"Woman, woman, woman,!" exclaims Baxter. "New York is her shrine, her holy city, her heaven and her hell"
Londoner In New York
"Woman, woman, woman,!" exclaims Baxter. "New York is her shrine, her holy city, her heaven and her hell"
NEW YORK—Despite the proved legend of American hospitality, New York welcomed the Queen Elizabeth with a blizzard. The snow was driven against the flanks of the mighty ship but she merely snorted defiance and told the tugs to get on with their job or pulling her into dock. Once a fortnight the great Cunarder reminds America that whether or not Britannia still rules the waves, the Queen Elizabeth definitely rules the Atlantic. Even above the cacophony of New York's traffic you can hear her mighty blast as she disdainfully draws away and turns her nose toward England.
In the taxi that drove another passenger and myself to our hotel, the driver did the duties of an ambassador. He hoped that we had voyaged well and that we would have a nice visit in America.
Only once did he seem to depart from his role of perfect host when he said:
“What’s you Limeys doing with your Empire? Are you breaking it up?”
I said that Anthony Eden, who was in the cab behind, would be better able to answer that rather technical question.
“I wouldn’t break it up if I was you,” he said.
It was a holiday, and New York was like a city which had been abandoned to the incoming tanks. We drove through almost deserted streets until the overheated comfort of the hotel enveloped us and we forgot all about the snow and the blizzard.
How far is New York from tired old London with its unpainted face and its scars of war? How far is New York from the rubble that was once Cologne, from the dead port of Hamburg, from the catacombs of Berlin? I know the textbook answer but can the distance between two worlds or two philosophies be measured in miles or hours? Here in the heart of this towering city one feels a sense of security and of power, as if it were an impregnable citadel that nothing could breach. Perhaps the wonder is that America is so aware of the outside world.
» I am glad that I am not a woman, especially a woman from England with a strictly limited supply of American dollars. This afternoon (it is now Saturday) I walked the entire length of Fifth Avenue. The blizzard has gone the way of all
blizzards and blown itself out. The sky is cloudless, the air is as fresh as if it came from the mountains. No wonder New Yorkers have stayed in town today just to look upon the most glittering scene since Babylon.
IT HAS been said that New York is dedicated to the future, to money and to women. Every now and then one sees a shop window for the well-dressed American man, showing yellow jackets, incredible cravats, and an assortment of shirts and sportswear that a juvenile lead would hesitate to use in a musical comedy. Fortunately, there is no evidence that the American male ever patronizes these shops. He remains as he is, inevitably clothed in one of those characterless suits which once seen one never remembers.
But the women! Shop after shop tempts her to enter and bedeck herself like Cleopatra. Is it for
the boudoir? Then there are soft lovely things which would make a woman hesitate to change into the mundanities of street wear. Is it for the evening? Then there are furs, capes, necklaces, elegant shoes with holes in the toe, silks, satins, brocades . . . Forgive me if I am technically inaccurate but you will follow the general idea.
Is it for afternoon wear? Then here are suits of every kind which stop modestly just below the knee but are no doubt less austere when the lady crosses her greyhound legs. Woman, woman, woman! New York is her shrine, her holy city, her heaven and her hell.
For some reason, possibly a sardonic American sense of satire, the wax models in the windows have all the charm of skeletons. They are gaunt, lifeless, expressionless, hideous things on which are draped the lovely decorations of female adornment.
I have been to New York many times, in suffocating heat, in blizzard, in boom and in slump, but after six years in England, with a couple of journeys to Germany thrown in, I can hardly trust my eyes or believe my senses. New York is fabulous, unbelievable, at once exhilarating and depressing. One would be less than human not to contrast it with the drab weariness of London. An American might argue that it is not New York’s fault that it was spared from bombing and might even suggest blowing up the Empire State skyscraper if it would make us feel happier; but it goes deeper than that. Can people living in this magnificence understand what is going on in the old world? Or can they care?
When a ship like the Queen Elizabeth dumps its passengers into the middle of New York, for the Hudson River corresponds to the Strand in London, it is assumed that one will not see any of one’s fellow passengers again. This is-quite false. One meets them everywhere and constantly. The night after out arrival I met Jack Buchanan, the English comedian, four Continued on page 46
Londoner In New York
Continued from page 14
times at four different places.
I think the explanation lies in the personality of the most remarkable man in New York, to wit Robert Goldstein, who is the head of International Pictures Ltd. My own impression is that the late Damon Runyon invented Bob Goldstein, otherwise there is no explaining him. Bob has a suite in the Savoy Plaza where someone takes you for a drink. He mixes a cocktail, gives you a chocolate and then asks what you’re doing that night. You say that ÿou had wanted to see “Oklahoma” but no seats are available. “How many seats do you want?” says Mr. G. You murmur that two would do. “They’ll be at the box office for you,” he says.
You go to the theatre and are given seats in the second row of the stalls— and nothing to pay. How does Mr. Goldstein do it? There is a black market in theatre tickets and he just pays the top price for his friends. He probably paid $15 each for these.
