The Big Apple
I’ve taken very small bites out of the Big Apple in my seventy years; a little bit of that town goes a long way for me. Too many people inhabit the place for my liking; however, I doff my hat to anyone who has the sand (grit) to roll and make their bones in this ever-evolving metropolis. On the other hand, my wife is completely relaxed within legions of people in any part of the world. Where I’d freak out, the bride just cruises along checking things out and following her agenda and senses. She told me that when she visited Beijing a few years ago, it had a population of over 21 million people. It’s the largest populated city in the world. Conversely, the population of Manhattan is a mere 8.7 million. My bride told me that you don’t know what the word “masses,” means until you witness an avenue of people walking on a sidewalk in Beijing. I’m all set with that kind of scene. Her travel stories are enough for me. I’m just not a city guy.
On Manhattan Island there is much to learn during these times of Covid 19 in two mediums—films and books. For example, Netflix has a new show called “Pretend It’s a City,” where we get a snootful of author, actor, and orator Fran Lebowitz’s take on—in pre-Covid times— the place she calls home. It’s a gig directed by another New Yorker named Martin Scorsese. Spike Lee and the late prolific author Toni Morrison play into this trifecta of excitable, fast talking, street smart, eyes-inback-of-their heads, full-on opinionated New Yorkers who go toe to toe with Lebowitz. All of these characters have serious street cred in their respective careers. I put the aforementioned people like this in the category of being what I call pissers. But, Fran Lebowitz, and New York City are the focus of this series. She is outspoken, knowledgeable, witty, and still has a serious fastball when it comes to curmudgeonly repartee with just about any topic under the sun. I love the unbridled wise-ass and snarky nature of Fran Lebowitz.
When Fran was a kid, her mom would always want her to go to bed at the same time every night—7:30 PM. She asked her mom once, “Why do I have to go to bed at 7:30 every night?” Her mom answered, “Because, Fran, I just can’t listen to you anymore.” Fran is a fast talker on the cusp of appearing to being very over caffeinated. She spins ideas with surgical language use on the quick step, and I can see how she would completely exhaust a parent; Fran is an acquired taste. She grew up in Morristown, New Jersey, flunked algebra several times, and in general wasn’t fond of school; however, she developed a serious reading habit as a young kid. Reading, by its very nature simply leads to more questions, which invariably leads to having an opinion. Lebowitz has plenty of those and they are explored in the series. Note Bene: She’s a Luddite who is completely off the grid. And, her opinion of texting lends itself to the title of the series.
In one scene, she gets in the crosshairs of Spike Lee’s take on the importance of sports in a culture. Fran doesn’t like sports, but she likes the fashion surrounding them. She saw Mohammad Ali fight Joe Frazier in 1971 in the “Fight of the Century” at Madison Square Garden, and told Lee she liked Mohammad because of his political views, but not the sport of men beating the hell out of each other. But again, she loved the clothes. Lee is gob smacked by her indifference to the outcome of the Ali fight. Lebowitz wrote a couple of books, and did some column work for Andy Warhol’s magazine called Interview. These days, Fran does speaking engagements in the tradition of what Mark Twain started doing in San Francisco back in the day. He simply smoked a cigar, and talked. She has opinions, and damnit she’s going to tell them to you. Finally, Fran loves books. My favorite part of this series is revealed in a quote from a column she once wrote. Here’s her deal in a nutshell: “Think before you speak. Read before you think. This will give something to think about that you didn’t make up yourself—wise move at any age, but most especially at 17, when you are in the greatest danger of coming to annoying conclusions.” Preach, Fran!
To further enlighten myself about New York City, I’m reading a pre Covid 19 crime novel called “Harry at the Precipice” by Andy Rosensweig who is a retired NYPD policeman and former Chief of Detectives for the department. He’s the real deal. This is about a detective named Harry Berg who in the classic tradition of Chandleresque crime noir, is a guy who has been chasing pimps, murderers and mobbed up guys for his career that started at Fort Apache “the 41,” Precinct in the South Bronx. Harry is trying to solve a triple homicide as he nears the end of his career. This is a novel where I know I’m in good hands with the writer who was a detective, when I read about the underbelly of the city. Harry is a cop who has been up against it in the classic noir tradition of the jaded detective who still has a glimmer of humanity left in him after a career of dealing with dead bodies, dirty cops, and a flawed bureaucracy and personality. What I love about his book, is that the dialogue isn’t over-written. It’s sparse, and tattered like the book’s careworn and credible protagonist.
In one of my maybe eleven trips to The Big Apple, I took a walk from the Battery uptown, and saw the ditch of the World Trade Center. I walked by The Strand Bookstore, CBGBS, the Art Deco-styled New Yorker Hotel, and the Flatiron building. I people-watched at Times Square, and saw five cops appear out of nowhere to bust a bad guy. I ate a Reuben in a Seventh Avenue Deli, and bought a bogus Rolex. Then, I hopped on the bus and went home. I was overwhelmed after a fourteen-hour day in the city. As stated earlier, how ever you make your nickels in The Big Apple, my hat is off, to you.