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Ah, New York in summer. Oh, New York in summer. Oh, no, New York in summer.

Like a boatload of Portuguese sailors, we arrive in New Amsterdam grimy and a little confused about how we got here. I think we came through Newark International, the modern traveler's version of stormy seas. With worse signage. And bathrooms you would never use.

But we're here; that's the important thing. Back to visit Posh's hometown. Like her, New Amsterdam is sophisticated, stubborn and very verbal. I could easily live here — for about a week, before my need of clean sidewalks and a decent fish taco got the best of me. But what a glorious week it would be.

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I'm rather easily impressed. I think mayonnaise is a miracle and cigars should be a food group. So imagine me in Manhattan, the emotional hub of "the world's greatest city." I find that designation to be an odd requiem.

"World's greatest city!" Meaning what? Wholly unmanageable and impossible to get around? The bigger the city, the more difficult it is. And New Amsterdam is no easy place, that's for sure.

Summer is never the best time to see a big city — Fifth Avenue is as clammy as Calcutta. Yet the sidewalks and tour buses are packed. Even the carriages in Central Park are busy, though the horses, like the locals here, don't smile much.

The subways have become brick ovens in the heat. Garbage is piled so high it could qualify as some sort of art installation. This time of year, even the cabbies are a little cranky.

Look, New York cabbies are a magnificent species, of that there is little argument. They have NASCAR reflexes and world-class anger issues. Next time we invade Iraq, we should just send in a thousand New York cabbies. For motivation, their commanders will tell them: "Hurry it up, OK? I'm very late." They respond well to that.

But they are not the only glory of New York. The waiters were almost Parisian in their dismissiveness, except for Skipper down at Battery Park, who couldn't have been nicer. I think that is this city's secret, that just when you're ready to give up on it, and society as a concept, someone goes out of his or her way in a memorable manner. That was Skipper.

To be sure, this is a remarkable city. Consider: They have these double-decker buses that seem to go nowhere whatsoever in the crush of a summer weekend, just sitting there waiting for the light to turn and the paint to blister.

We really struck gold with our bus. The tour guide didn't speak hardly a word of English, poor dude, and here he was stuck on Avenue of the Americas on a steamy Saturday with 100 surly customers. I'm including myself in that, because by now I'm mostly emitting staccato curse-bursts, sprinkled with bits of Irish folk songs — you know, the stuff you do just to keep sane as the world crumbles all around you.

"That's a green building on your left," the tour guide is saying, in a rare fit of something intelligible.

Posh is melting. "Really? A green building?" she asks while fanning herself with a sandal. "Are we being punked, or pranked or whatever it's called?"

The lovely and patient older daughter just laughs.

By now, the tour guide who doesn't speak hardly a word of English has launched into his interpretation of "New York, New York," prompting Posh to yank out both her ear buds and stare murderously at me, as if I personally hired the guy, when all I really did was insist that a double-decker bus was the very best way for us to see Manhattan on a warm summer day.

"You should've seen your faces when he started singing," the older daughter says with a giggle.

It's always nice to have kids along on a trip like this. They roll with things. A lousy $18 sandwich doesn't perturb them at all. Or four bucks for a doughnut.

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And to kids, Times Square isn't a monument to repulsive corporate branding — T-Mobile, American Eagle — it's a breathtaking garden of light, quite possibly the center of the universe, which it does seem to be on some nights, particularly if the universe is an anti-utopia full of creeps dressed like Darth Vader or Mickey Mouse.

"Hey, Mom, is 'margarita' Greek for something?" the little guy asks after a long day, having been tutored all summer on his Greek and Latin roots.

"Yes," she says. "'Margarita' is Greek for 'your father needs something slushy.'"

I love New York.

Next week: The greatest museum of all time.

Twitter: @erskinetimes

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