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Waking Up to New York

Dr. Ruth, sex therapist
Arrived: 1956
I traveled fourth-class on a ship from France. I was on my way to visit my one surviving uncle in San Francisco before moving to Israel. But as I passed the Statue of Liberty I thought, I’m in heaven. I decided to take a furnished room in Washington Heights; I knew I wanted to be here for a little while. I got a scholarship at the New School to get a master’s in sociology. I was very poor, so I spent most of my time at the student lounge, where the tea and coffee were free and there was always good conversation. Washington Heights was full of mostly old people at the time—a little enclave of German Jewish people who had come before or after the war. I felt at home right away, and I never left. I still live in the same apartment.

Kristen Schaal, comedienne
Arrived: 2000
I arrived in the last recession, and New York was pretty miserable. Nobody would hire me. I was running through my savings, hoping to be an actress and in the meantime lying that I had been a very good waitress at some made-up restaurant. At one point I could walk through pretty much every neighborhood in Manhattan and point out five restaurants that had turned me away. My fake résumé finally got me a job at the Planet Hollywood they were opening in Times Square.

I was so broke I’d have a slice of pizza for lunch, and I would drink 40s for dinner to fill me up. My roommate and I experimented with all different kinds of 40s. There was this terrible one called Green Lightning that was almost hallucinogenic. I still keep one unopened can of Crazy Horse on a shelf in my apartment, just to represent that time. I said, I’m going to drink this Crazy Horse when I’m 60 on the French Riviera, topless, and crack it open with the ocean running up my thigh!

One night I wandered by myself into a show called Eating It at Luna Lounge. The show was filled with all kinds of comedy acts by people like Jon Benjamin, Jon Glaser, Eugene Mirman, and Demetri Martin. I stood in the back and didn’t talk to anybody. I did that again and again. I watched as people took their clothes off and played the guitar, or called their father and asked him, phone on the mike, why he was never there for them. I wasn’t getting any auditions as an actress, so I started to think about comedy. Walking into Luna Lounge that night was the first time I realized I needed to stay in New York even though it was demanding that I leave.

Mary Boone
Arrived: 1970
I remember that the first exhibition I was part of was by Chuck Close, and that he sat in my office during the opening listening to the World Series. That was at Klaus Kertess’s gallery, the Bykert gallery. Lynda Benglis, who was my teacher at Hunter College, said, “Oh, if you need a job, my boyfriend owns a gallery.” Because I thought I was gonna come here and work at a museum, but I did that, and it really seemed so lifeless.

Klaus closed the gallery after ten years because it was getting to be too successful! He said it was too much of a business. It’s so different now. In the early days I remember Brice Marden had seven one-person shows and never sold a painting. Even when I showed Julian Schnabel, it took me two years to sell the first painting.

Julian was the first artist to leave my gallery, and I was heartbroken. It was like the spring of 1984, and I was sitting in my office, crying. In his explanation at the time—you know, it’s like anything, probably things change with the telling every time. But in those days, what he said was that he wanted to be separated. He said, “How many artists do you have in the Carnegie International?” And it was basically the whole gallery. And he said, “Well, if I go to Pace, I’m the only artist from that gallery in the Carnegie.” He wanted a kind of separateness from me, but also from his generation. He wanted to be seen as an individual. We’re still good friends; I think he’s a fantastic filmmaker. I also have a different perception of this, because I think that life is about shared experiences, and if you have an experience with an artist, you never lose that. It’s like if you’re married and you have a child with somebody, you’re never, ever really separated. And the child is the art. So anyway, I was sitting in my office crying, and Jean-Michel Basquiat comes in. And he was so sweet! He was so upset I was sitting there crying. He put his arms around me and he said, “Mary, don’t worry. I’m gonna be much more famous than Julian.” And then he walked out, and he came back in with a huge watermelon, which he plunked on my desk, and we ate.