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More New York Stories

More New York Stories: The Best of the City Section of The New York Times

Edited by Constance Rosenblum
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 308
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  • Book Info
    More New York Stories
    Book Description:

    What do Francine Prose, Suketu Mehta, and Edwidge Danticat have in common? Each suffers from an incurable love affair with the Big Apple, and each contributed to the canon of writing New York has inspired by way of the New York Times City Section, a part of the paper that once defined Sunday afternoon leisure for the denizens of the five boroughs. Former City Section editor Constance Rosenblum has again culled a diverse cast of voices that brought to vivid life our metropolis through those pages in this follow-up to the publication New York Stories (2005).The fifty essays in More New York Stories unite the city's best-known writers to provide a window to the bustle and richness of city life. As with the previous collection, many of the contributors need no introduction, among them Kevin Baker, Laura Shaine Cunningham, Dorothy Gallagher, Colin Harrison, Frances Kiernan, Nathaniel Rich, Jonathan Rosen, Christopher Sorrentino, and Robert Sullivan; they are among the most eloquent observers of our urban life. Others are relative newcomers. But all are voices worth listening to, and the result is a comprehensive and entertaining picture of New York in all its many guises.The section on "Characters'' offers a bouquet of indelible profiles. The section on Placestakes us on journeys to some of the city's quintessential locales. Rituals, Rhythms, and Ruminations seeks to capture the city's peculiar texture, and the section called Excavating the Past offers slices of the city's endlessly fascinating history.Delightful for dipping into and a great companion for anyone planning a trip, this collection is both a heart-warming introduction to the human side of New York and a reminder to life-long New Yorkers of the reasons we call the city home.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6902-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-xii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)
    Constance Rosenblum

    IN 2005, NYU Press published “New York Stories,” a collection of 40 essays from the City section of The New York Times, a part of the Sunday paper distributed on newsprint in the five boroughs and electronically around the globe. Those pieces, which dug into the crevices and crannies of life in New York City in search of nuggets of insight and observation, were a disparate lot. Their subjects ranged from the allure of a Greenwich Village basketball court to the voyeuristic aspects of life as an urban window washer to the daily rhythms of a panhandler on the F...

  5. Part One Characters

    • 1 Mr. Maxwell and Me It Was the Mid-60’s, and She Was the Dutiful Secretary of an Esteemed Editor at The New Yorker. In a Few Short Years the World Changed, and She Was the One in the Editor’s Chair.
      (pp. 7-10)

      IN December 1966, long before secretaries were called assistants, I began working for William Maxwell, a New Yorker editor much admired for his own novels and stories as well as his talent for bringing out the best in his writers. Now, four years after his death, he is revered not only for his literary gifts but also for his generous spirit and great aptitude for friendship, two qualities not easy to come by in the world of New York letters. “A William Maxwell Portrait (Memories and Appreciations),” a collection of essays by fellow writers that will be published this month...

    • 2 Strumming toward Self-Awareness For Years, She Had Seen the Fliers Promoting His Lessons. Then She Inherited a Guitar and Gave Him a Try. Once.
      (pp. 11-14)

      IN a sense, Dan Smith had been promising to teach me guitar for years. His fliers, adorned with the photo of a skinny, serious-looking young man holding an electric guitar, said it in bold capital letters: “DAN SMITH WILL TEACH TOU GUITAR.”

      I noticed a flier taped to the wall of the bodega near my first Manhattan apartment, on the Upper West Side. Over the next few years, I found them everywhere—on community bulletin boards, in restaurant entryways, on the sides of phone booths. A friend told me she once saw a whole wall of them, next to a...

    • 3 Her Private Serenade His Cheerful Whistling Floated through the Window of Her West Village Apartment, and Captured Her Heart. If Only He Knew.
      (pp. 15-18)

      IT’S possible I had seen him before, but not until Christmas Day did I actually notice him. That’s the day he became part of my life. Normally I would have been with my family. This season was different. Not only had I run out of money, lost someone I cared about and needed to be alone, I also wanted to stay home and write. That’s what I was doing the morning of Dec. 25 in the top-floor apartment of the brownstone on West 11th Street when I heard him for the first time.

      His music was coming from the east....

    • 4 Tom’s World Sometimes, We Know a Place through One Person. When He Dies, the Whole Neighborhood Goes Pale with the Loss.
      (pp. 19-22)

      ON a brisk fall night, 2003, I wait for my friend at his Jane Street apartment so he can join me for a walk through the West Village. I watch him make his way slowly through the labyrinth inside his onebedroom residence—10,000 books teetering floor to ceiling and bulging on shelves—as he slowly puts on his jacket.

      “Need a hand?”

