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ASK Biblitz about New York.

'He did a lazy sway... / To the tune 'o those Weary Blues. / With his ebony hands on each ivory key / He made that poor piano moan with melody. O Blues!'


WELCOME!

What the hell is so great about New York?

See also Brooklyn.

Biblitz replies:



In a word, FUN!

It Happened on Washington Square

Hardcover
By Emily Kies Folpe
Replete with photos, maps and illustrations

Where Life Was a Joy to a Broth of a Boy

The archetypal Greenwich Villager of this period was John Reed, a dashing young poet and journalist born in 1887 in Portland, Oregon. After graduating from Harvard and traveling in Europe, he shared quarters with three college classmates at 42 Washington Square, one of the old houses across from the southwest corner of the park. Walter Lippmann, another college friend, but far more conservative, would sometimes drop by. Reed's downstairs neighbor was Lincoln Steffens, one of the young man's inspirations and a friend of his father's. Steffens had met Reed's father, a U.S. marshal, while investigating a case of timber fraud in the West. As the journalist recorded in his Autobiography, the elder Reed had asked Steffens "to keep an eye on his boy, Jack, who the father thought was a poet." Steffens complied with pleasure, recounting how he liked it "when Jack, a big, growing, happy being, would slam into my room and wake me up to tell me about the 'most wonderful thing in the world' that he had seen, been, or done that night. Girls, plays, bums, I.W.W.s, strikers - each experience was vivid in him...Jack and his crazy young friends were indeed the most wonderful thing in the world." Reed encouraged Steffens to move to the Square after his wife died, thinking it would cheer him. Steffens in turn helped the younger man by introducing him to editors, publishers, and his muckraker friends.

One of Steffens's friends published Reed's first volume of poetry, entitled The Day in Bohemia or Life Among the Artists, which Reed dedicated to his mentor. His lighthearted verses about friends and activities in the "Quartier Latin" include the lengthy poem, "Forty-two Washington Square" with its memorable lines:

But nobody questions your morals,
And nobody asks for the rent, -
There's no one to pry if we're tight, you and I,
Or demand how our evenings are spent.
The furniture's ancient but plenty.
The linen is spotless and fair,
O life is a joy to a broth of a boy
At Forty-two Washington Square!


Other lines of the poem, however, reveal Reed's emerging sensitivity to injustice and hint at the radicalization that would define his life:

There spawn the overworked and underpaid
Mute thousands; - packed in buildings badly made, -
In stinking squalor penned, and overflowing
On sagging fire-escapes...

(From Radicals and Real Estate, pgs. 255-256)

The Weary Blues

Hughes called this "my lucky poem" after it won first prize in a literary contest sponsored by Opportunity magazine in 1925. The poem includes the first blues verses he'd heard as a child growing up in Lawrence, Kansas. It is also one of the first poems where Hughes began to experiment with how to incorporate African-American musical motifs from the blues, jazz, and spirituals into his verse.

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
He did a lazy sway...




He did a lazy sway...
To the tune 'o those Weary Blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.
O Blues!
Coming from a black man's soul.
O Blues!

In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan -
"Ain't got nobody in all this world,
Ain't got nobody but ma self.
I's gwine to quit ma frownin'
And put ma troubles on the shelf."
Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more -
"I got the Weary Blues
And I can't be satisfied.
Got the Weary Blues
And can't be satisfied -
I ain't happy no mo'
And I wish that I had died."
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singe stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that's dead.

(From Poetry for Young People, Langston Hughes, edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad, illustrated by Benny Andrews, p. 24)

The Mayor of MacDougal Street

A Memoir
Hardcover
By Dave Van Ronk with Elijah Wald

More of da' mayor.

