What possessed me, in my early 20s, to give up Southern California and live in New York City (from ’63 – ’72)? Looking back it was because New York was and is a ‘great city.’ There are five such places (according to an essay in TIME): Tokyo, Hong Kong, Paris, London, and N.Y. They are ‘great’ because of:
– A great diversity.
– An unregimented, effervescent vitality by day and night.
– Being the headquarters of major activities.
– A large leisure class to pay for the cultural life.
– A great tolerance and permissiveness.
– An impressive physical setting ? which isn’t necessarily attractive.
– Being loved and hated to extremes by inhabitants and outsiders.
– Characteristics that make their citizens different from the rest of the country.
In Manhattan (the main part), I found:
– The Columbia area
Colleges, hospitals, headquarters many Protestant agencies, Riverside Church, St. John the Divine. Once exclusive, this neighborhood was surrounded by slums.
– Greenwich Village
A bohemian quarter of foreign movie houses, off-Broadway theatre, older, quaint, streets … nonconformity, agnosticism, searching, expounding … coats doubled as sleeping bags … off beat bookstores, coffee houses, ideas and … hair ? lots of it – matted, unkempt, defiant, careless. The outlook was different. The people laughed at different parts of a movie than mainstream people laughed at.
– The lower east side
Traditional area for immigrants. Colorful, often depressing . . . old tenements, new housing projects . . . graffiti, bongo drums, old typewriters with foreign characters, sweet potato pie, cuchifritos, vegetable markets on the street, and a flea market.
– The upper east side (‘silk stocking district’)
Chauffeurs, limousines, private schools, doormen, – clean, elegant buildings with impressive stonework. One area near 5th Ave. was said to be the richest square mile in the world.
– Other areas are: Wall st., Little Italy, Chinatown, Soho, the garment district, the theater district, Harlem ….
Construction was constant. A huge pit was blasted and dug down five or more stories. Pilings were driven – clang, clang, clang. Men on their lunch hours lined the edges to watch (as sidewalk superintendents). Day by day, sometimes in terrible weather, cranes hoisted material up 40, 60, 80 stories. This went on for months, using only one parking lane.
Space was at such a premium that rents were astronomical, couches and chairs converted into beds, and dogs were miniatures. A garden apartment was a luxury, as was a terrace. A window with sunlight was a plus ? so was a view or a street with trees. Some playgrounds and pools were on top of buildings.
N.Y. was: buildings without l3th floors . . . many locks on the doors [look for them on TV] . . . dents in your car and broken taillights as natives park by ‘touch and go’ . . . newspapers in five languages in one subway car . . . dazzling views from night spots atop 50 story buildings . . . storybook views of southern Manhattan looming out of the fog from the ferry . . . famous churches and preachers . . . museums, plays, operas, ballets, concerts, film festivals . . . overcrowded lunch rooms with people eating standing up, passing the catsup in front of your face . . . the waitress banging down dishes, and yelling across 50 heads, ‘B.L.T. DOWN, HOLD THE MAYO!’ . . . a bank teller counting money so fast, his hands were a blur . . . and horns on fire trucks that lifted you off the sidewalk. The Russian Mission was across from one fire station. Many a night the Russians were levitated by those horns (from N.Y. with love).
When I arrived, I was free for the first time of school, debt, matrimony, military, conformity, and provincialism. I was free in the anonymity. If I lost a job or whatever, I didn’t have to explain.
I met: ‘road rats’ who hitchhiked around the country, singles out of college, and cultured foreigners on exchange programs. I lived in Germantown, the poor lower eastside, next to Columbia university, and with Cubans to practice Spanish. I ended up in the rich upper east side in a rent-controlled apt. (3.5 rooms for $l50/mo.).
I met adventurers, travelers, young executives, and starving, creative types. We’d sit up at night comparing trips, parts of the country, job leads, and our naive solutions to world problems – young and idealistic in the capitol of the world!
I had three big romances – Japanese, Cuban, and American; I spent glittering evenings at Lincoln Center watching Nureyev and other greats dance; and I heard Norman Vincent Peale preach many times.
