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New York Times Book of New York
Stories of the People, the Streets, and the Life of the City Past and Present
Edited by James Barron
Editorial coordination by Mitchel Levitas
Introduction by Anna Quindlen
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Format:ebook $14.99 $19.99 CAD
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More than 200 articles and an abundance of photographs, illustrations, maps, and graphs from the preeminent newspaper in the world take a look at the history and personality of the world’s most influential city. Read firsthand accounts of the subway opening in 1904 and the day the Metrocard was introduced; the fall of Tammany Hall and recurring corruption in city politics; the Son of Sam murders; jazz clubs in the 1920s and legendary performances at the Fillmore East; baseball’s Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier at Brooklyn’s storied Ebbets Field in 1947; the 1977 and 2004 blackouts; the openings and closings of the city’s most beloved restaurants; and much more. Not just a historical account, this is a fascinating, sometimes funny, and often moving look at how people in New York live, eat, travel, mourn, fight, love, and celebrate.
Organized by theme, the book includes original writings on all topics related to city life, including art, architecture, transportation, politics, neighborhoods, people, sports, business, food, and more. Includes articles from such well-known Times writers as Meyer Berger, Gay Talese, Anna Quindlen, Israel Shenker, Brooks Atkinson, Frank Rich, Ada Louise Huxtable, John Kieran, Russell Baker, and more. Special contributors who have written about New York for the Times include Paul Auster, Woody Allen, and E.B. White, among others.
Introduction by Anna Quindlen
Eight Million Stories: People
- Immigrants and City Workers
- Famous New Yorkers
- Entertainers, Artists and Writers
Take the A Train: Transportation
- Trolleys and Rail Stations
- Subways and Buses
- Bridges and Tunnels
- Taxis, Pedestrians and Cyclists
The Cityscape: Architecture & Parks
- Famous Buildings
- Tourist Attractions
- Mansions and Brownstones
- City Parks
Lullabies of Broadway: Arts & Leisure
- Museums and Public Art
- Musicals and Plays
- Opera and Music
- Nightlife, Film and TV
The Business of NY: Business
- Wall Street
- Real Estate
- Fashion, Publishing and Advertising
City Hall and Beyond: Politics & Government
- Tammany Hall
- Scandals and Corruption
Mean Streets: Crime
- The Infamous
- The Mob
- Riots and Robberies
- The NYPD
Victims and Heroes: Disaster
- Fires and Firefighters
- Plane Crashes and Construction
A Bite of the Big Apple: Food
- Pizza, Cheesecake and Bagels
- Street food and Vendors
- Ethnic Food and Markets
Damn Yankees: Sports
- Baseball and Football
- Basketball and Hockey
- Tennis and Boxing
All Around the Town: Neighborhoods
- The Bronx
- Staten Island
ONE SPRING AFTERNOON YEARS AGO I STOOD on a Manhattan corner peering at a street map, miming confusion. The experiment was part of a story; the point to count how many New Yorkers would stop to offer advice or assistance to what looked like a befuddled tourist. In an hour there were 21, unless you count the man in rags who bellowed “Gimme some change” and spit extravagantly at my feet when I ignored him.
New York City is everything people say it is, and everything they persist in believing it is not.
New York City is everything people say it is, and everything they persist in believing it is not. It’s passersby who look locked in a Lucite box of indifference, and those who will snap out of it in a second if you really seem to need help. It’s a city of faceless glass-and-steel monoliths and a village of single-family houses and volunteer school safety patrols. It’s places to eat where the tab defies belief, and corner falafel stands with a line down the street at lunchtime. It’s tough and it’s friendly and it’s terrifying and it’s homey. From the shores of Staten Island to the northernmost reaches of the Bronx, it’s more or less everything, sometimes all on the same block.