      “No.” He fumbles with the buttons. “Thanks. I’m O.K.”

      He is in his 50’s, with thinning brown hair and a brushy goatee. He looks up at me through big eyeglasses, smiles, sighs. “Let’s go,” he says.

      On the...

    • 5 In Noah’s Room The Life and Death of a Gifted Young Man with an Unquiet Mind.
      (pp. 23-30)

      IN the early hours of Saturday, July 29, on his 21st birthday, something broke or deflated or just gave out inside of Noah Simring.

      After apparently staying up all night in his room, he made his bed carefully, changed out of the special pair of Lucky jeans a friend had given him, and put on old clothes. He then tried to leave the apartment where he lived with his parents, Ruth and Jim Simring, in a drab brick co-op on Third Avenue and 24th Street.

      His parents, concerned by his irritable manner, prevented him from leaving until he agreed to...

    • 6 The Days and Nights of Maurice Cherry Twice a Day, Every Day, He Traveled Back and Forth by Bus between Chinatown and the Casinos of Atlantic City, Not to Gamble but to Avoid a Life Lived Almost Entirely on the Street
      (pp. 31-37)

      AS his bus exited the Garden State Parkway, Maurice Cherry gazed out the window, waiting for the precise moment when the gleaming silhouette of Atlantic City would swim into view. Suddenly there it was, lit up like noon even at midnight.

      Most of the passengers seemed unimpressed. They woke up slowly from their naps, massaging their necks and groping around for their belongings. But Mr. Cherry, a diminutive 37-year-old wearing a baggy black Atlantic City sweatshirt, was thrilled.

      “We’re here,” he said, flashing a jack-o’-lantern smile. “It’s going to be a beautiful night.”

      Mr. Cherry had no plans to gamble....

    • 7 Werner Kleeman’s Private War Though Today He Lives Quietly in Flushing, Queens, More than 60 Years Ago, as an American Soldier, This Holocaust Survivor Returned to His Native Germany to Arrest the Nazi Who Had Arrested Him.
      (pp. 38-44)

      FOR 56 years, Werner Kleeman’s corner of the world has been a small house on a quiet street in Flushing, Queens, a brick, Cape Cod-style two-family house that is one of a row of similar homes built on a former potato farm during the Depression. Mr. Kleeman and his wife, Lore, raised their two daughters in the house, on 196th Place, and he made his living under the same roof.

      He sold commercial-grade curtains and carpeting to institutions but never felt the need to move his business out of the house or to hire even one employee. He used the...

    • 8 The Chicken and Rice Man Every Day of the Year, Jorge Muñoz Feeds the Mostly Homeless Men Who Congregate under the Roosevelt Avenue El in Jackson Heights, Queens. “He Got No Life,” His Sister Said of Him. “But He Got a Big Heart.”
      (pp. 45-51)

      EVERY weekday, starting as early as 7 in the morning and continuing until 7 at night, weary-looking men dressed in threadbare jackets and worn running shoes gather at the corner of Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd Street in Jackson Heights, Queens, under the gloomy shadow of the el.

      Swiveling their heads as if watching a tennis match, the men scan each passing car, in the hope that a driver will stop and offer up $100 in exchange for a 10-hour day of grueling labor on a construction or demolition project on Long Island.

      But offers of work are few these days,...

    • 9 A Life, Interrupted The Young Woman, Who Had Been Missing for Nearly Three Weeks, Was Floating Face Down off the Southern Tip of Manhattan. Miraculously, She Was Rescued. But the Explanation for What Had Happened Raised Questions That Would Take a Long Time to Answer.
      (pp. 52-59)

      THE young woman was floating face down in the water, about a mile southwest of the southern tip of Manhattan. Wearing only red running shorts and a black sports bra, she was barely visible to the naked eye of the captain of the Staten Island Ferry: When he caught sight of her bobbing head, it was like glimpsing the tip of a ballpoint pen across a busy city street. Less than four minutes later, a skiff piloted by two of the ferry’s deckhands pulled up alongside the woman. One man took hold of her ankles while the other grabbed her...

    • 10 When Johnny Comes Marching In The Man in Camouflage Walked into the Literary Bar in the East Village, His Army Backpack Slung over His Shoulder. And No One Said a Word.
      (pp. 60-64)

      THE other night I was in a literary bar in the East Village, the kind of place where nervous poets, novelists and memoirists read their work to other nervous poets, novelists and memoirists, when in walked a tall, strapping soldier in full desert camouflage.

      He said something to the bartender, downed a beer, hitched his huge Army backpack farther up his shoulder, sent a shy grin out to the room and left. Nobody looked at him; nobody grinned back—I glanced around to check. It was as if an unwelcome ghost had entered the room, a harbinger of bad news...