Clarence (part owner of the Gaslight cafe) was one of the most extraordinary figures to come onto that scene. He had been quite prominent in the Truman administration, as well as becoming a self-made millionaire three times and each time losing it all. He was a gambler and knew how to take his losses with a smile. God, that man was a great poker player! There were regular games all the time, and one night I was bumped out early on -- I was clearly in a different league from the guys he liked to play with -- and Clarence let me kibitz his hand. I sat there and watched him fold hands that I would have held onto for dear life. Once he threw away a straight! And he was right every goddamn time. He had come from a completely different world, and suddenly was just picked up and dumped on MacDougal Street, in the middle of this kind of nonstop carnival, and he dealt with that situation as though he had created it. That man had more capacity for enjoyment than anyone I have ever known; he could have found something amusing about Hell. (-- pgs. 154-155)

Brendan Behan's New York

Hardcover
By Brendan Behan with drawings by Paul Hogarth

More of Behan.

A Broadway author - I am proud to call myself one - always waits, on the first night of his play, either in 'Sardi's' or 'Downey's', and his press agent goes out to get the six newspapers, which are called the Six Butchers of Broadway'.

Now if you get six out of six good reviews, you could ask the President of the United States to sell you the White House, though I don't think this has ever happened. If you get five good reviews, you are doing fairly well and you have to start worrying about 480, Lexington Avenue, which is the home of the income tax. It is not a bad kind of worry though in its own way, if you have got to have worries, and I suppose everyone has to have them. If you have four, you can afford to give a party, or at least you can afford to attend the party which is usually given for you.

If you get three good reviews, it's time like to go home to bed, but if you only get two, you stay there the whole of the following day and don't go out until after dark. If you get one good review, you just make an air reservation very quickly to get back to where you came from, but if you get six bad reviews, you take a sleeping pill. You might even take an overdose! (From What are they at round Broadway and the bars?, pgs. 45-46)

Gotham

A History of New York City to 1898
By Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace

Hot to Trot

Many of the newly moneyed flocked to the New York Yacht Club... When such wholesome diversions paled, gentlemen could gamble at any of a dozen new luxury casinos, equal to Europe's finest. Here one could dine in splendor -- the sumptuous meals and choice wines were free - and then repair to the glass-domed, velvet-carpeted, rosewood-furnished gaming rooms for high-stakes faro and roulette. (Belmont reputedly lost sixty thousand dollars in one night). (-- p. 954)

On the Bowery

Men played as hard as they drank in the working-class wards. Though official opposition had almost eliminated the baiting of bulls and bears by 1820, cockfighting disturbing photos from Bali continued to thrive as did ratbaiting, a blood sport even more suitably scaled for urban life. Patsy Hearn's Five Points Grogshop, across from the Old Brewery, had a "Men's Sporting Parlor" famous for its rat fights. Seated on pine planks around a railed-in sunken pit, fifteen feet square, two hundred men at a time watched while an escaped slave named Dusty Dustmoor released packs of rats collected by the neighborhood youths. While the rodents engaged in losing combat with trained terriers, spectators wagered furiously on the number of rats the dogs would kill. (-- p. 486)

Artisanal Wards

Montayne's became an informal neighborhood headquarters, a place to read a newspaper and talk over the latest news, a rendez-vous for personal or public celebrations, a magnet for canny politicians, who appeared on election day to buy a round for the voters. Its clientele could play at dice and cards (ignoring the provincial law that promised to fine innkeepers who let youths, apprentices, journeymen, servants or common sailors gamble). They might also take a chance, between beers, on one of the "private lotteries" that were springing up (also illegal because they encouraged "Laboring People to Assemble Together at Taverns where Such Lotteries are usually Set on Foort and Drawn"). From time to time, as well, they could take in the display of a live leopard, a waxworks show, a bullbaiting and other entertainments hosted by the proprietor. (-- p. 188)

Stephen Fry in America

Hardcover
By Stephen Fry

New Jersey is, let's be honest, the Essex of America. Jersey girls and Jersey boys will forever be mocked in jokes and songs for their dumbness, illiteracy, vulgarity and sexual availability. The industrial ugliness of much of the state where it borders the Hudson and looks across the river to Manhattan is hard to deny: ...

Best known in the 19th and 20th centuries for its boardwalk, all seven miles of it, Atlantic City on the south Jersey shore was one of the most prosperous and successful resort towns in America. After the Second World War it freefell into what seemed irreversible decline, until, as a last-ditch effort in 1976, the citizens voted to allow gambling. Two years later the first casino in the eastern United States opened and ever since Atlantic City has been second only to Las Vegas as a plughole into which high and low rollers from all over the world are irresistibly drained.

