  10. Brooklyn

    No, no. You burn the clothes in a metal wastebasket and dump it and the ashes in the East River.

    Any murder worth doing is worth doing right.

  11. Dylan Post author

    Brooklyn, that’s always been my motto too. Although I prefer using the Hudson River for some reason. Oh, and The Special One didn’t make that point, but she absolutely agreed that it is something she would say. I think she was upset when she found out that you had made the point first…

    Josephine – sorry to hear that the knowledge of the New Yorker affects you on a day to day basis too. Every so often you have to categorically prove that they’re wrong just to puncture their astonishing self confidence. They won’t accept it in public, but deep down they go into self-flagellation mode for three weeks.

  12. Brooklyn

    Dylan: I think East River is the traditional NYC riparian dumping ground for mob hit victims.

    Also, is you dry cleaner Chinese or Korean? Did you ever check?

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