And because of that it can be the easiest city in the world in which to be a reporter and writer. For three years I wrote a column for the New York Times called About New York, which is perhaps the best gig in daily journalism—two columns a week about anything you want, anywhere in the five boroughs. When, occasionally, the ideas evaporated, when there was no firehouse closing or hot dog-eating contest to investigate, I knew exactly what to do. I rode the subway to a random stop—Rockaway Boulevard, Parkchester—and began to walk. (Once, when I was expecting my first child, a patrol car followed me around a dicey area of Brooklyn, because, the cops said, it would be a real mess if a pregnant reporter was mugged on their patch.) Trust me: within a 15-minute walk of any subway stop in New York there is a beauty salon with a proprietor who has stories to tell, or a community garden with volunteers who can’t wait to have someone notice their urban zucchini, or a playground with moms who have a bone to pick about the school system, or simply a bus stop with a sampling of New Yorkers. The benches along the boardwalk in Coney Island were my lodestone, filled with elderly men who knew the story of the city better than some historians; I had only to take a notebook and a pen from my bag, and the world, or at least a detailed and richly remembered part of it, was mine.
The pitfall for reporters is that there are as many clichés in the city as there are bodegas. Those elderly retirees, with their jaded view of the changing neighborhood and their mahjongg-playing wives, have long been staple of sitcoms and movies. Neon signs, crusty waiters, extravagant graffiti—it’s all been done. Luckily the city itself provides a fresh perspective because of its never-ending metamorphosis. The bench sitters of my youth have been replaced in some areas by a new incarnation—black instead of white, Baptist instead of Jewish, former bus drivers instead of print shop owners. New Yorkers are always remaking themselves, and New York, too. The elegant and iconic main building of the New York Public Library, with the pair of stone lions guarding the entrance, looks as though it has always been there. But in fact it was built on what was once a reservoir, the park behind it a battle site in 1776 and a Potter’s Field 50 years later. When I was a neophyte reporter that park was known mainly for drug deals and monster rats; today it is a beautifully manicured place to have a cup of coffee or a meal al fresco.
And yet even when New York changes there are some core principles that stay the same. New Yorkers are usually from somewhere else: Indiana, India. Washington Heights, once the destination of choice for displaced German Jewish families, is now the home to Dominicans looking for a new life. The funky downtown vibe of the Lower East Side has gotten an upwardly mobile gloss; there are limos idling in front of its restaurants now. Funky moved across the river, to the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, although there are people living there who will tell you that it’s already spoilt and the action is in Astoria, Queens. Live in New York City long enough, and someday you will pass an apartment building where you once rented a one-bedroom and discover it has become 24-karat cooperatives. Stay a little longer, and the area may become shabby, out of favor. Here is how old I am, and how fluid the city: I predate the very notion of a neighborhood called TriBeCa.
In a metaphysical feat, the more you know New York, the smaller it feels. Flying over it on the way to Kennedy or LaGuardia, the size of the sprawl is overwhelming, but at ground level it’s intimate. A borough becomes a neighborhood, a neighborhood a block, and a block a single family in a single apartment. Real New Yorkers know that they live in the biggest little small town in America, in which anonymity vies always with knowingness, and usually loses. Just because neighbors don’t acknowledge one another by name or even eye contact doesn’t mean they don’t acknowledge the fights they hear through the walls, the routines of leaving for work and arriving home, even the contents and timing of the grocery deliveries. We’re a laissez-faire tribe, perhaps because the city is so diverse. The street scene includes people in wheelchairs and people in drag, women in clown suits and women in Chanel suits. A subway car at rush hour often looks like a general assembly session at the United Nations.
It’s a city of strangers, as Stephen Sondheim wrote in one song; that’s our wildlife.
The only thing that seems to disconcert New Yorkers is nature, perhaps because we’ve usurped it so with macadam. It’s why a coyote that has wandered down into the Bronx, the occasional pet boa let loose in the plumbing, a pair of nesting hawks in Central park, all make for a surefire story. I’ve covered New York since I was 19, and the only day I was truly speechless was the morning several years ago when I came around a midtown corner just after dawn and saw three camels and a donkey standing in the street. They were participants in the Christmas pageant at Radio City Music Hall, out for some air.
