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  • New York Aphorisms
  • Sharon Dolin (bio)

New York aphorisms are mostly written in transit: the best way to stand still in the moment.

Why do we never tire of that old word new? Or the way all entrances (even this one) entrance?

How old am I? The oldest I’ve ever been, I used to answer when I was a child. Now that I’m middle-aged, I say, The youngest I will ever be.

In this city of commerce, how much more must there be a place for the gift.

The economy of the aphorism is the economy of the gift: like light flickering on the Hudson, a flash of momentary awareness. Less stamped with the personal—or, in my case, sometimes more so.

Today in biology I learned that two equals one. —High school student overheard on the subway. [End Page 103]

So much of New York life is bumping up against strangers and catching the overheard while feigning indifference.

Women with bangs are crazy. The shorter the bangs, the crazier. Believe me. —Man (with tattooed skulls ringing his upper arm) overheard at the Met’s Francis Bacon retrospective.

It is difficult to get all parts of the face to cooperate. —My comment to a friend after looking at 300 head shots he had taken of me. Only in New York would someone think nothing of quoting herself to herself.

Just like a New Yorker. When I look down and see the rounded tip of what might be a robin’s egg, I step on it first, crushing it entirely, before I bend down to make sure that it is.

On the wet tarmac in Riverside Park after the rain: a flattened, used condom: translucent urban jellyfish.

What kind of tree is that? asks my nine-year-old, in the Forever Wild section of Riverside Park. I tell him, It’s not a special kind of tree (an aspen, maybe). It’s a tree that’s been made special by all the woodpeckers, chipmunks, and insects that have bored holes into it.

Zipper: When you tug it open, it closes the gap between our teeth, the kiss of it when you pull it up. We’re sealed in a metal ripple of alternating you and me so that we almost can’t see the boundaries until you pull it down and then that’s all we do see. [End Page 104]

The gnomic, Cycladic figure on my desk continues to cast its uncanny light on the wooden loon, netsuke monkey, Egyptian gold lion—which was, after all, what I paid for.

In New Hampshire, it takes me more than a week to realize I don’t have to stay in my studio in the woods all day. A self-imposed exile that is almost identical to my New York one.

I’m Jewish, it’s kind of inborn. —Stranger on a subway platform, overheard on his cell phone.

If irony is hypocrisy with style, parody is love with attitude.

To be an aphorist is to use language like an inverted umbrella to gather up the minute downpour of thoughts instead of shielding oneself from them.

There was only one tiger, and then it vanished. —Woman overheard at the Bronx Zoo.

Tetchy is not the same as touchy. Tetchy is crabbier, with more teeth.

Beware of foul-weather more than fair-weather friends: those who, in their misery, practically feed off of yours, but who scatter as soon as you’re ready to get up and dance.

In a city rife with power and pecking order, you’ve got two choices: to be like a small, fierce dog who doesn’t know or care that he’s small when confronted [End Page 105] with a large dog, or to know one’s size and station and always be calculating whether to curse, cower, or fawn accordingly.

New York Cynic’s Ten Commandments Revised

  1. 1. Be your own god.

  2. 2. Have as many gods as possible before you: Money. Power. Fear. Sex. Self.

  3. 3. Desecrate the Sabbath. What Sabbath?

  4. 4. Spit on your parents.

  5. 5. Steal if you can get away with it. Even if you can’t.

  6. 6. Lie...


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pp. 103-113
Launched on MUSE
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