50th anniversary

My New York

Chapter 4: Long Agos

Alex Katz’s revisiting of his 1940s “Subway Drawings” for New YorkRead more here. Illustration: Alex Katz
Alex Katz’s revisiting of his 1940s “Subway Drawings” for New YorkRead more here. Illustration: Alex Katz
Alex Katz’s revisiting of his 1940s “Subway Drawings” for New YorkRead more here. Illustration: Alex Katz

This anniversary issue is devoted to what might make other people in other places go crazy but here we call connection. Not just the connections we choose, like our poker groups or going-out friends, but those that could happen only in a city as clotted and manic as ours. Fifty years ago, New York’s founding editor Clay Felker wrote a mission statement for his new magazine. “We want to attack what is bad in this city and preserve and encourage what is new and good,” he wrote. “We want to be its voice, to capture what this city is about better than anyone else has.” Here, we return to this mission, attempting to capture the city’s voice through stories that are spoken as much as written, almost entirely in the first person, and always about how our disparate lives intertwine. Read more about the project here.

My Gang: “Boy, you want to run for the Assembly?”

David Dinkins remembers all his opponents.

Photo: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

“Way back, like 1939, my father-in-law, Daniel L. Burrows, had been in the State Assembly. He knew all the people, politically, and he wanted to see that his son-in-law got a break. And it was he who first introduced me to Ray Jones.

Ray’s nickname was “the Fox,” and that was appropriate, because he was tough, very smart, and smooth. He was our local district leader, and he became the first black leader of Tammany Hall. The political clubs, that was the method of networking in that day. A lot of lawyers were members, and they’d come once or twice a week and help people with their legal problems for free. Ray would also help people get jobs. One of his favorite sayings was “Nobody does anything for nothing.” So the community could be counted on to vote consistently Democratic.

One night, Ray came out of his office with a big cigar and said, “Boy, you want to run for the Assembly?” I said, “I don’t know — I guess.” There had been a federal lawsuit, and the result had been an expansion of the number of seats, creating a space for which I could run. So I won. Now I’m hopelessly hooked on public service. This is what I want to do.

Percy Sutton, Charlie Rangel, Basil Paterson, and I — the so-called Gang of Four — we always believed nobody gets anywhere alone. Everybody stands on somebody’s shoulders. It was Ray on whose shoulders I stood.

There were many positive aspects for city government of the clubs’ being in control, such as balanced tickets: Time was, you could count on a citywide ticket in the primary having at least one Jew, one Italian, and so forth. There were certainly some downsides to Tammany Hall too.

There came a time, in 1977, when Ed Koch and Mario Cuomo were in the runoff for mayor. There was always tension between blacks in Harlem and those in Brooklyn. The word came that the black political bloc in Brooklyn was going to support Cuomo. So Percy, our leader, said, “Fuck ’em. We’ll support Ed Koch.” Because they both looked alike to us anyway. Here’s the thing: Ed Koch had been a very progressive, liberal member of the City Council and the Congress, so it sort of made sense to back him. Ed was honest. He was arrogant. But he understood one thing: As he used to say, “If a sparrow falls in Central Park and you’re the mayor, it’s your fault.”

Over the years, he moved more and more to the right. So much so that it was determined somebody should run against him in the 1989 primary. I never started out saying, “I want to be mayor.” But it ultimately fell to me. I never want it to sound like I’m saying I was drafted, but in a way I was. By Basil and Jesse Jackson and Charlie Rangel. And Bill Lynch — oh, what a sweetheart. Jesse used to say, “You don’t have to be loud to be strong.” I found that valuable. I remember Harry Belafonte saying, “Dave, you must run for mayor.” So I ran. We got 51 percent. I can always say I defeated Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani in the same year.

Well, it was a very difficult time. The way the press wrote of the high crime rate in the ’90s, it was as though there was no crime on December 31, 1989 — just the next day, when I took office.

The biggest disappointment? Crown Heights. The real tragedy was the deaths of Yankel Rosenbaum and Gavin Cato. There wasn’t a hell of a lot we could have done differently. The sad thing for me personally, I was accused of holding back the cops, letting blacks attack Jews. This was not true. It was painful, painful. The other thing that sticks in the minds of many people is the Red Apple boycott. I wish now I had crossed the picket line sooner.

Rudy is not a nice guy. He really isn’t. Simply put.

History is kinder and more accurate in many cases than the contemporary observers of the scene. I’ll read about things we did in City Hall — in housing the homeless, in Safe Streets, which turned things around on crime — where we get some credit now. Eli Attie, a great little writer, he later worked for The West Wing; he wrote the concession speech in 1993, except for the last sentence or two. Those were by Peter Johnson Jr., a lawyer and one of my aides. Peter wrote, “Mayors come and mayors go. The city must endure.” See, that’s the whole point: No one gets anywhere alone. All right, young fella.

