The New York Questionnaire

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!

Illustrations by Riccardo Vecchio

Tina Fey, Comedian
First apartment: Eightieth and Columbus. I knew instinctively I was not cool enough to live downtown. We had a rat situation because of the construction of the Hayden Planetarium.
First job: Writing at SNL. Dream come true. Yet we complained a lot.
Where in the city you’d most like to live: I would like to have Roosevelt Island to myself.

Edward Albee, Playwright
Why you came here: When I was 18, I abandoned my adoptive parents.
First apartment: A sixth-floor railroad walk-up in Little Italy. Twenty dollars per month.
Current neighborhood: Tribeca. A long time ago it was deserted and wonderful. It is no longer deserted, but it’s still pretty good.
Biggest New York fear: That it’s such a target.
New York’s best decade: Now; always.

Nico Muhly, Composer
First job: I spent hours organizing an illustrator’s photographs by category (“Funny Looking Dogs,” “Buckets”), and filing away collections of fruit wrappers from Japan.
Current neighborhood: My roommate and I were evicted from our former place in the middle of the night while I was in Iceland, and we needed to find another place fast. Chinatown is nothing if not speedy.
Craziest New York story: I totally threw up Bouchon Bakery focaccia right in front of Thomas Keller.
Most accurate New York stereotype: We get stuff done fast. I just got back from a week on the West Coast, and I don’t know how those people haven’t chilled themselves into extinction.
What makes someone a New Yorker: Getting the joke.
New York’s best decade: Isn’t the answer whenever you moved to New York?

Denis Leary, Comedian
First apartment: A 400-square-foot glorified closet on Thompson Street. A woman on a lower floor came home at three every night and played Sinéad O’Connor’s cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U” over and over, full blast, window open, while she sang along and cried. That was the closest I ever came to murder.
Current neighborhood: Downtown, because I like to take 45-minute, $750 cab rides every time I go to see a play.
Where else in the city you’d like to live: Park Avenue, because the sight of a guy like me coming out of my building every morning would immediately drive real-estate prices into the ground.
New Yorker who’d make the best president: Martin Scorsese. The place would look great, move even faster, and every single moment would have a Rolling Stones tune playing as the soundtrack.
What makes someone a New Yorker: If the Popemobile happened to cut you off in traffic and you immediately gave him the finger, you, my friend, are a real New Yorker.

Sarah Jessica Parker, Actress
First apartment: Roosevelt Island. My parents had read in New York Magazine that the island was “the affordable way to live in New York.”
Current neighborhood: The West Village is the farthest north my husband’s ever lived, and I think the same will be true of our son.
Where else in the city you’d like to live: Chinatown, because it reminds me of Hong Fat on Mott Street and getting an egg cream at Dave’s Luncheonette on Canal.
New Yorker who’d make the best president: Jane Jacobs.
Biggest New York fear: That all the bodegas, Korean markets, and delis will close and I’ll have to get my paper and milk at CVS.
Best mayor of the past 40 years: Well, I loved Ed Koch promoting the pooper scooper, but I love Mayor Bloomberg’s command.

Brooke Shields, Actress
First apartment: At 345 East 73rd Street. I did pogo-stick shows in front of the building.
First job: An Ivory Soap commercial. I was 11 months old, and so nervous I shit my diaper.
Craziest New York story: A homeless person in St. Vincent’s gave me a dead turtle in a shoebox.
Favorite New York noise: Cars going over manholes.
New Yorker who’d make the best president: The guy I buy my morning coffee and paper from. He is very diplomatic and smart and he seems to have an answer for everything.

Donald Trump, Real-estate developer
First apartment: A small studio on Third Avenue and 75th Street. It was 1971. The East Side was the place to live.
Current neighborhood: Trump Tower, at Fifth Avenue and 56th Street. I live here because I built it.
Where else in the city you’d like to live: Trump Park Avenue at 59th Street and Park Avenue, Trump International Hotel & Tower at 1 Central Park West, or Trump Place on Riverside Boulevard.
Favorite New York noise: I like the sound of traffic. It translates as energy.
New York’s best decade: I built Trump Tower in 1983, so I’m fond of the eighties.

Mike Nichols, Director
Why you came here:The Holocaust.
Favorite place to be alone: Central Park. It’s a miracle to have it near you.
Favorite New York noise: A home run in Yankee Stadium.
Craziest New York story: My father, mother, and I were at the premiere of Casablanca. No one knows why. We were seated in the Free French section, and when we all sang “The Marseillaise,” my mother dutifully sobbed, although we were Russian-German.
Biggest New York fear: The Latest Anything. Fashions, Crazes, and Things You Must See.

Geoffrey Canada, CEO, Harlem Children’s Zone
First apartment: Four years in Harlem, beginning in 1991. I was very much the oddity back then—a man in a suit and tie going to work every day.
New York’s best decade: The last eight years have been the best the city has ever been. It’s the safest, there’s progress all around us. I think there’s a hope and a promise for all of its citizens—the poorest as well as the more affluent.
New Yorker who’d make the best president: Mayor Bloomberg, hands down. He’s not for sale.
Best thing about New York: Immigrants. There is always someone looking to move in at the lowest levels of the economic scale, and there are always people trying to move up.

Ian Schrager, Hotelier
Current neighborhood: Nolita. A lot of people from around the world live in midtown. Downtown is more occupied by real New Yorkers.
Craziest New York story: One night, myself and some people went for a dip in the Seagram Building pool on Park Avenue.
Favorite place to be alone: Those big rocks in Central Park.
New York’s best decade: The seventies. New York was on the brink of bankruptcy. But it seemed that the United States had tipped over, and everyone who wasn’t tied down rolled into New York.
Best mayor of the past 40 years: Bloomberg. The fact that he’s independently wealthy is good.

The New York Questionnaire