Holiday weekend in New York
JENNIE AND I had known all about New York most of our lives. We had seen it in black and white and. more recently, in breathtaking lull-colored cinemascope. We had heard its cacophonous pulse as background noise to a thousand movies and radio and TV shows. We had used its geography as adjectives: Park Avenue meaning rich: Greenwich Village meaning In; Madison Avenue meaning Out. We had quoted knowingly from the most esoteric cartoons in its private magazine, the New Yorker. We had made good Canadian rye whisky too sweet in Manhattan cocktails and ordered Alberta beef in New York cut sirloins, whatever they are.
Then, one weekend this spring, we visited it. For three days we felt like Alice down the rabbit-hole, never knowing what would turn out the way we had known it would, and what would surprise or disappoint us.
Take our first look at New York, or rather the lack of it. Bysneaking away from the office a little early, you can fly from Toronto and be in New York in time to catch an evening show. The fare is fifty-four dollars return. But the main reason we chose to fly was to open our weekend with a dramatic, over-all look at the skyline.
We didn't get one. Fog closed in so tightly that our first view of
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the New World’s biggest city consisted of tall and scraggly grass lining the runway at Idlewild airport.
By the time we'd emerged victorious from the game of find-your-luggage-and-grab-it-quick that you play at airports and climbed into the first of the fleet of cabs we were to hire that weekend, the fog had turned to pounding rain. While we huddled cheerlessly in the back, afraid to ask about the passing landmarks for fear of being taken on a tourist’s roundabout, the taxi scurried like a water spider for our midtown hotel.
Our first cabbie was our second disappointment. He didn't talk out of the side of his mouth, or quote Aristotle, or dope out the presidential election, or do any of the other things New York cabbies are supposed to do. He just drove us where we wanted to go. Furthermore, we were told later. New' York’s twenty-three thousand taxidrivers are so afraid of the plainclothesmen from the Hack License Bureau who often pose as tourists, that no matter what greenhorn questions you ask, they'll always take you by the shortest route. Almost, anyway.
We had chosen the Barbizon Plaza, a large, modest and convenient hotel on Central Park South, where we had booked a room overlooking the park for $16.50 a day.
The doorman who took our bags looked quizzically at a coin I gave him. asked if it were a Canadian fifty-cent piece, nodded, then wheeled off to the cashier's desk to exchange it for real money. On the elevator. I passed Jennie our Canadian money, cautioning her to keep it till we were safely home. In the room. Jennie tried to peer through the fog that covered the park, while 1 ordered sandwiches to keep us till we could eat after the theatre.
As we were changing, Frank Wolfe, the photographer assigned to follow us. telephoned to arrange to meet us in the morning and, after listening to an account of our first hour, informed me I'd been tipping everyone outrageously. Almost all visitors to New York did. he assured me.
We set out for the ANTA theatre and A Thurbcr Carnival, the revue based on James Thurber s works that is one of the few hits of this Broadway season. Surprisingly. we'd got tickets for a Friday night just by writing ahead and had good seats for the list price of $6.90. We arrived early enough to stare at the audience and play a game we sometimes amuse ourselves w'ith in crowds: guessing backgrounds. We had never had better material. In front of us was a squat, sun-tanned, impeccably tailored man in his fifties, sporting a diamond ring the size of a walnut. With him was about six feet of slim CONTINUED ON PAGE 32
a iiiii~-~iini~ a hat shop. hai' aIl(1 tIit~ .Atitoiiial. tIlC\ (I i~-~(()\€~t'(~(I t.L \ew `\ (irk of their o~ n
Holiday weekend in New York
Continued from page 24
“On the right, stately Fifth Avenue apartments; on the left, the penthouse of a gangster czar“
curves, wrapped in mink, topped by a magnificent sweep of hair the color of sun-ripened peroxide. ''Bookie.' said Jennie. ''Numbers racket." I preferred. There was also a gaggle of housewives from Exurbia. Conn., two more couples looking as touristy as we did and a greyhaired man so distinguished in appearance that we decided he was an eminently unsuccessful author, and a serious, dark girl All By Herself and a young man in need of a haircut and wearing Horn-Rimmed Glasses.
