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Waking Up to New York


Keith Hernandez, former Mets first-baseman
Arrived: 1983
New York was the last place I wanted to be, down there with Cleveland, Oakland, and Detroit. I was a guy from San Francisco, and I had already made something of myself, winning the World Series with the Cardinals, so it’s not like I was some kid getting off at the bus station in midtown all full of wonder. And nobody wants to be traded mid-season.

But I joined the Mets in June 1983. At first I was put up in a hotel at La Guardia, which was a terrible existence. I eventually moved to Greenwich until I got divorced. Then Rusty Staub, a New York fixture, told me, “Look, man, if you’re going to be single, don’t live in Connecticut. It’s all in the city.”

So I rented a place for a year until Fred Wilpon, the Mets owner who was also a real-estate guy, offered to sell me a condo at 49th and Second. It had been decorated by some interior decorator in Chicago, and they put all my clothes and luggage in a pile ten feet high—no lie—in the middle of the living room. Ed Lynch, a starting pitcher, was crashing with me while his condo was being finished. I went out one day, and when I came back he had unpacked all my stuff. I got his dinners for a month after that.

We’d go downtown. Soho was this pocket of the city where you could just get out of a cab, wander around, and have a great night no matter what. And I really got into the restaurants. You know, you could do a ball game and then still have dinner after. At eleven! That doesn’t happen in the Midwest. Fanelli’s, Palladium, Chin Chin, Smith & Wollensky, Lutèce … And you’d be a fool to live here and not take advantage of the cultural stuff. So I would go to Broadway plays and even some operas. I met Plácido Domingo backstage once. The guy is a huge baseball fan, and he said “Sorry, I have a cold, I sang like a .230 hitter. Next time, I promise I’ll be a .300 singer for you.”

Back then, of course, the Mets were terrible, so I would be incognito. As we got better, I would go out and it would be all or nothing. Nobody would recognize me or they all would. And, man, for about six weeks after we won the ’86 World Series, I couldn’t pay for dinner anywhere in the city. People would, I kid you not, send over bottles and bottles of free Cristal. Ridiculous. It’s one thing to become a New Yorker; it’s so much weirder to become a New Yorker that all the other New Yorkers know.

Cindy Sherman, artist
Arrived: 1977
It was the summer of 1977, and I was terrified of the city. The Son of Sam was going around murdering couples, the city blacked out for 24 hours, the transit strike stopped all the buses, and all of the sudden women who used to wear little pumps to work now started wearing sneakers. I don’t remember leaving the apartment much. I was just like, “Oh my God, here I am in the city!”

There were a ton of deserted old buildings in New York, and it was just a matter of finding one that someone would let you move into, and that you could turn into something habitable. The first place I lived in was a sublet from an artist friend on Gold and Fulton Streets. It was just one room with a toilet down the hall and a shower that hooked up to the sink in the room. My kitchen was just a fridge, two hot plates, and a toaster oven. I think we were all there illegally, because sometimes people would make really elaborate systems of hiding the bed and the kitchen.

By five o’clock the neighborhood would be deserted, but Robert Longo, Nancy Dwyer, Michael Zwack, Eric Bogosian, and I would go to clubs like the Mudd Club and Tier 3, where punk new-wave bands would play. The scene then was all about artists who were also musicians who were also filmmakers. Sometimes it was about finding a band that was just good to dance to. I remember being at the Mudd Club when the B-52’s played, and there were only ten of us in the audience, dancing right in front of the stage. Then we’d head to the 24-hour diner on Broadway and Canal Street called Dave’s and get egg creams.

The first New York job I got was at Macy’s, and I hated it so much I quit after one day. I wanted to work in the cosmetics department—I was interested in makeup—but their personnel screening placed me as the assistant-assistant-assistant buyer to the bathrobe department. It was just so horrible, in some windowless part of the building. After Macy’s I worked in the afternoons as a receptionist at a gallery called Artist Space on Franklin and Hudson for $80 a week. Nancy worked at Barnes & Noble. We all wanted to make art, but I don’t think any of us expected to live off our work. We mostly showed at alternative galleries where nobody bought anything, and we didn’t expect otherwise. If you did sell something, it was such a treat, such a shock that somebody would buy it.

When I was a teenager in Long Island, I’d come into the city once in a while with some girlfriends, and all we would do is go to Macy’s and try on clothes. And when I was in college I would dress up in public and be in character (like, say, a pregnant woman) at an opening or a party. I tried that in New York a couple of times at my receptionist job. Once I went to work as a nurse. And another time as a secretary from the fifties. I sort of fit in because I was sitting in front of the desk, and I’d be like, “What would you like? What do you need?” But it gave me the creeps to do it in New York, I think because I felt too vulnerable.


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