  6. Part Two Places in the City�s Heart

    • 11 Razzle-Dazzle Me Times Square Is Successful Because People Wait in Huge Hordes, in Numbers the Size of Entire Towns in North Dakota, for the Light to Change.
      (pp. 67-71)

      FROM the window of a plane at night, when everyone seems to be asleep and the movie is over and the cabin lights have been dimmed, when you’re exhausted and have been away from New York long enough to miss it (even though no sane person would miss your rent), when your captain heads to La Guardia by heading up the Hudson, then Times Square, that clearly discernible ribbony intersection, is a beacon, a canyon of brilliantness, an electrified message, a flashlight that makes it possible to read your magazine in your window seat without even turning on your overhead...

    • 12 New York Was Our City on the Hill The City Held Out Unlimited Promise. But the Reality Was a Struggle—for Money, Identity, and a Future.
      (pp. 72-76)

      IF you are an immigrant in New York, there are some things you inevitably share. For one, if you’re a new immigrant, you probably left behind someone you love in the country of your birth. In my case, I was the person left in Haiti when my mother and father escaped the brutal regimes of François and Jean-Claude Duvalier in the early 1970’s and fled the extreme poverty caused by the Duvaliers’ mismanagement and excesses.

      The plan was for my parents to send for me and my younger brother, André, who were 4 and 2 years old at the time...

    • 13 Here Is New York, Right Where We Left It Before Manolos and Green Apple Martinis There Were Homburgs and Short Beers, among Countless Evocative Remnants of an Earlier Era That Endure, Often Uneasily, in the Glitziest City on Earth.
      (pp. 77-84)

      THE handwritten sign on the wall of Rose’s Luncheon (no room for the “ette” on a storefront this narrow) is meant to be noticed. It’s near the front door, opposite the eight-seat Formica counter and just above the Alka-Seltzer and Bayer dispensers, and it reads, “We Believe in God.” Then there’s the dusty gumball machine filled with fossilized Chiclets, the old letter-tile menu on the wall and, not least of all, the fact that no cash changes hands when the old guy at the end of the counter finishes his meal and amicably takes his leave.

      When the subject of...

    • 14 Comfort Food For a While, He Was a Regular at Frank’s Gourmet Deli on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens. But Some Connections, like Apartment Leases, Are Only Short-Term.
      (pp. 85-87)

      IDON’T remember the first time I walked into Frank’s Gourmet Deli on Smith Street, but it must have been a little more than a year ago, around the time I signed a lease a couple of blocks away in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. Getting to know a new neighborhood is always a process of locating and evaluating the essentials—grocery store, laundry, pizza place, A.T.M. with no service charge—and Frank’s, a convenience store that stays open late and is stocked with the basics, falls neatly into that category.

      I do remember the first time I met the man who owns...

    • 15 The Great Awakening In the Last Quarter Century, from Riverdale to Tottenville, Waves of Change Have Washed over New York. In Brooklyn, the Transformation Seems Almost Tidal.
      (pp. 88-93)

      AT a party on the Upper West Side in 2000, a distinguished American author, and longtime Manhattanite, asked where I lived.

      “Brooklyn,” I told him.

      He snorted. “Poor people live in Brooklyn.” Then he turned away to get some meat.

      Shortly after the party, to see if I could move from my rented apartment in Boerum Hill, I went looking to see what I could buy in a part of Fort Greene where cars parked on the street were still regularly stolen. I told the broker that it would be nice for my kids to have a house by a...

    • 16 The Worst Ballpark in the World With the Plan to Build a New Home for the Mets, Shea’s Days Were Numbered. Yes, the Stadium Sat on an Ash Heap and Was Pestered by Planes. Yet There Was No Denying Its Goofy Charms.
      (pp. 94-98)

      I FIRST saw Shea Stadium the summer it opened, 1964, when the world was still young. My parents were taking me to the World’s Fair, which was just across the elevated line in Flushing Meadows, Queens. This was appropriate because Shea, like the fair, was supposed to be a showcase for the world of tomorrow. You could tell this because it looked breezy, and fun, and half-finished—all bright, garish colors, flimsy new materials and unadorned concrete and pipes and steel cables laid out in that functional, neglected-housing-development style that modern architects used to assure us was the best future...

    • 17 A Toast, with a Shot and a Beer A Couple of Wise Guys, a Musician or Two, and a Jukebox Set on Julio, in a Crummy Little Bar of the Sort That Has All but Vanished from the Upper West Side.
      (pp. 99-102)

      IN the bar I always went to in those days, some of the talk I overheard compelled me to scribble it down on a napkin so I wouldn’t forget it. I’d be sitting there having a beer and watching the wrestling on TV when suddenly the guy sitting next to me would say to the guy on his other side: “The dummy drew a gun. The black dude who’s always got to count the money first. There’s no need of that stuff if you do business right. I don’t need it with him anymore.”

