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40th Anniversary

The New York Questionnaire

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Illustrations by Riccardo Vecchio  

Tony Kushner, Playwright
Why you came here: To go to Columbia. Louisiana in 1974 had no institutions of higher learning and no gay people.
First New York job: A liquor store on Third Avenue. It was tedious, a lot of heavy-lifting and pretending I knew something about wine, which wasn’t true then and still isn’t.
Craziest New York story: Having my picture taken with Liza Minnelli and twenty street queens on Sheridan Square.
Favorite New York noise: When the subway brakes are engaged, they sing the first three notes of “There’s a Place For Us” from West Side Story.
New Yorker who’d make the best president: Grace Paley. Or Herman Melville. Or James Baldwin. Or Ruth Messinger.
Best mayor of the past 40 years: Definitely Dinkins. He made mistakes but he was a mensch. All the rest were Republicans. Including Koch, who was just mislabeled.
Where else in the country you’d like to live: Wasilla, Alaska. I’m an Oxycontin addict.
What makes someone a New Yorker: Flat feet and asthma.


Conan O’Brien, Late-night host
First New York apartment: A girl I knew told me she had a room in a brownstone in Williamsburg. I pictured quaint Colonial Williamsburg, with gaslit cobblestone streets and butter churns. What I found was a postapocalyptic crack wasteland.
New York’s best decade: The seventies. Especially the roving gang of baseball players in clown makeup from The Warriors.
Worst thing about New York: Midtown tourists holding hands and walking slowly. In the circulatory system of this city, they are human blood clots.


Lou Reed, Musician
First apartment: Ludlow Street, because it was cheap.
First job: I filed burrs off nuts in a factory.
New Yorker who’d make the best president: Andy Warhol.
Favorite place to be alone: Churches.
What the next mayor should do: “Lou Reed Way” would be nice. Any little street will do.


Martin Scorsese, Filmmaker
First apartment: Elizabeth Street and the Bowery, which sometimes went by the more exciting name of Skid Row. We chose to live there because there was too much fresh air in Corona.
First job: Stacking boxes in a vitamin factory (now Barneys).
Current neighborhood: The East Side.
Where else in the city you’d like to live: I don’t believe you’re actually free to choose your neighborhood here. The neighborhood chooses you.
New Yorker who’d make the best president: George Washington Plunkitt, a state senator during the Tammany Hall days who coined the term “honest graft,” had a, shall we say, refreshingly candid view of politics.
Biggest New York fear: The sound of my assistant’s voice as she gently says, “There’s a call for you.”
What makes someone a New Yorker: When you measure distances in blocks.


Martha Stewart, Television host
First apartment: On 114th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue. It was a dump.
Current apartment: 72nd and Fifth.
Where else in the world you’d like to live: I already have a home on an island off the coast of Maine and a farm in Bedford, but I wouldn’t mind a real getaway, like a hut in Beijing.
Biggest New York fear: Things dropping from great heights.
New York’s best decade: Every year pre-9/11.


Ray Kelly, Police commissioner
Favorite New York noise: 1010 WINS.
Most accurate New York stereotype: Hurried.
Least accurate New York stereotype: Rude.
Craziest New York story: After a career in the nation’s biggest police department, are you kidding?


Barbara Corcoran, Real-estate magnate
Why you came to New York: I was a waitress in a New Jersey diner, and my boyfriend paid for a week’s stay at the Barbizon Hotel for Women. He said a smart girl like me should be living in New York.
First apartment: A one-bedroom on East 86th Street. I found two roommates in the The Village Voice and ran my little real-estate business from the living-room couch. Two months later, there was an eviction notice on my doorknob—the landlord had mistaken me for a prostitute.
Where else in the country you’d like to live: I tried moving to San Francisco for my 40th birthday, but failed the real-estate brokerage exam four times.


Philip Glass, Composer
Favorite New York noise: The sound of an orchestra tuning up.
Biggest New York fear: That it might become an ordinary place.
New Yorker who’d make the best president: Norman Mailer would have been a good match. If you think you can be the mayor of New York, why not be the president?
Craziest New York story: Once I took a job moving a couple who were obviously breaking up, and they were dividing up all the furniture. They got down to one clock and couldn’t decide who would get it, so they ended up giving it to me. I still have it— it’s a beautiful pendulum clock.


Rosie Perez, Actress
When you arrived: I was born here, baby!
Biggest New York fear: The subway. I’ve been mugged and harassed, and someone actually tried to sexually attack me. The trains in Brooklyn run slower than an army of snails.
Best mayor of the past 40 years: Bloomberg’s all right, I guess. But if he puts tolls on the bridges to save the city at the expense of us borough folks, I think I will just lose it!


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