And so I find myself driving into hell.

... I must brave the interior of the most tawdry and literally trumpery tower of them all ... The Trump Taj Mahal. ... I can pardon Trump all his vanities and shady junk-bonded dealings and financial brinkmanship, I would even forgive him his hair, were it not that everything he does is done with such poisonously atrocious taste, such false glamour, such shallow grandeur, such cynical vulgarity. At least Las Vegas developments, preposterous as they are have a kind of joy and wit to them. ... Oh well, it is no good putting off the moment, Stephen. In you go. ...

Above my head glitter the chandeliers that for some reason Trump is so proud of. '$14 million worth of German crystal chandeliers, including 245,000 piece chandeliers in the casino alone, each valued at a cost of $250,000 and taking over 20 hours to hang,' trumpets the publicity.

'An entire two-year output of Northern Italy's Carrera marble quarries - the marble of choice for all of Michelangelo's art - adorn the hotel's lobby, guest rooms, casino, hallways and public areas.' Yes, it may well have been the marble of choice for Michelangelo's art. English was the language of choice for Shakespeare's, but that doesn't lift this sentence, for example, out of the ordinary. And believe me the only similarity between Michelangelo and the Trump Taj Mahal that I can spot is that they've both got an M in their names.

'$4 million in uniforms and costumes outfit over 6,000 employees.' Including one butter-coloured shirt as worn by me.

'Four and half times more steel than the Eiffel Tower.'

'If laid end to end, the building support pilings would stretch the 62 miles from Atlantic City to Philadelphia.'

'The Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort can generate enough air conditioning to cool 4,000 homes.'

You see, all this mad boasting says to me is 'Our Casino Makes a Shed Load Of Money'. They can afford to lavish a quarter of a million bucks on each chandelier, can they? And where does this money come from, we wonder? From profits from their 'city within a city' Starbucks concession? From sales of patent leather belts and onyx desk sets? No, from the remorseless mathematical fact that gambling is profitable. The house wins. The punter loses. It is a certainty.

This abbatoir may be made of marble, but it is a place for stunning, plucking, skinning and gutting sad chickens.

... Well, perhaps I am a bit of a grumpy guts today. I am treated very well and I do enjoy the dealing part of the game. They players facing me are grown-ups. They know what they are doing. Who am I to pee on their parade?

Still, it is with real pleasure that I leave Atlantic City behind me, certain that I shall never return. (From New England and the East Coast, pgs. 61-65)

new-york The City from Greenwich Village is a lyrical celebration of the vitality and excitement of life in lower Manhattan. Looking south over Sixth Avenue from the artist's Washington Place studio on a rainy winter evening, electric light merges with moonlight (and Biblitz!), casting an evocative golden glow over the city. At the far left, New York's skyscrapers seem to hover over the city like a shimmering celestial vision. (John) Sloan's painting conveys a nostalgic, romanticized mood, one that contrasts strongly with the scenes of tenement life, teeming city streets, and desolate back alleys that he and fellow members of the "Ash Can School" had produced during the first decade of the century.



The artist's ambiguous reference to "moonshine" on the billboard in the left foreground both documents the city's commercialization and lends a poetic aura to the scene. This urban imagery may be seen as a precursor to American art of the 1960s, when Pop artists appropriated advertising motifs and Photo-realists immortalized the architectural richness of New York. (From National Gallery of Art, Washington, Foreward by Earl A. Powell, p. 250)

Steppin' Out

New York Nightlife and the Transformation of American Culture, 1890-1930

Hardcover
By Lewis A. Erenberg

More of the book.

More vintage New York clubs.