      Or, on a night when the...

    • 18 The Secret Life of Hanover Square By Day, the Downtown Neighborhood Was a Ho-Hum Business District. But as Windows Were Lighted and People with Grocery Bags Emerged, the Area Revealed Its Hidden Face.
      (pp. 103-106)

      NEW YORK at night is a city of low-key voyeurs and discreet exhibitionists. Not droolers and flashers, but more or less lawful strollers like me, looking for the curtainless window whose occupant pursues some puzzling activity, or by the passing diorama show of apartment and brownstone interiors. In Manhattan this is a pleasure abetted by the tacit cooperation of residents who keep their windows clean and their shades up, affording a view to passers-by even when they don’t enjoy one themselves.

      Congested high-rise avenues, overwindowed and overpowered by street glare, make poor territory for such louche but ultimately harmless gawking....

    • 19 New York’s Lighthouse The Building Is the Distinctive Image of Mythic New York, the City of Film and Fiction, and Yet Irresistible.
      (pp. 107-112)

      LIKE most people, I made a trip to the observatory of the Empire State Building on my very first visit to New York, when I was a gawky Canadian teenager fresh off the train from Toronto. My visit to that building, which will have been open 75 years on May 1, was romantic in more than one sense. I was with my first girlfriend, a petite girl with braces on her teeth. Though neither of us had seen “An Affair to Remember,” the 1957 Cary Grant-Deborah Kerr weepie that immortalizes the building as the quintessential New York lovers’ rendezvous, we...

    • 20 Call It Booklyn With More Marquee Authors than You Can Shake a Mont Blanc Pen at, Brooklyn May Be the City’s Grimmest Borough for the Up-and-Coming Writer.
      (pp. 113-119)

      I HAVE a theory about the F train.

      I think that people who ride the F train, which stops in the heart of Park Slope, Brooklyn, and is therefore the train of choice for dozens of writers, editors and publishers, choose their subway reading material very carefully. You rarely see the folks who get off at Seventh Avenue reading anything pocket-sized, and never anything with an embossed cover, or anything that’s advertised on the train itself.

      Here is my theory: I think people who ride the F train know who their fellow riders are, and save the trashy reading for...

    • 21 Breathless, Buoyant No One Knows a Park, Its Smells and Seasons, Its Contours and Crannies, like a Cross-Country Runner.
      (pp. 120-123)

      THE last practice I remember was during the period between summer and fall, before summer had entirely faded and before autumn had entirely set in. The leaves had just begun to litter the back hills of the cross-country course of Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. We had been sent out to run six miles, past the hole in the fence, past the fruit market just outside the park, past the big oak tree; we all knew this was going to be a long run.

      The team had its own language. Our coach used to tell us to meet near...

    • 22 In the Courtyard of Miracles and Wonders Ever since Arriving in the City, He Yearned to Visit the Cloistered Haven off West 11th Street. One Starlit Night He Got His Chance.
      (pp. 124-127)

      ON a cold Saturday night last fall, two of my closest friends and I ate dinner and watched a movie in an old town house on West 11th Street. While I was there, I had an experience I had been wanting for more than 25 years

      My friend Michael had been hired by the owners to live in the town house for a week to dog-sit, and he invited me and our friend Donna over for an evening. The three of us planned to rent “Sweet Bird of Youth,” the 1960’s drama starring Paul Newman and Geraldine Page, and watch...

    • 23 Stranger in a Strange Land On a Sojourn in a SoHo Hotel after a Flood in His Brooklyn Heights Apartment, Much Looked Familiar. And Somehow Not.
      (pp. 128-131)

      TELL me if you’ve heard this one.

      A man from Minsk decides he wishes to visit the neighboring town of Pinsk. He packs a bag, bids farewell to his wife and boards the train, where he promptly falls asleep. When he awakens, he is struck by the astonishing likeness of Pinsk to Minsk.

      He walks the streets noting that everything looks just the same as his home town, “only somehow different.” Never does it occur to him that the strangely familiar shopkeepers and street merchants who greet him, or even the woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to his wife,...

    • 24 Hard Times along Gasoline Alley The Men Who Hang Out near the Service Stations on Atlantic Avenue Will Pump Your Gas, Fix Your Brakes and Maybe Tell You a Story.
      (pp. 132-138)

      THEY can be seen all along Atlantic Avenue—urban foragers of a sort, often bedraggled and always in search of a dollar. Many of them pump gas, but that is not the only hustle along the strip.