The show wasn't nearly as much fun. We'd read much of the Thurbcr material and judged it no funnier when read aloud, even by such able performers as Peggy Cass. Tom Ewell and Paul Ford.
Afterward, we hailed a cab and went to P. .1. Moriarty's on Sixth Avenue. There used to be just one Moriarty’s restaurant. further downtown, until Fred Kerner, a Canadian we were to have lunch with on Friday, hit on a singular idea.
He suggested that Moriarty borrow a prop fire hydrant from one of the television executives who convened regularly at the original restaurant. Placed at the front door, Kerner reasoned, it would assure patrons a parking spot even during the heavy theatre rush-hour. The idea worked — until someone who wasn't eating at Moriarty’s got a parking ticket and complained to the officer on the beat. By chance, the ease came up in court on a day that was light in news. All seven New York dailies carried the story, and
the stately Times ran a page-one picture. Moriarty’s was famous.
It is also famous for cream - cheese cake, with which we topped off an aftertheatre snack of pink lamb chops and piping-hot French-fried onion rings served by a rosy-cheeked waiter from Montana. Jennie, who weighs 108 pounds and has a passion for rich and gooey and delicious desserts, ate two helpings of Moriarty’s rich and gooey and delicious cheese cake. 1 had two glasses of Irish coffee, as warm and heartening as a mother's love. The bill was around ten dollars.
Though these adventures had kept us out till nearly two. Jennie, who is used to getting up at an unreasonable hour to feed and water babies, bounded from bed about seven to see oui' view. 1 wenty-two stories below. Central Park stretched to the north — 840 acres of spring. To the right was Fifth Avenue, rows of stately grey apartment houses, where rent runs higher than my salary. To the left, Central Park West, only slightly less fashionable. where one of the towers we could see, we learned later, was topped by the $25,000-a-ycar penthouse of gangsterczar Frank Costello, who retains it even though he’s in a federal penitentiary.
We ordered cheese Danishes and coffee and pulled our table to the window to watch the park come to life. Soon nannies were taking their white-stockinged charges for morning strolls. By nine, we had counted four boxers, eleven poodles and one great dane, almost all
attached to ambassadorial-looking men. We watched the park’s only patch of white, a skating rink donated to New York by a woman from Kansas City, fill with tiny whirling figures. We reflected that here in the middle of the world’s most crowded island is a stretch of land almost as big as Jennie's home town of Brandon. Man. Yet no one lives there and no one may stroll on its paths after 9 p in.
I rank Wolfe, the photographer, arrived to hear our plans. I hey were simple, we explained. Having read and annotated half the shelf of guide hooks and special issues of magazines that are devoted to New York, and having listened wonderingly to the army of our Toronto friends who turned out to he connoisseurs of New York as soon as we revealed our intentions, we'd decided to hell with all that. We were setting out to find our M anhattan.
first, some shopping. To whet Jennie's appetite, we strolled down Fifth Avenue.
I tugging her mercilessly past the window displays. At T iffany's, to show that an emerald was as big as a bird's egg, they'll set it under a stuffed lark. I steered Jennie past that one by pointing upward.
We hadn't really believed the buildings were that tall. We compared optical illusions. I felt that the buildings would fall down if I looked at the top long enough. Jennie was sure she would. A block further down, she spotted a hat shop, hut before she could disappear inside like a ferret after a rabbit. 1 pulled rank (I'm bigger) and our luncheon date.
We arrived at Ratazzi. at 9 fast forty - eighth, ahead of our host. Fred Kerner, but a mention of his name got us whisked to his table. We were just perfecting our protective bored-hut-harried look when Kerner arrived, just before our Dubonnets, which were served cold and with a twist of lemon. Fred is a former Canadian newspaperman who has become executive editor of a large paperback publishing house in New York. He talks about his city — New York is his city — the way Toronto Argonaut fans talk about their team in the spring. T walk to work every morning." he told us over lasagne that was as light as crêpes snzette. "Our choice of friends, of shops, of theatre, of food, of anything, is as limitless as this city. I've lived here, off and on, for ten years. I’m still a Canadian, but this is where I want to live." Before we'd finished a salad of endive and lettuce. I'd caught his enthusiasm and was prepared to start apartment hunting. But Jennie had her eye on those limitless shops.