It’s a city of strangers, as Stephen Sondheim wrote in one song; that’s our wildlife. And it’s not the exotica that is really the backbone of the place, the naked cowboys, the sunglass-wearing celebs. New York belongs to the ordinary Joe, not the mayors or the millionaires. Its newspapers write plenty about politics and sports, but it’s when the shortstops and the Senators can be seen as little guys—or cut down to size—that New Yorkers are happiest with them. Otherwise it’s the working man and woman who make the town, the executive secretaries, the cab drivers, the track workers in the subway, the cops in the police car. New York likes rich people best when they get that way by winning the lottery, or are discovered to have money after years of living in a walk-up with cats and clipped coupons.
The stereotype is that we’re hard and cold, and there’s no question that loneliness is an omnipresent specter even though company is all around. New Yorkers have learned to mind their business, but they’ve also gotten good at knowing when their business extends further than the zone of privacy circumscribed by their shoulders and elbows. Witness those 21 who helped me with directions so many years ago, or those thousands who helped one another on September 11, 2001. The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center is known as our great tragedy, but it is also a day that illuminated what New York City truly is, not just because of the diversity of those who died and those who responded, but because of the empathy and connection that enshrouded its streets more indelibly than the dust of destruction. New Yorkers turned inwards to the small communities that make up this largest of American cities. We packed sandwiches and brought dog food for the firehouse in the neighborhood, stood outside and talked among ourselves as evening fell and the sky in lower Manhattan was lit with a hellish red-gold glow. One old man said he recognized the smell of the smoke, and it turned out afterwards that he was a survivor of a concentration camp. One young man trudged past our house every night smudged and slump-shouldered, and it turned out he was a firefighter digging in the ruins for his co-workers.
We were frightened, and we were heartsick, but we knew that the city would prevail because that is what it does. Once it was a wilderness of hills and streams, with the Dutch huddled at one end behind the wall that would become Wall Street. Someday it will be something else entirely. Those of us who write will try to pin it down with our pens, and sometimes we will tell it true and even make it fresh. But we will never get it all. There will always be new immigrants, new neighborhoods, new businesses, new restaurants, new street chic, new night terrors. Like the strata of the earth beneath the concrete, there will be new layers of New York over time, and newcomers who try to tell its story as, evanescent, its story changes.
Eight Million Stories
There are eight million stories in the naked city. In this chapter there are 48 of them.
The larger-than-life characters who strut across these pages are a singularly New York bunch: by turns charismatic, idiosyncratic and pragmatic. All the other things that non-New Yorkers say about New Yorkers are probably true, too: New Yorkers are contentious and cantankerous, aggressive and aggravating, tasteful or tasteless, thoughtful or thought-provoking or thoughtless. It’s a big city. You don’t have to look far to find someone who fits the description.
New Yorkers are accustomed to the city’s bigness—the density, the relentlessness, the tabloid headlines, the extra zeroes in their paychecks and their bank accounts. New York has been the world’s largest city since before most of them were born—New York stole the title from London in 1898, when five counties and a jumble of small municipalities on either side of the East River joined together.
The historian Kenneth T. Jackson maintains that there are ten ways that New Yorkers are different from people in every other city. Number One on his list is tempo. New Yorkers really do walk faster, work longer, eat later and, as he put it, “compete harder” than people in other cities. Certainly there are empirical measurements on the first three. You disagree about the fourth? Well, let’s step outside and settle it. For his part the Tennessee-born Jackson, who still has something of a Southern drawl despite nearly forty years at Columbia University, even says that New Yorkers have been talking faster since at least the eighteenth century. Jackson quotes one colonial-era Bostonian who complained that New Yorkers “talk very loud, very fast and altogether. If they ask you a question, before you can utter three words of your answer, they will break out on you again and talk away.”
So New York was the magnet for fast talkers and fast-money types, for movie stars and sports legends, for tycoons and heiresses and self-made everybodies. New York drew in the socialite philanthropist Brooke Astor and the rap star Biggie Smalls, the basketball star Kareem Abdul Jabbar and the artist Jean Michel Basquiat. It was home base for Phil Rizzuto, who needed no introduction at Yankee Stadium, and for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who needed no introduction, period.