      As one regular walks on sections of Atlantic, a traffic-clogged 10-mile road that runs from the Brooklyn waterfront to the Van Wyck Expressway in Queens, he holds a bottle of glass cleaner and offers to wash car windows. Outside an auto parts store, street mechanics replace brake pads and tune transmissions, using tools hauled around in shopping carts.

      One recent evening, opposite a...

    • 25 A Game of Inches With the Opening of a New Yankee Stadium, Would Stan’s Sports Bar Be Just a Little Too Far from the Action?
      (pp. 139-146)

      THIRTY feet. That is the distance between the entrance of Stan’s Sports Bar at 158th Street and River Avenue and the faded black sign affixed to the side of Yankee Stadium that says “Bleacher Entrance.” It is a third of the length between first and second base, easy strolling distance for the droves of Yankee fans who crowded in religiously each baseball season.

      And for 30 years, this archetypal American sports bar, with wooden baseball bats as its door handles and sketches of Mickey Mantle and Lou Gehrig on its walls, has been a prime piece of Bronx real estate....

  7. Part Three Rituals, Rhythms, and Ruminations

    • 26 Please Get Me Out of Here Please New Yorkers Knew All about the Three-Day Ordeal of the Chinese-Food Delivery Man Trapped in an Elevator in the Bronx. They Had Been There, If Only in Their Dreams.
      (pp. 149-152)

      LAST week, when the news broke that Ming Kuang Chen, a delivery man for a Chinese restaurant, had emerged from a stalled elevator in a 38-story Bronx apartment building after some 81 hours in captivity, not a few New Yorkers skipped accounts of the city’s usual mayhem to study the details of Mr. Chen’s ordeal

      Who could blame us? New Yorkers, more than any other American population, depend on elevators. The first passenger elevator was built in New York, in 1857 at Broadway and Broome Street, and now millions of us ride them each day. Indeed, we are indivisible from...

    • 27 The Starling Chronicles The Baby Bird Was Small and Smelly, Unlikely to Live Long. But She Fell from Her Nest into a Cradle of Love, and Soon She Became a New Yorker, with Wings.
      (pp. 153-159)

      WHY is there a wild bird in my apartment?

      She fell, as a nestling, from the rain gutter on the roof of my country house. Since then, she has been dividing her time, as I do, between city and country—taking taxis while in town, going to meetings, theater. She has spent quality time in my apartment on East 80th Street, gazing at the street scene and listening to WQXR. She responds to both classical and jazz, is attentive to Jonathan Schwartz.

      At the start, there were two baby birds—the one we took to calling Raven Starling and her...

    • 28 A Chance to Be Mourned After the Death of One of Its Own, a Homeless Group Searches for Easier Ways to Grieve for New York’s Nameless and Unclaimed Dead.
      (pp. 160-167)

      THE trouble began on the subway.

      At first he was just another homeless man taking refuge from the bitter New York winter. Then he collapsed. He was unconscious when paramedics pulled him out of the subway car. He died a few hours later at Brooklyn Hospital Center in downtown Brooklyn of an inflamed pancreas and a weakened heart. It was two days before Christmas 2003. He was 48.

      In life he was a stocky man with gentle eyes, a short beard and a wide smile. His name was Lewis Haggins Jr., though everyone called him Lou. As it turned out,...

    • 29 Doodles à la Carte Once a Week the Cartoonists of The New Yorker Assemble for Lunch in Midtown, There to Enjoy a Little Sketch, a Little Kvetch, and a Lot of One Liners.
      (pp. 168-174)

      IT is a cool, cloudy day in late fall as Sam Gross and Gahan Wilson, both in their 70’s and regular contributors of cartoons to The New Yorker, stroll side by side up Seventh Avenue. After a quick Tuesday morning meeting with Bob Mankoff, the magazine’s cartoon editor, they and a handful of other New Yorker cartoonists have set out for lunch; more men than women, most in their 70’s, each week they are a slightly different bunch.

      Mr. Gross and Mr. Wilson lead the way through the crowded nub of Broadway to Pergola des Artistes, a little restaurant on...

    • 30 Unstoppable Riding a Bike without Brakes on the Streets of New York May Sound Insane. But to the Zealous Adherents of Fixed-Gear Bikes—Fixies for Short—They Are a Thing of Beauty and a Way of Life.
      (pp. 175-181)

      WHEN is a bicycle not like other bicycles? To begin with, when it has no brakes, or at least no visible brakes, or possibly just a front brake. That means you can’t ride this bike very well on your first try, and certainly not very gracefully, easily or safely.