A cab launched us at Klein's on fourteenth Street. No woman can resist Klein's. Its buyers look for ends of lines, copies of originals, factory stocks, any dress that's going cheap. Whatever doesn’t sell immediately is cut in price, then cut again. A dress may start at sixty dollars, then go to thirty, then fifteen —and end up at $1.98. There are floors with racks of dresses under five dollars. At a $2.98 rack we met a scrawny girl shopper who. frank told us, was one of Vogue magazine's most popular models. At a $9.98 rack, a broad-beamed woman kicked frank in his beam as he squatted to photograph Jennie, from the battle, Jennie emerged with an Arnel-and-Dacron tweed coat and dress ensemble for fifteen dollars and a black silk shantung cocktail dress for $9.98. She vows she couldn't buy them in Toronto for eighty dollars.
By now, my girl was in high gear. In the hat shop she'd spotted earlier, she wavered long between two red numbers (at $2.98 each) then solved her dilemma
by buying both. Then, of course, she had to have red shoes. Twelve dollars.
It was time for a favor for me. Just as Jennie had had to see the shops and would, because she is an amateur artist, have to see the galleries, I had my own pilgrimage to make. I suppose everyone has. Almost anything North Americans do, from playing centre field to making mobiles, is done best somewhere in New York. What I do was done best by a group of geniuses who used to meet at the Algonquin Hotel. After stowing Jennie’s forty-threc-dollar wardrobe at the Barbizon Plaza and changing to our pilgrimage clothes, we took a taxi to Fortyfourth Street.
The Algonquin is not a very noticeable place. It is. in fact, just a trifle run down, though some well-known theatre people still stay there. But for more than a decade the continent's best writers,
Dorothy Parker. Robert Bench ley, E. B. White — the Joe Dimaggios of the magazine business — used to meet there at the famous Round Table. That Round Table was my Blarney Stone.
Well, all the damn tables are round. They're small and scattered around the lobby and there isn't a square table in the house. Trying to look as inconspicuous as possible, 1 ushered Jennie to a likely looking one and sat shyly in the most impressive chair. Nothing. I ried another. Nothing. Another. Nothing. Not once did Í feel the spirit of Alexander Woollcott. I rang a bell —there's one on every table — fully intending to ask the waiter to show me please where James Thurber sat but my courage failed, and I ordered gin and tonics instead. We drank them and left. I still don’t know where the round table was and, frankly, I'm not sure I want to.
My spirits improved at the King of the Sea, a fine, honest restaurant on Third Avenue, recommended to us by some Maritimers. Jennie had cherry-stone clams and crab Newburg; I chose oysters on the half shell and a baked red snapper in lobster sauce. All highly satisfactory. Feeling pro-American, we ordered California wine. I he King of the Sea didn't have any but his messenger talked us into trying a rosé from Ohio-. It was dreadful.
Undaunted, we headed for Greenwich Village, where we had tickets for The Threepenny Opera, now in its fifth year at the Theatre de Lys. It is a moody show, whose music starts with Mack the Knife and steadily grows more unwhistlable. It is imaginatively costumed, well cast, brilliantly directed, earnestly performed and by the end of Act II, Scene 3 (not counting the prologue or an interlude) it was boring us. We headed up the street, hand in hand and adventure-bound.