These were the days of The Beatles, hippies, Joe Namath, Saturday Night Fever, Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Nureyev and Fontaine, Mayor Lindsay, Malcom X, Serpico, Muhammad Ali …
There were ticker tape parades, big sporting and cultural
events, and giant exhibitions. Natives would say, ‘If it’s going to happen, it’ll happen here first.’ (bragging or complaining?).
There was everything to explore: jobs, neighborhoods, ethnic groups, foreign friends, leading weekend trips, teaching English to foreigners, and finding foreign roommates for practicing Spanish (but speaking English).
Since you had to walk, you discovered more ? clothes at half price, out of the way antique stores, unusual eating spots, a public park that was virtually private, and standing room for cultural events.
The first few years there were more enriching than my previous 23. If there was a place to be young with a million interests, this was it.
The five major ethnic groups were the Italians, Jews, Irish, Blacks and Puerto Ricans (handled wisely in BEYOND THE MELTING POT). Only l7% of the city was WASP (white anglo saxon protestant).
‘Noo Yawkuhs’ [rhymes with hawkuhs] were a breed their own – snide, surly, nasty, mean – the whole city got up on the wrong side of bed and ate nails for breakfast. Talking was yelling; arguing was a blood feud, living was surviving. You got your feelings hurt till realizing they didn’t mean it the way ‘outsiders’ took it. From the first rude remark at the Lincoln tunnel to the personality change crossing the Triboro bridge, it was dog eat dog. Add the strikes, riots, demonstrations, bombings, and blackouts, and you were sure New Yorkers made the best infantry. [By contrast, tourists were easy to spot. They were slower, looked at everything, and appeared wholesome and innocent.]
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In his book THE WEB AND THE ROCK, Thomas Wolfe described New York in the 20s (wonderfully capturing what it was like for me in the 60s, as a young man):
In a hurricane of sound, a train in New Jersey approached New York. On it was a youth in his early 20s. On his face were hope, fear, expectancy – the conflicting emotions so many youths feel when first coming to ‘the big apple’.
The train swept into the dark tunnel beneath the Hudson River, passed under it, emerged on the other side, and began to slow. Gray twilight filtered through the windows. On both sides were old storied buildings. The boy looked up at the unending tiers and cells of life. He saw people leaning on the sills, looking down through hanging laundry.
The train entered the station. Long tongues of cement appeared with people waiting. There was a grinding screech of brakes, a light jolt and, for a moment, utter silence. There was an explosion – it was New York!
There is no truer legend than that of the country boy, the provincial, proverbial innocent at his first contact with the city. Hackneyed by repetition, burlesqued in cheap fiction, it is nevertheless tremendous.
What does he see there? What is it that drives even the most nondescript youth from a peaceful home to the cruel uncertainties of a giant metropolis?
Life in a big city is lonely, barren, drab, impersonal, and more so in NY – an ugly place of everlasting hunger – loneliness in subways, rebreathed air, cheap, rented rooms, the gigantic desolation of the library, a seat in the balcony, the Metropolitan Museum, or the gray depression of a musical Sunday in a theater with arrogant looking, little musicians.
Nevertheless, nowhere else can a young person feel so apart, yet sense the potential for great hope, love, wealth, fame, or joy. These are accentuated during the first tender days of spring when women burst forth like flowers, and in the early autumn, when the city takes on a magnificent flash and sparkle. There is the smell of frost and harvest; the air is charged with an electric vitality.
New York exults. It lays its hand upon a freshly arrived youth and makes him feel he can do and be anything – he feels power and immortality. He reaches, aspires, craves, hungers – with the intensity and passion of a youth finally being free of school, military, matrimony, debt, and small town life. Never again will it be like this! #
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Movies and TV programs which typified NY during certain eras.
The dates are wild guesses.
l910s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
30s The George M. Cohen Story.
40s The Godfather, Somebody up there likes me, On the Town, The Eastside Kids.
