In a cover feature last spring, New York Magazine invited 30 notable New Yorkers to share their memories (mostly fond, some harrowing) of arriving to town. Next week, Ecco/HarperCollins will publish My First New York, a greatly expanded collection. Here, from the book, are a few new entries—the early adventures of three writers — plus an actress, an editor, and a famous former call girl — in the big city.
By Nora Ephron
I moved to New York City the day I graduated from Wellesley. I’d found a job a week earlier by going to an employment agency on West 42nd Street. I told the woman there that I wanted to be a journalist, and she said, “How would you like to work at Newsweek?” and I said fine. At the Newsweek interview, I said I hoped to become a writer, and the man who interviewed me assured me that women weren’t writers at Newsweek. It would never have crossed my mind to object or to say, “You’re going to turn out to be wrong about me.” It was a given in those days that if you were a woman and you wanted to do certain things, you were going to have to be the exception to the rule. I was hired as a mail girl, for $55 a week.
I’d found an apartment with a friend from college at 110 Sullivan Street. The real-estate broker assured us it was a coming neighborhood, on the verge of being red-hot. He was about 25 years off. Anyway, I packed up a rental car on graduation day and set off to New York. I got lost only once—I had no idea you weren’t supposed to take the George Washington Bridge to get to Manhattan, so I had to pay the toll in both directions. I got to my apartment and discovered that the Feast of Saint Anthony was taking place on our block. There was no way to park—they were frying zeppole in front of my apartment—and actually I was very excited about this. In some bizarre way, I thought that the street fair would be there for months and that it would be sort of great and I could have all the cotton candy I ever wanted. Of course it was gone the next week.
The apartment on Sullivan Street was completely dreary, and I’m proud to say that was the last time I made the mistake of living in an apartment without any charm. Three months later, I moved to West 44th Street between Ninth and Tenth with two other roommates. In those days, people broke leases and moved all the time, it was no big deal. Apartments were cheap and available. The West 44th Street apartment was a parlor floor-through in a lovely brownstone with two fireplaces. It made no sense at all for three people to be living in it, but we had a wonderful year together. It was very My Sister Eileen. Not that we had seen or read My Sister Eileen. Then one of my roommates got married and the other went back to Venezuela, so I moved to a fifth-floor walk-up in Chelsea.
My job at Newsweek couldn’t have been more prosaic, but luckily I was the Elliott girl—the mail girl who worked directly for the magazine’s editor, Osborn Elliott. This meant I got to work late on Friday nights as they closed the magazine, and I got to read all the first drafts the writers wrote and the corrected drafts coming back from the editors. It was actually interesting, and in the tradition of all such places, we thought that the entire world was on tenterhooks waiting for the next edition.
A few weeks after I moved to New York, I met Victor Navasky. He was editing a satiric magazine called Monocle, and although the magazine came out only rarely, it had a lot of parties. Through Victor, I met a huge number of people who became friends for life. Then, in December, the famous 114-day newspaper lockout began, and Victor got some money to put out parodies of the New York Post and the New York Daily News. I did a parody of Leonard Lyons’s gossip column, and the Post offered me a tryout for a reporting job. I was hired after a week, and I couldn’t believe it: I felt that I’d achieved my life’s ambition and I was only 21. Of course, once you get what you want, you eventually want something else, but all I wanted right then was to be a newspaper reporter and I was.
I’d known since I was 5, when my parents forced me to move to California, that I was going to live in New York eventually and that everything in between was just a horrible intermission. I’d spent those sixteen years imagining what New York was going to be like. I thought it was going to be the most exciting, magical, fraught-with-possibility place that you could ever live in; a place where if you really wanted something, you might be able to get it; a place where I’d be surrounded by people I was dying to be with. And I turned out to be right.