It was possible for me as a kid to come from Brooklyn, go to Manhattan, and experience the theater, go to see the theater. I could afford it as a kid. After I got out of the Navy and I wanted to be a writer or a painter, I was able to go and get an apartment for $60 a month. You couldn't do that now; I couldn't rent a parking spot for $60 a month. So there was a message that the city whispered to its people and to people from all over the United States. "Come here everything is possible." Now that's a seductive sound. It's a seductive whisper.
On Growing Up:
One of the things that I miss the most was what it felt like in the subway between the hours of five and seven. Being on packed subway cars with working men on those cars. Guys stained with sweat, the smell of perspiration, the raw-knuckled hands, the toolboxes, heading home. Nobody would mess with guys like that. And they were very proud of the fact that they were working in the biggest city in the United States -- they were functioning people.
On What Binds New Yorkers:
People moved and the subway then became one of these great binding elements in the city that moved people around and put them up against each other. And sometimes they came up against each other in conflict, but the conflict didn't ever last very long. The Irish fought the Italians until they started marrying them. And then they both fought the Jews until they started marrying them. You know, people began to say, "Hey, there's something more here. If the subway doesn't work, it doesn't work for all of us. If there's a snowstorm, it affects all of us."
On The Death Of The Piers:
When I first went to work on a newspaper, which was in the summer of 1960, at the NEW YORK POST, it was located on West Street, 75 West Street. And the owners, being not particularly generous, had no air-conditioning in the place, so the windows were opened all night as we worked on the night shift. And I would type and slap, type and slap, type and slap. The thing I was slapping at were insects, and they were flying into the newspaper because right across the street was the United Fruit Company pier. It was one of a whole string of piers that ran all the way up the North River until it began to hit the passenger liner piers in midtown. That sense of the thriving, noisy, dirty, exuberant waterfront is gone now. Take a ride down the West Side Drive now, what's left of it, you see some of the piers just rotting into the river like bad teeth. There's no people working on them. You have the one luxury liner pier but that's not what it was up until 1962, where you'd see liner after liner after liner. My mother used to take us as children over to the waterfront for entertainment. We'd go over there and watch the ships sail and see all these rich people waving from the bows of the ships and people carrying champagne and having parties on board the ships.
On Knowing The City:
There's an assumption we all make after a while that we know something about the city. We think we have understood its reason for being here. We've understood how it works, what reality is, in a philosophical sense of what's real. And then you wake up in the morning and there's some astonishing new thing that's happened and you say, "I don't know anything." I think the New Yorker who functions best is the one who understands that you must live with doubt. You must live with a kind of skeptical eye, not a cynic's eye -- but a skeptical eye and ear, not trust too much of what people are trying to put into your head, but examine it for yourself. If you make that effort, if you say there's something here that I don't see, and try to find it out, most of the time you can. It's knowable, it's not like it's completely unknowable. A lot of it is knowable, but because it's dynamic, because it's constantly changing, because the new people who arrive are adding to that mixture in some way, there's never any final word. That's why there is no great novel about New York. There is no single novel. There are a lot of very good New York novels but there's no single all-encompassing novel, the way you could look at any number of Dickens books and say we know London as a result of that. I thought that probably the best novel in New York was the DAILY NEWS. If you sat down and read the DAILY NEWS from 1919 when it started, to the present, you get some gauge of what we'd gone through. And the reason is because it's dynamic. The reason is because of its dailiness. There's a dailiness to life in the city.