The people who make New York what it is are not all household names, though. There is the man who writes the weather forecasts for the National Weather Service, so when the radio announcer promises traffic and weather together every ten minutes, there is a forecast to read. Or there is the taxi driver who owned the last Checker cab—a big ride, like New York itself. That cab was more of a New York taxi than the rather conventional one that carried Audrey Hepburn up Fifth Avenue in the opening scene of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
But if there are eight million stories in the naked city, consider three who made the line about the eight million stories famous: the man who wrote the gritty short story “The Naked City,” the screenwriter who worked with him to turn it into a no-nonsense movie and the producer who read the famous closing line into a microphone off camera: “There are eight million people in the naked city. This has been one of them.”
The short-story author was Malvin Wald, who set out to portray “a hard-working police detective, like the ones I knew in Brooklyn.” He found his inspiration, and the words “the naked city,” in a book showing crime-scene coverage by the famous tabloid photographer known as Weegee. He wrote the screenplay with Albert Maltz, who was jailed in 1950 after being blacklisted as one of the “Hollywood Ten.”
The producer was Mark Hellinger, a newspaper columnist-turned-movie maker for whom “the Mark Hellinger”—a Broadway theater—was named. Hellinger had been a hard-driving, hard-drinking reporter. Who pounded out staccato sentence fragments like this. Who lived in a world of shady characters. Who competed against Walter Winchell and Damon Runyon. And who went to Hollywood in the 1940s, but never forgot that he was a New Yorker. “Hellinger’s personal romance with the City of New York,” wrote Times movie critic Bosley Crowther when “The Naked City” was released in 1948, “was one of the most ecstatic love affairs of the modern day—at least, to his host of friends and readers who are skeptics regarding l’amour.” Crowther said that Hellinger fell for Manhattan “in a blissfully uninhibited way.” Crowther said “The Naked City” was “a virtual Hellinger column on film. It is a rambling, romantic picture-story based on a composite New York episode.” And what other kind of New York episode is there but rambling and romantic?
Portrait of the New Yorker
Believe some of our national legislators, and New York City is populated by scheming international bankers. Believe some of our movies, and it is a city of sinful penthouses. And judging from sounds which go to the uttermost parts of the earth from radio broadcasting studios, New Yorkers must be a race of crooners, tuba players and night-club patrons. What, then, is the average New Yorker like?
FOR THE PURPOSE OF ARRIVING AT THE “average” New Yorker engaged in leading his average life, we might imagine seven million people run through the wrong end of a telescope so that they suffer a numerical shrinkage in the proportion of 7,000 to 1. This particular ratio is suggested because it will give us the convenient number 1,000 for the total population of our sample New York.
In this miniature New York, two policemen patrol the streets, direct traffic and arraign prisoners in court; they are two-thirds of our entire municipal police force, the other man being off duty. Our two policemen on their rounds are likely to stop for a moment to exchange news with the city fireman at work on the nickel trimmings of his engine. That fireman is our entire municipal firefighting force.
Around the corner from the firehouse is a schoolhouse—the only one in our town of 1,000 souls and more than enough to accommodate the second largest group in the city’s population, the boys and girls of school age, now in due attendance. There are 185 of them all told. Elsewhere in our microcosm, this is what we see:
- 60 white-collar workers in office, factory and store;
- 60 men and women selling goods over the counter, of whom 25 are retailers on their own account and 35 are employees;
- 50 men and women sewing clothes, shirts, boots and shoes, hats and pocketbooks—everything that men, women and children wear or carry for need or decoration;
- 45 laborers;
- 30 ironworkers, masons, carpenters and plumbers building houses and office buildings;
- 25 chauffeurs;
- 15 machinists and engineers;
- 20 stenographers taking dictation;
- 10 waiters getting ready to serve lunch in the restaurants and hotels;
- 5 bakers providing the bread;
- 15 printers and publishers turning out the reading matter to be bought during the lunch period and later;
- 3 bankers and brokers exercising a firm control, according to report, over the lives and fortunes of the other 997 of us;
- 3 elevator runners in the business buildings and apartments;
- 1 foreman.
