Sometime in New York City

Thu, 01/03/2019 - 7:45pm

Last November I decided to go to New York City to learn about a place called Gramercy Park and meet some New Yorkers. Reading New York City history is one of my favorite past times; authors Russell Shorto, Pete Hamill, E.B. White and Luc Sante have told me The Big Apple story. Beginning with the Dutch settlers — who arrived about 60 years before the English decided to put their stamp on the island — Manhattan was a wilderness peopled by Native American tribes. In time, the Dutch created a very effective and diverse mercantile system at the tip of the island. This was ambitious stuff and today New York City still demands an ambitious mindset for those who move there — much can happen in a New York minute.

When author and editor Pat Hackett was a student studying literature at Barnard College, she was looking for part time work. At age 19 she met Andy Warhol and he gave her a job. Pat became a trusted friend, confident and collaborator. Warhol came from very humble beginnings in Pittsburg and after he graduated from Carnegie-Mellon University, he decided to head to New York City and work as a commercial artist. He told his mother that New York was where the work was happening. So, he brought his widowed mom with him; he also brought a savage work ethic. Warhol dialed into a very transformative time in the city’s art scene — the early 60s. He worked in a variety of mixed mediums; silk screening, painting, drawing, film and photography. Over the years, Andy Warhol became controversial and successful. Pat Hackett went along for the ride. She worked with Andy for 20 years.

Warhol created a prodigious amount of art. He worked out of a place called the Factory, where he (and a team) cranked out paintings, films, and photographs. Warhol surrounded himself with sharp people who helped him get his work done. He also attracted some sketchy folks who wanted in, for whatever he was doing. After he died, Andy Warhol’s artwork became worth hundreds of millions of dollars. (His “Silver Car Crash” painting from 1963 sold in 2013 for $105 million.)

Pat Hackett transcribed and edited “The Andy Warhol Diaries.” Between Nov. 24, 1976 and Feb. 17, 1987 Andy would call Pat at 9 a.m. and talk with her for two hours about the previous day’s activities. She would write out what he told her on legal pads, and later type out the diary entries. This fun and gossipy diary had specific purposes. The most important one was that Warhol was audited yearly by the IRS, and this was a way to track his expenses. Let’s say Andy was meeting someone for lunch at the Carlyle Hotel to discuss a commission. He would tell Pat who he was with, what they were like, what the tab for lunch was and how much the cab ride home cost. Although this is a long book, the diary reads on the quick. Over 11 years of phone calls, Pat transcribed over 20,000 pages of entries. Then, she edited the diaries down to eight hundred and seven pages. The book was published in 1989, two years after Warhol’s death. Currently, there is a Warhol Retrospective showing at the Whitney. What a life!

When I went to meet Pat and her friend Judy Hamburg — they both have places at Gramercy Park — my primary focus was to learn about the history of this part of New York City. I’d read articles that said this is what old New York looked like in the late 1800s. (This was a recon trip so I’d know where to bring the bride to the city in March.) Andy Warhol’s art was not on my radar; Pat was, because writers interest me more than artists. Just sayin’. When Pat came to meet me in the lobby of the Gramercy Park Hotel, she gave me a book called “Gramercy Park: An American Bloomsbury,” by the late Carole Klein. If I wanted to learn about old New York, I could not have been gifted with a better book. Additionally, Pat gave me some other noteworthy things to read about the history of this place, and some of her fiction. After meeting Pat Hackett and reading her work, her intelligence and capabilities were evident.

The other objective of this little trip was that I wanted to see the Brooklyn Bridge and take a picture. I figured a quick cab ride over the bridge would do the trick. But something else happened. Pat’s friend Judy — who works in the clothing design business in SoHo — took me to a place to eat lunch. I mentioned to the girls that I wanted to see the bridge. “You’ve never been to Brooklyn?” asked Judy. As she picked up her phone to call for her car, Pat said, “Judy loves to drive.” It was game on! With Pat in the back seat and me riding shotgun, Judy went tearing through the city with a running narrative — punctuated by some ahem, salty New York language — over the Manhattan Bridge all the way to Coney Island, and back into town via the Brooklyn Bridge.

Finally, I got to hang out with two ambitious New Yorkers, saw Gramercy Park, and got a tour of a lifetime.