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Tips and trouble in Times Square



Published: Sun, April 14, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Todd Franko (Contact)


There is trouble in Gotham, and I can attest to it.

Amid our current worries of a North Korea nuclear attack and a seven-month winter has come this new worry:

Times Square is no longer the safe haven that Mayor Rudy Giuliani fought for.

It’s being taken down one cartoon character at a time by Cookie Monster, Super Mario and Elmo. I, too, had my own run-in — albeit with the much more formidable Batman.

Before my tale of woe, here’s the immediate issue:

Times Square in New York City is six square blocks of commercial madness. Amid the madness are entrepreneurs, many of them homeless people, per media reports, who dress up as pop- culture characters and try to make a few bucks posing for photos with tourists.

According to the New York Daily News: Their population exploded after police stopped fining them in 2011, the president of the Times Square Alliance, Tim Tompkins said.

Last week, Tompkins’ staff counted a whopping 52 of the costumed characters in Times Square.

It was also last week that Cookie Monster went mad.

Cookie — officially Osvaldo Quiroz-Lopez, 33 — was charged with assault, child endangerment and aggressive begging.

A Connecticut woman told police she got into a dispute with Cookie, who demanded $2 for posing with her 2-year-old son.

“He was using words that were really bad,” Parmita Kurada told the Associated Press.

Kurada said that when she told the Cookie Monster that her husband needed to get cash, the shaggy blue creature pushed the boy and began calling her and the child obscene names.

“It was very scary for us, and I was crying. I didn’t want to provoke him, so I said, ‘We’ll give you the money, but stop yelling!’” she said.

In previous incidents in the past seven months, a Super Mario was charged with groping a woman.

And an Elmo was booked for berating tourists with anti-Semitic slurs.

I could be to blame. At least for the latest one.

A month ago, I took on Batman.

I was in New York City. My maiden voyage in Manhattan, actually. And I was engulfed in the mood (which is code for drinking some really good merlot).

With that extra merlot kick in my step, we took to Times Square — which is bigger than the “Good Morning America” set makes you think. And brighter. I actually came back with a tan.

I had no idea of these characters, and the practice of tourist photos and tipping.

It’s probably good that my incident went south even before the tipping. I’m not a bad tipper (20 percent on food), but I slip on those services that should be tipped. (I tried to tip the cable guy once, but not the moving crew.)

As I navigated Times Square, I saw Batman posing with three tourists. They broke up as I passed, and I heard the words:

“Yo’ big man ...”

I ignored it.

“Yo, yo, yo ... Big guy, big guy ...”

I whipped around:

“Me?”

“Yes,” he said. “Photo with Batman?”

And he went into this instant, almost auto- muscle reflex posedown from “Karate Kid.”

(I mentioned the merlot, right?)

I looked at him, and I could not resist:

“Did you call me ‘Big Guy?’”

He continued: “Yeah — want a photo?” He was seducing me with poses. He must have done four in four seconds: Standing crane; paint the fence; wax on; sand the floor.

“I do not like that you called me ‘Big Guy,’” I said.

He froze.

Batman now posed like a sunken, dejected human being.

This is about the time the photo was taken by people from my trip.

They could not hear across the street. But by the body language, they knew something was up.

“I’m a little sensitive about my size. I don’t go around calling other people names reflecting their appearances.”

This might have struck a chord, as this Batman was an ethnic Batman.

There was silence for a couple of seconds that seemed like a couple of minutes as we looked at each other.

“Look man,” said Batman. “I’m only trying to hustle for tips. I meant nothing.”

I smiled, and said, “Me neither.”

And poof, Batman was gone, on to another group of tourists.

I guess, in hindsight, I’m glad I did not run into Cookie Monster that night.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. E-mail him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.


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