Writer Nelson George Thinks It’s Time to Reevaluate

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Photo: Jelena Vukotich

Name: Nelson George
Age: 51
Neighborhood: Fort Greene, Brooklyn
Occupation: Writer, author of several books including the recent memoir City Kid; director-writer of HBO's Life Support.

Who's your favorite New Yorker, living or dead, real or fictional?
Walt Frazier.

What's the best meal you've eaten in New York?
I have great childhood memories of Nathan's shrimp with tartar sauce at Coney Island, but I think any meal I've had at a Mario Batali restaurant has been remarkable.

In one sentence, what do you actually do all day in your job?
I dream, write, and scheme most of the day.

Would you still live here on a $35,000 salary?
Where, pray tell, could I live?

What's the last thing you saw on Broadway?
Just saw Hair, which was better indoors than the production I saw last summer in Central Park.

Do you give money to panhandlers?
No.

What's your drink?
I rarely drink, but when I do it's usually a tequila shot or mojito.

How often do you prepare your own meals?
I usually eat breakfast at home (oatmeal), but my other two main meals of the day are from delis or restaurants.

What's your favorite medication?
Fugal Foe. Great for my finicky stomach.

What's hanging above your sofa?
A large framed photograph of the Pacific Ocean at dawn (or dusk) given to me by an ex-girlfriend.

How much is too much to spend on a haircut?
Anything over $50.

When's bedtime?
Anytime between 12:30 and 2 a.m. It used to be 3 a.m., but as I get older the night-owl part of me is receding.

Which do you prefer, the old Times Square or the new Times Square?
Depends on when you think "old" is. The Times Square of the early seventies blaxploitation/kung fu movie era had a seedy, yet playful, quality I have good memories of. By the eighties it had lost that charm and was just sliding into the toilet. I worked in the area from '82 to '89, and it got worse every year. I tolerate its current mall qualities and like the upgrades, though the Times building is oppressive.

What do you think of Donald Trump?
I never think of Donald Trump.

What do you hate most about living in New York?
New Yorkers are still dirtier than is necessary. I traveled around the country to six major cities last summer and spent a lot of time in London last year, and have to admit that New Yorkers toss more garbage needlessly to the ground than any group of big-city people I've encountered. If we just held on to our wrappers, cans, and junk a little longer, the city would be 70 percent cleaner.

Who is your mortal enemy?
Don't have any. I just have people I stay away from.

When's the last time you drove a car?
When I was 15, for five minutes.

How has the Wall Street crash affected you?
There's a lot of anxiety about the future and personal finances that is tangible. I feel bad for folks, but I do think it's time for all of us to reevaluate what "success" means and how we keep score. There are a lot of rich, empty suits in this town who've celebrated while driving the economy into the toxic dump of recession, while [there are also] amazing "poor" folks who get ignored while making the city work.

Times, Post, or Daily News?
Times and the Post. Haven't paid much attention to the News since Jimmy Breslin slowed down.

Where do you go to be alone?
That's what apartments are for. Otherwise you shouldn't expect to be physically alone in New York City. Mentally alone — a Walkman in a busy gym works for that.

What makes someone a New Yorker?
Well, for every New Yorker there are at least five or six crucial doors. There is the door to their residence, their business, their bedroom, their bathroom, and that private door behind which they keep their hidden selves. How they balance their public persona, their family responsibilities, and their hidden, truest selves is what defines them as people and ultimately New Yorkers. The most remarkable people in this city are those not afraid to express that private self (be they writers, community leaders, musicians, dancers) and, in so doing, give all of us a great insight into the human condition. There are many New Yorkers — to me the people who can do that are the truest.