      The rear cog is bolted directly to the hub, so that whenever the vehicle is in motion, the pedals go around, making coasting impossible. This bike doesn’t have a shift lever or extra sprockets, and the chain is shorter and wider than on traditional bikes.

      There are no fenders, and the...

    • 31 The Urban Ear New Yorkers Swim in a Sea of Sounds, Most of Them Reassuringly Familiar. Then Once in a While Comes a Very Different Noise.
      (pp. 182-185)
      MAX PAGE

      I NEVER slept better than when I lived in a walk-up on Avenue of the Americas, just below Houston Street. The silence of the provinces where I live now, in Amherst, Mass., keeps me up at night, but in New York I was lulled into deep sleep by the endless roar of traffic and the humming music of the C train, punctuated by laughter and boisterous argument.

      At least to some ears, city sounds are incredibly soothing. The wealth of sounds that come with too much humanity rooted in too little geography tells us better than anything else that we...

    • 32 Children of Darkness They Plumb Tunnels, Trestles and Other Abandoned Places, Often Illicitly, and in Those Shadow Cities Find the Pulsing Heart of New York.
      (pp. 186-192)

      JOE ANASTASIO, a slim, dark-haired Web designer for a Wall Street publishing company, was standing outside Madison Square Garden, dressed in black work boots, a torn blue check shirt and a bomber jacket. It was a brisk Sunday morning in the spring, and among the swirl of tourists clutching maps and hockey fans in Rangers jerseys, he might easily have been mistaken for a Metropolitan Transportation Authority track worker heading to a shift.

      That is how Mr. Anastasio likes it. A 33-year-old native of Astoria, Queens, he is an urban explorer, to use a term he and his fellow adventurers...

    • 33 Tunnel Vision Ever since Childhood, She Had Fantasized about a Hidden World below the City Streets. In These Dreams, She Was Not Alone.
      (pp. 193-196)

      ONE day, when I was 12 years old, I felt a lump in my throat. It was a year of metaphorical lumps—I had just started a new junior high school and my parents were in the middle of a messy divorce—but this lump was real. A doctor diagnosed it as a cyst, benign but dangerously close to my thyroid gland, and on a December afternoon, my mother took me to see a surgeon in Manhattan.

      I don’t remember the exam or the decision to schedule an operation, but I do remember getting on the surgeon’s tiny elevator to...

    • 34 The Unthinkable, Right around the Corner The Convoy of Police Cars Races down the City Streets, Sirens Blaring, Red Lights Flashing. They’re There to Protect. But They Also Terrify.
      (pp. 197-200)

      THE first time I saw it happen, in 2004, I was walking down 14th Street along Union Square on my way home, wondering what we were going to have for dinner that night. A dozen police cars came squealing around the corner, pulled up to the sidewalk, and parked with their back wheels on the curb.

      My heartbeat went from zero to 60 (or whatever the actual cardiac equivalent is) in less than 60 seconds. The attacks of 9/11 hadn’t been all that long ago, and I wondered: Had something else happened? Was there a “problem” in the Union Square...

    • 35 His City, Lost and Found Raised in Manhattan, He Is Fascinated by the Changes to His Native Borough. Yet from His Garret across the River, He Does Not Mourn Its Transformation.
      (pp. 201-207)

      I RECENTLY went into Manhattan with a friend to visit her younger brother’s new apartment on 52nd Street and the East River. The brother, Ariel, had just graduated from college and had been hired by a prestigious financial firm in Midtown. His two roommates had followed the same path, and so, apparently, had everyone else who lived on their long, fluorescent-lit hallway on the 32nd floor.

      There was a good reason for this. As Ariel explained to me, his firm had negotiated a deal with the building’s real estate agents, and every employee who rented an apartment got a 6...

    • 36 Any Given Monday These Men Don’t Dunk. Yet Every Week for 33 Years, They Have Sought to Slow the Passage of Time on the Hardwood Court of a Gym on the Upper West Side.
      (pp. 208-213)

      FOR New York basketball fans, 33 is either a famous or an infamous number, depending on your age. If you’re over 20, you can probably remember when the Knicks were ruled by Patrick Ewing, the dominant center with a blazing 33 on his chest.

      Younger fans may be more likely to associate 33 with the number of games a miserable Knicks team won last season in the course of accumulating 49 losses, many of them at Madison Square Garden, on West 33rd Street.

      Thirty-three is also the number of years that a group has gathered every Monday for a night...

