Barking at Tourists

by

06/29/2012

Neighborhood: Times Square

Barking at Tourists
Photo by Alan Kotok

“You guys like comedy?”

The young Armenian-looking couple stares straight ahead; their paces don’t slow as they walk past me.

“No? Ok, no problem,” I mutter to myself before taking a quick drag of my American Spirit. I spot a 30-something white guy in a pressed suit; not my normal demographic but he’s walking slowly so I think I might be able to engage him. “Hey man, you like comedy?”

“Do I look like a fucking tourist?” He quickens his pace with a scowl.

“No, you look like a fucking asshole,” I call after him, my breath misting in front of me. I stomp my feet to keep the blood flowing to my toes and scan the mass of people; always a wide variety to choose from in Times Square.

My manager placed me in front of the Marquis Theatre on Broadway and 46th this morning; the theme-song for “9 to 5: The Musical” is blasting on repeat out of the box office speakers. My shift is seven hours, presumably plenty of time to convince five to ten tourists or locals to cough up $20 each for a few tickets to the legendary comedy club, the Comic Strip.

Tourists from Canada are my specialty: I bond with them over hockey and tip them off to the Tim Horton’s that just opened on 42nd street. I don a face of warmth and trust and they almost always fork over the $20 for four tickets to the show. I also have a lot of luck with couples from Northern Europe, as long as I focus on the history and glamour of the Comic Strip, and convince them that it’s a “very New York experience.” My manager informed me early on that Asians will almost never buy these tickets — except every once in a while, you get what we call “The One”: an excited young Korean or Japanese tourist that will buy 20 or 30 tickets from you on the spot for the entire group they’re traveling with. It’s a dream I hold dear.

I spot a young Spanish dude with low, baggy jeans, an oversized puffy jacket and a Yankees cap slanted on his head a la Jay Z. A native New Yorker from the looks of him, and all alone to boot — I should have no trouble bagging this one. I gently stub out my half-finished cigarette on the sole of my shoe and place the remainder carefully in my coat pocket.

“Excuse me, sir, you got plans tonight?”

“I could free myself up for you, mamasita.” His eyes scan over my thick black scarf, maroon pea coat jacket, dark boot-cut jeans and sad, old running shoes. His tongue pokes out the side of his mouth.

“You wanna check out some live comedy? We got two guys from Comedy Central tonight; they’re supposed to be funny as hell.”

“Sure, mami. You buying?” At this point, he’s paused fully in front of me and I’ve engaged him in conversation. According to my manager, I should now be able to close this sale as long as I steer the conversation properly. What my manager didn’t mention, though, is that once they start hitting on you, it’s nearly impossible to get them to fork over the cash; they just don’t focus. Still, he’s only the third person that’s actually stopped for me so far today, and I haven’t made a single sale yet. I need to make at least 10 sales a day in order to cover my rent by this weekend; the job is 100% commission and my only source of income. I have to try.

“No, you are,” I smile at him. “For $20 you and three friends can catch the show tonight; these tickets are normally $20 each, so this is a serious deal. And if you’re nice I can throw in a coupon for a pitcher of beer at this sports bar in Hell’s Kitchen.”

He licks his cracked lips and rubs his hands together. “How ‘bout you let me buy you a beer, huh? Or some nice red wine?”

Man, this one’s laying it on thick. Throngs of potential sales are whirring by me; I need to either close this deal or move on, stat. “Aw, I don’t think my boyfriend would be too pleased with that,” I lie through what I hope is a calm smile. “But, these tickets are good for the entire year; so for 20 bucks, you could take one girl for some laughs this weekend, and still have two tickets left to take another girl out a month from now!”

“I’m more interested in what you’re doing this week–”

“Ok, forget it,” I snap, “I don’t have time for this.” I start to turn away, irritated and more than a little anxious; what if I can’t squeeze any cash out of these cheap bastards today? The thought is too sickening to harp on. I stop mid-turn and implore the would-be gangsta, “Can I at least bum a smoke?”

“Naw, mami, I don’t smoke. And you shouldn’t either, you know, you’ll mess up those pretty lungs…”

With a guttural sigh I spin on my heels and scan the crowd. While I attempt to calculate each individual’s predisposition towards live comedy and ability to part with a crisp twenty after a short pitch from a total stranger, I gingerly fish around in my pocket for my half-cigarette. I pull it out, ridiculously pleased that it hasn’t bent or broken at any point along its tight, white length. I clench the slightly damp filter between my lips and light it up again, inhaling deeply.

With a renewed (albeit temporary) calm, I hone in on a young, probably local black couple about a block away, heading towards me. My favorite demographic: they don’t mind if I smoke, for starters. And because they’re local, they know we’re legit; they understand the value they’re getting. I crack my neck from side to side, gearing up for what I’m sure will be my first sale of the day. I pray it’s not my last.

Alison Preece is a writer living in New York City. Her stories appear on Nerve.com and the Huffington Post. She is working on her first book. Follow her @APreeceNYC.

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