Starting Salaries But Gotham Tastes
LAURA WERKHEISER KNEW SHE WOULD HAVE to make many sacrifices to live in Manhattan. Foremost among them was shopping for clothes.
Anticipating, rightly, that her Manhattan digs would be cramped and her budget stretched, Ms. Werkheiser, 26, shipped 18 boxes of her clothes to her parents’ house in Omaha before moving here from San Francisco. When she feels she needs to freshen up her look, she has her mother ship her several outfits from what she dryly refers to as the “Nebraska boutique.”
“If I shop,” she said, “I can’t have a social life and I can’t eat.”
Having one’s mother mail rotating boxes of old clothing is just one of the myriad ways that young newcomers to the city of a certain income—that is, those who are neither investment bankers nor being floated by their parents—manage to live the kind of lives they want in New York. They are high on ambition, meager of budget and endlessly creative when it comes to making ends meet.
Some tactics have long been chronicled: sharing tiny apartments with strangers, for example. But there are smaller measures, no less ingenious, that round out the lifestyle: sneaking flasks of vodka into bars, flirting your way into clubs, subletting your walk-in closets, putting off haircuts.
Drinking and eating carry their own complications. Especially if you are, say, Noah Driscoll, a 25-year-old project manager for a Chelsea marketing company whose salary is comparable to what a rookie teacher might make.
“For a little while I only ate grape-fruits for my lunch,” said Mr. Driscoll, who pays $400 a month on his college loans, “because they have a lot of nutrients and they got me through the day.”
He has since started packing two peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for lunch. Dinner might be two baked potatoes. On a good night, he might spend up to $6.
“To live like a human being on the salary that I make is very difficult in this city,” he said. “You’ve got to forget about, you know, what your mom made you growing up, and take what’s out there.”
Blimey! Locals to the Manners Born
IT WAS ROBERT BURNS WHO NOTED WHAT A remarkable gift it would be to see ourselves as others see us. As a Londoner who has just spent over a year living in New York but who is now safely back in England, I’m in a good position to bestow a gift of this nature on New Yorkers. With due warning, then, that something well meant but vaguely unpleasant is coming, I now have to deliver a huge blow to the pride New Yorkers take in being rude and feisty, and that is to tell you that in comparison to Londoners, you come across as exceptionally polite and extremely well behaved.
Arriving in New York after 12 years of living in London, I was bowled over by the good will, pleasant manners and overall graciousness of Manhattanites. It was like finding oneself suddenly in the middle of a courtly but particularly good-natured Japanese tea ceremony, and I spent the first few weeks learning to replace my rude London ways with the cheerful, charming courtesies of New Yorkers: holding doors open, not cutting in line, saying “thank you” and generally trying not to behave like a savage at a cocktail party, throwing punches to get to the canapes.
I had to adjust rapidly to a world where people smile breezily on the street (although they laugh less), hold the elevator and say, “Have a nice day.” And mean it.
Some of this can be ascribed to the fact that Manhattan, unlike London, has a culture of tipping waiters and bartenders; very little in life is as sure to put a smile on someone’s face as the prospect of money.
But New Yorkers’ good nature goes beyond that. This wasn’t just an impression formed during a dewy-eyed honeymoon period in my new home. A succession of visitors from the old country agreed with me: New Yorkers are, well, nicer.
IMMIGRANTS AND CITY WORKERS
A Great-Great-Great-Great Day For Annie and Her Heirs
FOUR GENERATIONS OF DESCENDANTS OF Annie Moore Schayer, the first immigrant to be processed on Ellis Island, gathered for the first time to celebrate her rediscovery—and their own—and to raise money for a headstone for her unmarked grave in Calvary Cemetery in Queens.
- On Sale
- May 20, 2009
- Page Count
- 463 pages
- Black Dog & Leventhal