As the famous Stanford White murder case attests, however, much stepping occurred the other way. Evelyn Nesbit Thaw, a chorus girl in the Floradora Girls, wife of Pittsburgh steel heir Harry K. Thaw, and the former paramour of married society architect Stanford White, was the central personage in a scandalous murder case. The deranged Thaw shot and killed White for seducing his wife several years before their marriage. As it turned out, White had been intimate with a number of actresses, whom he often met in the lobster palaces, while his own wife lived on Long Island. He separated the Broadway world distinctly from his own home life. White was apparently not unique, for in her autobiography, Evelyn Thaw described how members of exclusive Fifth Avenue men's clubs took her and other chorus girls to the lobster palaces but showed a distinct unwillingness to introduce them to the more refined women of their own society background. This fast set, thus, was party to the double standard. The doube standard also permitted men to utilize the restaurants as their province for late-night card playing and drinking. The main dining room of Rector's had a special Yacht Club table for rich sportsmen, among them Howard Gould, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, Colonel James Emerson, Lloyd Phoenix, Harry Harkness, and Commodore Mills. Upstairs the management provided food and service for the private and exclusive male gambling parties. Young and old might visit Broadway, but because of the lobster palaces' questionable character, wealthy women went only in guarded fashion. If a fashionable woman visited Rector's after theatre, she went incognito, having first returned home to change her low-cut dress. It was not considered proper to be seen in such a place in revealing clothing. Her escort sequestered her in a distant part of the room so that she would not be mistaken for a woman of the town." (From After the Ball, p. 53)

Other representatives of the urban community made the rounds of the cabarets. Arnold Rothstein was a fixture of cafe nightlife, and he bridged the period from the 1910s to the 1920s. One of the most prominent gamblers in the nation, Rothstein was known as the man who fixed the World Series and brains of the underworld. Starting out as a gambler, he also made money supplying thugs to the garment district, bankrolling theatrical productions, and loaning money to a variety of illegal operations during Prohibition. From a religious Jewish family, with a father who was a well-respected businessman in the Jewish community and the garment district, the younger Rothstein married out of the faith and found his existence in the fast life of a gambler's world. As a prominent man-about-town, he visited the cabarets with other gamblers, his wife, or a number of girl friends. There he found an easy-going cosmopolitan crowd, interested in a man who lived to all outward appearances by the laws of chance rather than the laws of the clock or routine. In the cabaret and night world of New York, the gambler could easily fit into a crowd that was learning to spend impulses more freely. (From Action Environment, p. 139)

Nightclub City

Politics and Amusement in Manhattan

Hardcover
By Burton W. Peretti

More of the book.

The French Casino was the most lavish high-volume club New York City had yet seen. This enterprise was developed by the owners of the Earl Carroll Theatre at 50th Street and Seventh Avenue, just above where Broadway crossed Seventh Avenue. Louis F. Blumenthal, Jack Shapiro, and Charles Haring needed to fill the theater after the demise of Carroll's revues and a failed effort to show films. (Carroll, meanwhile, relocated to California, where he opened a successful new nightclub). The scale of the French Casino was unprecedented. The partners spent over $200,000 in an effort to create a restaurant-cabaret for fifteen hundred customers. Clifford Fischer, who was hired to manage the club, took the French cabaret theme to a new level and spent $60,000 to hire an actual troupe from Paris's Folies Bergeres; the Casino's scarlet and silver paneling and Art Nouveau murals overlooked terraced floors and a balcony for diners. A large dance floor bordered the old theater stage. Here a company of acrobats, comics and dancers put on revues, interpsersed with the Folies show, to the accompaniment of the Jack Denny and Vincent Travers orchestras. Musical revues sometimes featured the popular ocean-liner motif,



but evocations of continental Europe predominated. Tableaux mimicked compositions by Picasso and Matisse and dance numbers made use of both traditional and modernist materials and styles, for example justaposing a flamenco dance with Renita Kramer's startling patomime (in which, costumed as half man and half woman, she made love to herself in an expressionistic moonlit scene). Female nudity was also prominently featured. All of this, and a five-course dinner, was offered by the French Casino for $2.50 per customer. (footnotes omitted) (From Chapter 9, Billy Rose, pgs. 199-200)

Bob Dylan Chronicles Vol. I

Hardcover
By Bob Dylan

I did everything fast. Thought fast, ate fast, talked fast and walked fast. I even sang my songs fast. I needed to slow my mind down if I was going to be a composer with anything to say.

People goin' down to the ground, buildings goin' up to the sky!'



