Here, the music provides much of the atmosphere. Rather than the pleasant strumming of most folk music, we have a bone-rattling bottle-neck guitar and a pair of honking horns. The sensation they create is one of jitteriness and surprise, fitting for a song about paranoia.
More correctly, paranoia blues. Which is to say, more than simply being paranoid, our speaker is upset about being paranoid, or upset about having to be paranoid, which it seems is a called-for reaction.
What is the evidence that paranoia is warranted? One piece is his "so-called friends," whom he believes are actually enemies. Another is the fact that he is sure he is going to get called aside at the airport for a personal search (we don't know if they did). And then, once, someone took his restaurant meal!
Clearly, evil forces are afoot, trying to "stick it to" him. Things seem to go awry when his "back is turned" or when he happens to "turn around." He cannot afford to avert his eyes even for one second.
Now, acting mistrustful is bound to get your friends talking behind your back and get your noticed for behaving suspiciously by airport security. And certainly, a busboy might have taken his turned back to mean he was done with his chow fon. And a reasonable person might be persuaded of these possibilities.
But none of these are truly the root cause of his anxiety. What is? "New York City." There, he is constantly being taken advantage of: "...they roll you for a nickel, and stick you for the extra dime." (Here, Simon plays off the cliche "being nickeled and dimed.")
Like "Papa Hobo," this song seems disenchanted with city life. But while that song was about business and government "getting one over on the little guy," here even the small-time shops like local restaurants or the average person you might befriend are also in on the con game.
While it might seem appropriate to compare this song to other songs about paranoia from Men at Work's "Who Can It Be Now" to Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me," a more accurate comparison is to Jim Croce's "New York's Not My Home"; "Don't you know that I gotta get outta here," Croce laments. Meanwhile, our speaker says: "I just got out in the nick of time."
This song is followed by a sprightly instrumental coda called Hobo's Blues. The lead instrument is the violin of jazz virtuoso Stéphane Grappelli, with Simon strumming accompaniment in the background. It is only on only a handful of instrumentals in Simon's catalog. Others include the solo guitar pieces Anji, by David Graham, and Simon Says, an early work.
Next Song: Congratulations