When the show is over he is waiting for you. “We’ll go along to 21 and have some supper,” he says. Club 21 is a place which Damon Runyon frequented and wrote about. The waiters wear royal pink dress clothes and the food is excellent. Mr. Goldstein is neither hungry nor thirsty but sips a whisky while he orders special dishes for us. In comes Jack Buchanan looking for a friend. “Sit down,” says Mr. G. “Have something to eat.”: The party may remain that size or grow to a dozen. Mr. Goldstein pays no compliments, he just pays the bifis.
Someone says she intends to try and get tickets for Tristan at the Metropolitan/ “Two?” says Bob. “Come in for a cocktail and I’ll have the tickets for you.” He asks nothing in return. He doesn’t even pay much attention to his guests. Deep in his heart there must be a kindly liking for people and a deep pride in New York. A few minutes ago he called me on the telephone. “Have you seen that show, ‘Carousel’? ” he said. “I couldn’t get tickets,” I said , lamely. “Drop in for a cocktail,” he said. “I’ll have them for you.”
I repeat that the only possible explanation is that Damon Runyon invented him. But let me add this incredible fact—New York has become a city of surprising courtesy. I can no more explain that than I can Mr. Goldstein, but it is equally true.
The Drama of Business
As for the telephone service, it is something created by a magician’s wand. I called Lord Beaverbrook at a hospital in Miami and it took about a minute. I called my sister in Toronto and she answered with as much promptness as if I had spoken to her across a room. By contrast I think of life at home in England, where one can spend a pleasant afternoon dialing the time away on what is known, with British humor, as the automatic telephone. How interesting to conjecture on the personality of the woman who says: “You’ve got the wrong number,” or, “No this is not Waterloo Station, it is a private house.” One morning every number that I dialed produced the Ministry of Food in ! Whitehall, which was no mean mechi anical achievement. But here in New S York! I believe the telephone operators take a personal pride in their efficiency, and no wonder.
New York is a gossip writers’ delight. It is a place where the incredible always happens and the impossible becomes the inevitable. The drama of New 1 York life is as stimulating as its air and
its shop windows. But New York is also the centre of business and finance, the capital city of the dwindling world of free enterprise. The night clubs are great fun, the radio gossipers are, no doubt, a delight to the old and the young, the shooting of a glamour girl or the throwing of a party for a debutante is as much the pattern of New York as the Hudson which flows to the sea. These events deserve their contemporary historians but I venture to suggest that there is a greater drama going on behind those windows in the skyscrapers that blink their lights upon the city far into the night. American industry, under the vital leadership of free enterprise, is being hammered into the mightiest economic machine the world has ever seen. *
American industrialists expect troubl \ and, like all industrialists, they put their case badly to the public, though not so badly as their British counterparts. They expect a longdrawn-out struggle with labor. But there is this difference between American and British labor. The American workman hopes for a bigger cut off the joint but he doesn’t want thë state to own the joint. The only Socialists I have met so far are British Bloomsbury intellectuals who live here.
The industrialists know that wages are high but they believe that this is balanced by the strength of the home market which permits them to manufacture in such huge quantities that they will be able to compete on even terms with nations producing under a lower wage level. The American workman is not shocked because his employer makes profits; he sees nothing morally wrong in profits but would like to get his fingers on some of them.
The American still worships success.
In a musical show I saw last night the biggest applause was for a song, sung by a bargehand, which had as its refrain his determination to work until he could buy one little boat, then two little boats, and four and eight little boats until some day he would have a whole fleet of little boats. What is more, he presumably intends to do it under the capitalist system.
If there are any readers of Maclean’s who are thinking of purchasing a wreath to place on the grave of capitalism, I urge them to wait. Nor should they regard every strike or slump in America as the beginning of the end. There are all sorts of troubles ahead for the U. S. A. but the country has the strength of a giant and should come through with its essential individualism unaltered.
A people can never be judged by one generation. Who are the Americans? They are the descendants of men and women who braved the unknown to secure a free and better life for themselves and their children. Freedom is not a catchword here, a mere oratorical flourish or a politician’s platitude. Look at these towering buildings and superb hotels. Behind them are endless stories of men who made their fortunes and, instead of playing safe or establishing a country estate, gambled it all on bigger buildings, higher buildings. Many of them lost their money but their monument is here in this brave, audacious, thrilling city.
Before I return I must see Chicago and other industrial cities. I must see the people who live on the wrong side of the tracks and talk to labor as well as management. I must remember too that America is rich and that Britain is going through a grim period which could not have been avoided by any government.
It has grown dark since I started to
write this article, and the windows of the skyscrapers are gleaming like dragons with a thousand eyes. In the shop windows of Fifth Avenue the lights will be turned on the ghastly faces of the wax corpses. The motor cars and taxis are playing the New York symphony which is scored for horns only. In Broadway the illuminated signs are proclaiming that the greatest
circus in the world is open for business. At Madison Square Garden a number of Canadians from Chicago are struggling on the ice against a Canadian team from New York. Somewhere in Gotham a killer has drawn a gun. In the churches which crouch in the shadow of the towering buildings the organists are rehearsing tomorrow’s hymns.
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