50s West Side Story, On the Waterfront, The Lords of Flatbush, The Wanderers, Raging Bull.
60s All in the Family, Welcome Back Cotter, Serpico, French Connection, Midnight Cowboy, Saturday Night Fever, Staying Alive, Death Wish, Up the Down Staircase.
70s Fort Apache – The Bronx.
Movies that could be added (if well known):
Needle Park, The Pawnbroker, Klute, On the Town, April Fools, The Out of Towners, Manhattan, Stage Door, Next Stop Greenwich Village, Prisoner of 2nd ave, My Favorite Year, Goodfellas, Mean Streets, 42nd St., Chorus Line, Stage Door, All About Eve, The Goodby Girl, Bronx Tale, My favorite year, Mean streets, All about eve, The goodby girl, Plaza Suite, Home alone II, When harry met sally, Sunday in NY, The secret world of henry orient, Mr vany? builds his dream house, The big street, Morning glory, Little miss market, Broadway danny rose, Miss minieva, Morning glory. Harry and Tonto, supercops, Roaring Twenties.
tony danza, dom deluise, lainie kazan, martin landau, barbara mcnair, rita moreno, tony orlando, neil sedaka, connie stevens, elliot gould, John Voight, Lou Gosset jr.
Robert de Niro, Mickey Rourke, Telly Savalis, The Fonz, George Raft, Muggs McGinnis.
awf = off. bauwl = ball. bauws = boss. bean = being. boat = both. catlick = catholic. cawfee = coffee. cawna = corner.
a chauwklit mauwlted = a chocolate malt. cupala = couple of.
dahlink = darling. denn-tist = dentist. eggzauwsted = exhausted. fahgedit = forget it. hizzonuh the may-uh = his honor the mayor [who has a way wit woids]. huh = her. huz = hers. huzbin = husband. inlores = in-laws. jewla = jewler. joisy = [new] jersey. lieberry = library. llawn-guylant = long island.
looza = loser. new yawk [like hawk] = new york
toidy toid and toid avenue = 33rd (st.) and 3rd avenue.
da udder one = the other one. yous guys = you guys.
NY names Chauncey, Carmine, Vinnie, Adelle, Pauli, Roz. Louie, Rocko, Maria, Joey, ‘Victah’, Gino.
Something of interest in understanding NY was a list of differences:
[from an article in the New York Times Magazine (’68)]
‘Out West’ ‘back East’
Provincial ………………………… cosmopolitan
Begins at less than 20′ rainfall &
less than 29 people/sq.mi………
Calif. ………………………. Pennsylvania
Settled by Americans ……………….. by Europeans
Experience counts ………………….. the establishment knows
Rely on self ………… can fall back on the establishment (the ruling oligarchies in politics, academia, society, media, finance)
Pragmatic …………………………. intellectual
Vigorous, exuberant ………………… patient, contemplative
Cocky, Hopeful …………………….. fearful
Starts fads (and crackpot ideas) …….. starts trends
Mobil society ……………………… sedentary
Houses more temporary ……………… permanent w/ basements & attics
Less stable families and marriages …… more stable, but greater mental problems ? espec. Main and N.Y.
Free service and good service ……….. neither
Friendlier and less status conscious ….
Don’t lock cars and houses …… do and auto thefts are still higher.
Natural shrines ……………………. cultural shrines.
Higher per capita income, but more bankruptcies ….
Higher interest on savings …..
Greater use of initiative, referendum, and recall ……….
Better mass transit ….
……… more horn honking and jaywalking,
Calif. wines ……………………. imported wines
Both the West and the East tend to overate the East.
Settled by the car, thus better sts. ………… settled before the car.
Freeways ………. turnpikes, thruways, beltways, parkways ? with tolls.
Raised lane markers ………………………… none due to snowplows.
the Bronx Queens Harlem Columbia Univ.Germantown Upper eastside Central Park
West side Lincoln Center Theater U.N. district Midtown garment district Greenwich
Village Lower east side the Bowery N.J.Little Italy Chinatown Hudson River
Statue of Liberty