NEW YORK - Pollsters asked New Yorkers if they agreed with this statement: ``To live in New York, people need to be a little crazy.'' More than half gave the only sane response - yes.
In the poll commissioned by Time magazine, 52 percent adjusted their straitjackets and agreed that life here is indeed easier for the slightly daft.
There is no evidence that most residents of Phoenix or Atlanta have ever claimed that insanity enhances life in their communities. Do New Yorkers really see themselves as teeth-grinding, neck-bulging, fist-pounding loonies? Is the nation's largest city also its craziest?
Elliot Wineburg, a professor of clinical psychology at Mount Sinai Hospital and an expert on urban stress, was not persuaded.
``People like to go along with legends. They're admitting to a proud sort of craziness,'' he said.
Wineburg said many New Yorkers lay claim not to psychosis, but to the fanatic's mania: for opera, stocks, sculpture or basketball, all of which the city has in unrivaled abundance.
But he conceded that the city probably has a disproportionate number of stress-related conditions such as headaches, high blood pressure and ringing ears. Also, an awful lot of people seem to talk to themselves while walking down Fifth Avenue.
This all may be linked to population density. The country as a whole has about 63 people per square mile; San Francisco, the second-densest city, has 14,000 per mile. New York City, on the other hand, has 23,000 residents per square mile, not including commuters, and Manhattan a whopping 58,000.
Also New Yorkers are packed into an environment of bursting water pipes, runaway cabs, late subway trains, crumbling bridges and narrow sidewalks.
And they are in far more danger than most Americans. Forget the comparisons to contemporary Detroit or turn-of-the-century Dodge City; there is no spot on the planet where more middle-class people run a higher risk of being robbed at gunpoint.
Fordham University sociologist Marc Miringoff has compiled an ``Index of Social Health'' for the city based on factors such as crime, drug abuse, unemployment and school attendance. Since 1974 the index has declined from 75, on a scale of 100, to 44.
``You can see this pathology in the street, and it affects you,'' he said. ``It makes you feel as if you want to run.''
``A big problem is that many people feel they can't control this environment,'' Wineburg said. ``When you commute over a bridge every day and you find out it's going to be under construction for two years, that's very upsetting.''
``When your car is stolen and it turns out a traffic officer did it, that's very upsetting.''
Although the stress of the city may not cause mental illness, Wineburg said, ``It can be the straw that breaks the camel's back.''
His advice to the stressed: leave early if you're always late; find someone with whom to share your urban horror stories; learn not to internalize tension; reward yourself at the end of the day or week; see a doctor.
Many New Yorkers will tell you New Yorkers aren't crazy, just different. Humorist Calvin Trillin, a 30-year resident, says that if a 300-pound man costumed as Eleanor of Aquitaine walked onto a bus carrying an attache case and a rib roast, the other passengers might glance up for a second.
Then, he says, ``They'd go back to their tabloids.''