    • Lemon Zest The Scott’s Oriole, a Fluffy Yellow Visitor Never Before Sighted in New York, Had Come to Union Square, Where It Seemed Utterly at Home.
      (pp. 214-217)

      ON a cold morning late last month, I took a subway to Union Square Park to see a bird I had never seen. The bird, a Scott’s oriole, had been noted intermittently behind the statue of Mohandas Gandhi since December, though it took birders several weeks to figure out that it was not in fact an orchard oriole—which would have been unusual enough for winter in Manhattan. Scott’s oriole is a bird of the Southwest and has never been recorded in New York. It should be no farther east than Texas, which is why, despite my sluggardly winter ways,...

    • 38 Tree Proud The Mayor Pledged to Plant a Million Trees. Sometimes It Takes Just One to Steal Your Heart.
      (pp. 218-221)

      LIKE most good Americans, I grew up thinking that figs—or more accurately “fig,” as a nondiscrete substance—was something made by man specifically to fill a soft rectangular cookie, probably manufactured in the same big Midwestern dessert mill that produced things like nougat and Twinkie filling and whatever sturdy white confection was used to make candy cigarettes.

      So when my wife and I bought a house in Brooklyn eight years ago and the woman who sold it to us showed me her (soon to be our) beloved fig tree in the backyard, I had a moment of cognitive dissonance....

    • 39 Faces in the Crowd Circling the Jogging Loop in Prospect Park alongside Skinny Ginsberg, Big Tony, and Other Creatures Born of a Fertile Imagination.
      (pp. 222-225)

      AFEW years ago, my wife and I moved into a large, friendly, oddly affordable apartment building half a block from Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Soon after we settled in, I began to run on the jogging loop around the park with some regularity, if not sustained enthusiasm. Three or four times a week during motivated moments, less often from December through March.

      Part of what keeps me going are the close-up views of the changing seasons. There are few better ways to see the first blooms of spring or encounter the early crunch of fall underfoot.

      But what I look...

    • 40 Fertility Rites As She Traveled about the City in Search of an Elusive Gift, a Remarkable Thing Happened.
      (pp. 226-229)

      IT was on Sept. 29, the day the first bailout failed, and I was on the train from Carroll Gardens to the financial district—an area I normally hit only for Century 21—for drugs. Not recreational drugs, vestiges of my waning youth, but the outrageously expensive fertility medications not covered by my insurance. (Thank you, national health care system.) I was setting out for the law office of an extraordinarily charitable woman who no longer needed her drugs and whose far more beneficent insurance plan covered them. I had never met her and she was about to hand over...

    • 41 His Kind of River The Indians Called the Hudson “The River That Runs Both Ways,” and Its Majestically Freaky Nature Makes It Easy to Love.
      (pp. 230-233)

      UNTOLD numbers of books, articles, love letters, goodbye notes, lists of dog-sitting instructions and poems have been composed in Riverside Park, and I’m hereby adding one more item to the count. I’m writing this on the Riverside promenade—precisely, on the half-length park bench facing the backstop of the ball field around West 103rd Street. That’s my spot. I don’t come every day—I’m not some kind of outdoors nut. I come to work, because I find the park to be a place equally hospitable to rumination, distraction and procrastination.

      When I was growing up, in a steel town in...

    • 42 Soul Train When You’re Listening to the Music of the Subway, It’s Easy to Forget Where You Are and Where You’re Going. And You Don’t Even Care.
      (pp. 234-238)

      WHAT is it about subway music? Why is it so compelling, so intimate and potent? Why does it reach us in a way that street music doesn’t? And why does it interest us so endlessly? It seems there’s no limit to our fascination.

      Part of its power, I think, lies in the setting. We’ve left the air and light and freedom of the street, descending into the darkness of the underground. It’s a more mysterious place, more complicated. The subway is both suffocating and liberating. We hurtle through the darkness, locked beside strangers, breathing their air. We watch each other...

  8. Part Four Excavating the Past

    • 43 A Mother Lost and Found Had Some Real Estate God Decreed That the Daughter Would End Up in the Greenwich Village Town House Where Her Mother Had Lived 46 Years Earlier?
      (pp. 241-245)

      IN 1984, when I first moved to New York, I went to look at an apartment for rent on West 12th Street in Greenwich Village. The building was narrow and old—1848, according to a small brass plaque—with a thick covering of ivy and the house number painted in fat, curving gold numerals above the front door. As soon as I went inside, I felt that this was a place where I could live. Even the tiny ground-floor vestibule was quiet and snug, comfortable and somehow familiar.

      From the vestibule rose a set of wooden stairs whose steps tilted...