I couldn't exactly put in words what I was looking for, but I began searching in principle for it, over at the New York Public Library, a monumental building with marble floors and walls, vacuous and spacious caverns, vaulted ceiling. A building that radiates triumph and glory when you walk inside. In one of the upstairs reading rooms I started reading articles in newspapers on microfilm from 1855 to about 1865 to see what daily life was like. I wasn't so much interested in the issues as intrigued by the language and rhetoric of the times. Newspapers like the Chicago Tribune, the Brooklyn Daily Times and the Pennsylvania Freeman. Others, too, like the Memphis Daily Eagle, the Savannah Daily Herald and Cincinnati Enquirer. It wasn't like it was another world, but the same one only with more urgency, and the issue of slavery wasn't the only concern. There were news items about reform movements, antigambling leagues, rising crime, child labor, temperance, slave-wage factories, loyalty oaths and religious revivals. You get the feeling that the newspapers themselves could explode and lightning will burn and everybody will perish. Everybody uses the same God, quotes the same Bible and law and literature. Plantation slavecrats of Virginia are accused of breeding and selling their own children. In the Northern cities, there's a lot of discontent and debt is piled high and seems out of control. The plantation aristocracy run their plantations like city-states. They are like the Roman republic where an elite group of characters rule supposedly for the good of all.... (-- p. 85)

Fables of Abundance

Paperback
By Jackson Lears

Treasure-seeking was one of several ways that early-19th century Americans used magical thinking to allay anxiety and sustain a dream of instantaneous change in their economic condition. Belief in luck survived Puritan denunciations of pagan superstition and sustained a flourishing subculture of gambling. To be sure, the gambler could display elements of calculation as well as vestiges of magical thinking. Yet in general, gambling represented a popular (sometimes playful!) alternative to the diligence supposedly required for economic success. Despite the efforts of ministers and moralists, many ordinary Americans - even those who never went near a crap game or a card table - hoped for a "lucky hit" in one of the myriad lotteries or "policy" games available in most cities. Policy was a 19th century equivalent of the numbers game. Players consulted dream books that claimed to reveal the numerological significance of dreams and coincidences; the player could learn what number to bet on when he dreamed of a policeman, or saw an old lady fall down in the street. This form of magical thinking was not confined to any one class or race. As late of 1879, the Virginia journalist James D. McCabe could observe in Lights and Shadows of New York Life that "even men accounted 'shrewd' on Wall Street" were among the purchasers of dream books. (The ironic linkage would not have gone unnoticed by the economist Henry George and other reformers; by 1879, the resemblance between stock market speculation and gambling had become a major theme in Protestant and republican critiques of capitalism.) (footnote omitted) (From the chapter, The Modernization of Magic, pgs. 44-45)

Vanity Fair

Profiles in Panic

By Michael Shnayerson
January, 2009

More of the story.

More on the condo disaster at the New York landmark Plaza Hotel.

Nowhere is the downturn more dramatic, though, than downtown, where new condominium towers by cutting-edge architects vie for a market that's almost vanished overnight: young Wall Streeters with bonuses to throw at sleek, overpriced apartments in Richard Meier-knockoff buildings. For the developers, it's proved a game of high-stakes musical chairs. Those who got their buildings up by early 2007 have sold many of their units by now. Those who started selling after Bear Stearns's collapse, last March, are struggling, as the Web site StreetEasy confirms. And for those just getting started, good luck.

In the financial district itself, hotel impresario Andre Balazs embarked on the 47-story William Beaver House in 2006. StreetEasy's Sofia Kim suggests the name was meant - or at least interpreted - as a naughty wink to hard-partying bachelor traders. With the Tsao and McKown-designed building due to open this month, 209 of its 320 mostly one- and two-bedroom units have sold at top-of-the-market prices - from $900,000 to $6 million. But the rest are either for sale or being held in reserve. That's a lot of unsold units. ... (-- pgs. 75-146)

What's your favorite New York night or day spot? Top three?
teaman90
Don't keep these things to yourself, for goodness sake. Be a pal and share! All tips, gambles and bling most gratefully received! If you prefer, e-mail me at leo@askiblitz.com and read me the Riot Act. Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Woof!