We discovered the White Horse Tavern, looking promisingly dark and noisy. There, legend ( and one of our guide books) had it. Dylan Thomas used to quaff beer and, when the bar grew too crowded, retire to the phone booth or the men's room to write his incomparable poetry. That evening, he might not even have found room there. It took us five minutes to scramble to the har and order 'art and 'arf, the traditional British half beer and half porter I've yet to see offered in Canada. We armed ourselves with two sweating steins — at twenty-five cents each — and peered about for some Village characters. Most of the crowd seemed about our own age and all of them seemed to be having a good time—two other things we hadn't yet seen in Canada.
frank, our ubiquitous photographer, had fought his way behind the bar and began firing flashbulbs at Jennie and me. Suddenly, the man on my right, dressed in a windbreaker and needing a shave, drew a thirty - five - millimeter camera from his pocket and began shooting back at frank. While the crowd cheered both of them, the two camera bugs dueled in the gloom, frank, having flash bulbs, won.
All this attention, and perhaps, the fact that I had a tie on. made us conversation pieces. Soon we were chatting with the couple on our left.
"Do you live in the Village?" 1 asked.
"Sure," smiled the man, who was about my age and wore a denim shirt open at the neck and an appropriately worn tweed jacket. Ah. I thought, la vie bohème. Did he write poetry, or paint, or compose, or ... ?
"I work in an advertising agency," he smiled. "Let me show you the Village.”
He did. His name is Bob Carmodie and his girl, who works at the Jewish Aid, is named Paula. Their picture is on the opening pages of this article. They took us to Chumley's, which is a onetime stable and has a sign about an inch and a half high. Inside we had a draft beer and watched the chess games at tables around the wall and browsed among the book jackets that serve as decorations. Then we left by the back door, through a sullen grotto, and looked in at the Roué, where we puzzled at the paintings and left because the poetry reading was over. T hen we stopped at a former speakeasy called Julius for hamburgers.
At Bob's suggestion, we went to admire the moonlight on the tiny pink house where Edna St. Vincent Millay, the favorite poet of an earlier generation, had lived. Properly inspired, we decided to end our Greenwich Village evening by shopping for hooks at the Paperback, a store that stays open till 4 a.m. It wasn't quite as busy as Cole’s at Dundas and Yonge in Toronto in mid-afternoon. We chose two volumes of Irving Layton, the Canadian poet, for Bob and Paula, and an Indian cookbook for ourselves. Then we exchanged addresses and crawled wearily into a cab. It was quarter to three.
Saturday, to no one's surprise, we slept in, and there was just time for a coffee
before we started our rubberneck phase. As a now-sophisticated New Yorker and an old Greenwich Village denizen. I do not hesitate to recommend the tourist routine. We did it bottom to top. With Frank as our guide, we braved the subway. carefully avoiding remarks about how much dirtier it was than Toronto's, to Thirty-fourth Street. Then to the top of the Empire State, where we pointed out all the famous buildings we recognized — until an attendant told us we had the map upside down. 1 can't do better than the hoy from Montreal who. two days before us. had written in the guest hook his name, address, age (fourteen) and his comment: "Pretty high."
We descended to meet a sightseeing luis, on which the barker, a moonlighting school teacher, seemed to enjoy rhyming off his spiel as much as we enjoyed hearing it. This lour, which took less than two hours and cost two dollars each, was. we fell, the perfect way to get an over-all look al New York.
More prowling, while I priced liqueurs in a liquor store (cheaper) and Jennie found two more cookbooks we'd been after. Then it was time to change for dinner.
We had promised ourselves a best-inour-lifetime gourmet meal, but at the hotel we realized our timing was wrong. We were too tired, too ravenous and. in truth, a little too late to dine in grand style. So in the city of ten thousand restaurants, hundreds of which dispense some of the world's most exotic food, we settled for the best, hottest and perhaps rarest steaks we'd ever eaten. We had them at Christ Celia, one of a score of excellent steak houses in the East Forties. With a bottle of Pommard burgundy. a superb tossed salad, a wedge of Gorgonzola and coffee, the meal cost us just over twenty-five dollars, including tips.