    • 44 Battle in Black and White Half a Century Ago, the Author’s Grandparents Helped Wage a War to Integrate Stuyvesant Town. Even Today, Echoes of This Little-Remembered Struggle Linger.
      (pp. 246-253)
      AMY FOX

      WHEN I was a kid, we visited my grandparents in Stuyvesant Town nearly every year. The apartment where my mother had grown up was filled with towers of books and foreign treasures, including a Torah scroll rescued from the Holocaust. I used to fall asleep on a sagging cot listening to footsteps and voices passing underneath my window, something impossible in the quiet Boulder, Colo., neighborhood where I lived. When I dreamed of city life, I saw those red brick structures, the tiled kitchen where my grandmother made meatloaf, the paved circle where we used to wait for my grandfather...

    • 45 Morrisania Melody Long before Fires and Violence Thrust the South Bronx into the National Spotlight, One Small Patch of the Community Played a Critical Role in Forging Musical History.
      (pp. 254-261)

      ON a Sunday afternoon in March 1946, you could have stepped into Club 845 on Prospect Avenue in the Morrisania section of the South Bronx—admission $1.25, plus tax—and danced to a goateed, bespectacled trumpet player named Dizzy Gillespie.

      A decade later, you could have sat on your stoop on Lyman Place a dozen blocks from the club and passed the time of day with Thelonious Monk, who often visited musicians and relatives who lived on the block.

      You could have been at the Blue Morocco on Boston Road on the night in 1959 when a sultry young woman...

    • 46 BoHo, Back in the Day In the 70’s, the Bums on the Bowery Were Gallant, and an Impressionable Young Woman Could Rent a Sun-Drenched Loft for a Song.
      (pp. 262-265)

      AFEW weeks ago, for old times’ sake, I wandered over to the Bowery. It is booming over there. And I noticed that real estate developers are trying to obliterate the very name of the street, referring to their offerings as being in trendy BoHo.

      I’m not surprised. The free market has trickled down way below Astor Place, and where the free market takes root, we must be prepared to say goodbye to the past. Still, I’m a little resentful; I feel territorial about the Bowery, just as a native of a small fishing village might feel when the summer folks...

    • 47 Was He the Eggman? A Dashing Turn-of-the-Century Wall Streeter May Have Invented Eggs Benedict. Or Maybe Not.
      (pp. 266-273)

      THE story of eggs Benedict is a hard one to tell. The beginning is shady at best, the main character has a hangover, and there are decades when nothing much happens. But the genre is certain, and the setting clear: Eggs Benedict is a mystery rooted in a long-vanished version of New York. Despite the dish’s twisted history, it provides a link to one of the city’s more glamorous eras.

      Of eggs Benedict’s origins, much has been said, but little has been settled. Key witnesses are long dead. One cookbook contradicts another. Even the Oxford English Dictionary shrugs: “Origins U.S.”...

    • 48 When He Was Seventeen You Could Almost Buy a Legal Drink. Parents Didn’t Hover So Much. And If You Were Not Really Tougher than Kids Today, You Certainly Felt like Your Own Man.
      (pp. 274-279)

      EARLY on the morning of April 1, 1980, the month before I turned 17, members of the Transport Workers Union walked off their jobs and my adolescence began in earnest. I don’t remember the particulars surrounding the strike, but because I couldn’t get from my Greenwich Village home to the High School of Music and Art on West 135th Street, Easter Vacation (the seasonal breaks from public school then still retained their nonsecular designations) extended into Transit Strike Vacation.

      Serendipitously, around the same time, the mother and stepfather of my friend Patrick set out on an African safari, leaving Pat...

    • 49 A Long Day’s Journey into Lip Gloss How Sephora Ate Her Theater, and Why She Hates to See Blusher Displays Where Sam Shepard’s Losers Used to Slouch.
      (pp. 280-283)

      I’M walking north on the Upper West Side, listening to my iPod’s power mix, my musical antidepressant. I pass the tae kwon do school and pause to admire its new buttercup-yellow sign. Then I stop short.

      The sushi place is there, but where I expect to see the Promenade Theater there is a marquee announcing the grand opening of—Sephora?

      To someone looking out from within the newborn temple of applied beauty, I must resemble a before picture: hair spiking wildly around the edges of my cap, Chucks worn down at the heels, raccoon circles ringing my tired eyes. I...

    • 50 Always, the Crack of the Bat Stadiums, in the End, Are Just Window Dressing. The Play’s the Thing.
      (pp. 284-288)

      HANGING on my office wall is a baseball photograph taken in 1926. I bought it from an antiques dealer many years ago because I had never seen a picture that so perfectly distills the essence of the game; it almost looks staged. The setting appears to be Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, and the central figure is Babe Ruth, who was then a Yankee, batting against his former employers.

      Ruth’s still-slender body is coiled in readiness, his bat raised high behind his head. The pitcher has just delivered the pitch, his arm at the low end of...

  9. About the Contributors
    (pp. 289-294)
  10. About the Editor
    (pp. 295-295)