WASHINGTON -- I'm on the phone with Cindy Adams, octogenarian gossip columnist for the New York Post. Cindy graciously agreed to talk to me to discuss her recent column describing Washington as a filthy-dirty, disreputable city.
Oh, wait. I'm not on the phone with her, because she declined to be interviewed. She wouldn't even take my call. So I couldn't ask her about her column titled "Nation's crap-ital" in which she recounts a recent drive into the city and claims to have encountered neighborhoods that were "smelly," "murky," "putrid" and "vile." "The area's a sewer," she wrote.
So, alas, no interview. All I have are the questions I was going to ask her. Here they are:
I mean no disrespect, Cindy, and please don't take this the wrong way, but might you have accidentally gotten off at Philadelphia and not realized it?
I ask this because I was born in New York City and lived there for exactly 22 years, and have lived in the District of Columbia now for exactly 22 years, making me something of an authority on the two cities' comparative virtues. To me, a New Yorker complaining that Washington is dirty is kind of like a cockroach complaining that a kitten is disgusting.
Cindy, I make fun of Washington all the time, but I do it because it is the opposite of dirty. It's as though we took a city and surgically removed all the grit. Washington is spit-shined. People are annoyingly polite and genteel. Nobody jaywalks. The homeless wear spats. You can eat off the sidewalk; indeed, many fine restaurants encourage it. Whereas -- and I mean no disrespect to your city -- New York smells of stale pee, with a fresh pee chaser.
New York sidewalks are famously filled with "oysters," which is a New York expression that so far as I know exists nowhere else; nor does the colloquial verb "hock" because nowhere else are ambient street loogies -- "oysters" -- so flagrantly hocked.
Travel and Leisure magazine recently called New York the dirtiest city in the country. Washington was a distant, pristine 12th. I note that New York's infrastructure is now literally made of garbage: The Daily News has coined the term "trash towers" to describe those ubiquitous railroad overpass trellises that have been packed with pedestrians' litter from ground level to the height of a basketball dunk.
Recent news stories reveal that rats swarm your subways to the point that the city has eliminated subway trash baskets in the hopes the rats would go elsewhere for their nourishment -- only they didn't, they just hunkered down in greater numbers to feast on the junk people instead threw onto the railbeds, because, really, without garbage pails, what else would a New Yorker do with his chicken bone?
Cindy, I ask you: What did you see here? How did you drive in?
The consensus among bewildered Washingtonians I've spoken with is that you probably took Route 50 and got off on New York Avenue, which is not particularly elegant. But it's also not a fair way of assessing the place. It's like looking only at the veiny viscera under Scarlett Johansson's tongue, and concluding she's hideous. It's like reviewing a restaurant by foraging from the dumpster out back. It's like reviewing a fashion show while on your back on the floor next to the runway, and concluding the models were showing too much thigh. It's like dismissing a columnist as a clueless crank based only on one column she wrote, which would be unfair, so I've read several.
You see what I am saying, Cindy? Maybe I'm wrong, but I think your column on Washington was a lazy, silly, stupid thing. We really should discuss it. Give me a call. I won't take it.
Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten(at)washpost.com. Chat with him online on Tuesday, March 26, at noon Eastern at www.washingtonpost.com.Copyright 2013 Washington Post Writers Group