A movement of theatre magic
We had managed, by scouting ticket brokers and by being willing to pay twenty - five dollars a pair, to obtain Saturday evening tickets for The Miracle Worker, the well-reviewed play about the childhood of blind, deaf Helen Keller. It is not. on recollection, a particularly brilliant play. It would make dull reading. Yet two actresses. Anne Bancroft, as the Irish girl who shattered the barrier between Helen Keller and the world, and Patty Duke, a thirteen-year-old who plays the child, make it an evening of wonder. There is a moment late in the third act when Helen, who has stumbled and snarled in a black hell of her own all her life, feels pump water running over her hands and utters a barely intelligible "Wah-wah." It is one of those electric triumphs of theatre that stand the hair of your neck on end.
The long day, ending with the emotional explosion of the Miracle Worker, had exhausted us. We took a taxi to the hotel, bought a paper bag of cheese sandwiches and collapsed, happy, in our room.
There was still Jennie's pilgrimage. Sunday morning — laic Sunday morning - we took a taxi to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There was just time to buy pretzels and a bag of peanuts from a street vendor and feed some of the hundreds of pigeons that congregate around the Met.
By opening time, one o'clock, we had mapped our attack on the museum and we divided our hour into blitzes on the magnificent collection of Rembrandt and El Greco paintings and the Rodin sculpture. To meet our schedule, I had to keep
nudging Jennie. But when the hour was up it was she nudging me away from Rodin’s The Thinker. As I stared at that rippling back, in bronze. 1 felt my own shoulders begin to tighten.
We walked the few blocks up Fifth Avenue, past more policemen than we'd dreamed existed, who were lining the street for one of New York's famous and frequent national parades, to the much-discussed curves of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. The Guggenheim. of course, is the late Frank Lloyd Wright's last gesture of defiance to conventional architecture. Inside, it's breathtaking. We rode the elevator to the uppermost sweep of its spiral ramp, and marveled.
But as we walked down, our appreciation descended with us. We must be conservatives at heart. Of all the paintings on display only a small, pastel-colored pattern by Paul Klee and a Modigliani portrait seemed to us worth keeping. The others appeared to he composed of great gobs of brown on black and little burned things or bold, bare patterns of primary colors that bored us at a glance. But it is a grand building.
We were not to escape New York without meeting a real New York cab driver. We hailed him outside the hotel.
I asked for the Eastern Air Terminal.
"You goin' to Idlcwild?" he asked.
"Eventually," I said. "But just take us to the terminal. We'll ride the airline bus out. '
"Might as well ride with me to Idlewild." he said. "Save you time. C heaper."
"Just the terminal," I said.
"Look." he said. "Cost you a buck and a half over there. Then you tip a guy to handle your bags, then a buck and a half on the bus. Then another tip. Time you're on the plane, cost you more. I'll runya out for five and a half."
"Awright." he said, and turned for Queen’s. "You Canadian?"
1 wondered how he knew.
"They're all cheapskates." he said. "I wouldn't runya out only I live in Queen's 'n' I'm tired. Who needs your fin?"
I apologized and explained about it being our first time in New York.
“Watcha see?” he wanted to know. We did a brief recap.
"Thenya seen my son,” he said. "In The threepenny Opera. Name’s Jerry Orbaeh. ”
"He was the street singer." Jennie remembered. "We liked him."
"Yeah?" Mr. Orbaeh Sr. sounded doubtful. "Only makes eighty a week. Been all over — Hollywood, everywhere. Been on Studio One. But I got another son’s a doctor, lie’s a good boy. See what 1 mean who needs your five bucks?"
Feeling guilty, we changed the subject by asking him what he thought we should have seen.
"First thing get a cab." he said. "Give him ten bucks and ask him to take you on a tour. ! hat way you'll really see New York. Go to a night court. You'll sec more in night court’n you'll see anywhere else all your life. Lotsa nights I go there just to look, look my wife once."
We thought about that. But already Mr. Orbach's cab was soaring through the line of air terminals.
We coasted to a stop at TC'A's gate, i gave Mr. Orbaeh six dollars, nearly the last of the three hundred we'd started with. "Say." he said. “Don't take that too hard about Canadians. Lotsa New Yorkers are cheap too. Next time, get a cab for a tour."
Next time, if we can fit it in among the thousand other things we'd like to see, we will, if