As told to Chris Smith

My Sammy: “He didn’t believe I had caused Hillary Clinton to lose the presidency.”

Visiting an old friend has its upsides. By Lena Dunham

Lena Dunham in Brooklyn, 2003. Photo: Laurie Simmons

When I was in seventh grade, we moved to Brooklyn and got a dog, two signs of domestication my father had sworn he’d never partake of. Despite having sired two young, clumsy daughters, he was convinced we could remain forever in an industrial building with condemned stairs and no certificate of occupancy, and that the pressure to wash your jeans was a conspiracy by Big Downy. But there we were, on our Sesame Street–perfect block of carriage houses with a terrier who rode in the back of a gray Volvo. “This is fucking humiliating,” my father muttered as he loaded us in for a drive to brunch. Rage, rage against the changing of the boroughs.

But I took to our new neighborhood like Liza Minnelli to a broke gay man — it was as if I’d been waiting my whole life for the chipper sitcom that is Brooklyn Heights. “Good morning, Mr. Construction Worker Leering at my non-breasts! Pleasure to see you, Old Lady With Substantial Day-Drinking Problem!” I worked part-time at the video store. I had friends at the diner, the dog park, and Talbots, where I’d stop to peruse discount lady’s separates. And I tacked my business cards up in Pet’s Emporium. “EXPERIENCED PET GROOMER,” they said, though experience simply meant a pair of clippers purchased at sale prices and a relentless will not to be bitten. I was too scared to actually use the razor, so I gently trimmed dog bangs. I was never hired twice.

But to build a business, you need a champion, and mine was Sammy, an affable Palestinian man who spent most of the day outside his shop, the aforementioned Pet’s Emporium, greeting the neighbors, giving dating tips to unmarried female customers, and ordering around the sons (four out of his eight) who worked for him in what was actually a stunning parlor floor apartment, though it was far too stuffed with bird seed and hamster wheels for the classic architectural details to matter.

I was quickly fired from the video store (turns out the customer is really, actually, and totally always right, even if it’s about gang-bang porn). I was 70 percent friendless and the market for an untrained 15-year-old dog groomer is niche, so I had a good amount of time on my hands and that time was spent with Sammy. Sometimes he let me stack and organize product in exchange for a small store credit. Other times I passed out flyers on special deals. Often we just read quietly, what my mom would call parallel play. “My beautiful Lena!” he would cry when I appeared in the doorway, in the least-sleazy singsong a 55-year-old man can direct at a 15-year-old girl.

I really don’t know what my parents thought was going on. “Where’s Lena?” “Oh, she’s spending Saturday at the pet store with her best friend and mentor Sammy, stacking litter boxes in exchange for organic rabbit pellets!” Sammy let me bring my actual rabbit, first name Chester, last name Hadley, who would sit behind the register in a cardboard box chewing on Timothy Hay. Once, Sammy sent me to cut the nails of an elderly blind woman’s cat, and she paid me with a brooch I still have, a fake ruby in a gold-plated filigreed heart. Sammy marveled at it. “What a treasure!”

When it was time to go to college, Sammy and I had an emotional farewell. I promised to be studious, responsible, and kind — and I promised to visit. But I never visited. My parents moved. My obsession with small-animal husbandry faded. I instead became obsessed with what I ate, what I wore, and whom I fucked (or more accurately, who was refusing to fuck me). Eight years later, I moved back to the neighborhood, but I avoided Sammy’s block. Despite certain successes, it was hard to imagine that I had fulfilled Sammy’s order to “be good.” I had HPV, there were whole neighborhoods I was scared to walk through for fear of a yelling match with a tattooed landscaper, and sometimes I went to the bodega at 4 a.m. and ate six to seven packaged croissants then threw them up. I had no pets.

But one day, having turned 31 and celebrated my five-year anniversary with someone I considered to be the embodiment of good, my feet walked me where my mind had refused to go. It was a Sunday. Would the store even be open? Did Sammy still run Pet’s Emporium or would one of his sons stare at me blankly, wondering who this woman with unbrushed hair and daytime pajamas asking for his dad was?

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” I told my boyfriend as the door creaked open. But there behind the counter was Sammy, in his old spot nestled between the leashes and the dog-breath neutralizers. “My beautiful Lena!” he said without a beat. I grinned. It quickly became apparent that he had no idea what I’d been up to for a dozen years — he hadn’t read about me in “Page Six.” He didn’t believe I had caused Hillary Clinton to lose the presidency. He had not seen my nipples and bush on TV. He was simply happy I’d kept up with this whole being-alive thing. I told him which of our family pets were still living and which one had died after taking a huge shit on my mom’s color printer. I told him I was “a writer, for real now.” I presented my boyfriend like a trophy.

“Look at you!” said Sammy, who had kept a strong business rocking through the financial crisis, the Starbucks-ification of Montague Street, and the challenges of being a human on this earth. No. Look at us.

My Team: “I had lunch with Richard Nixon five or six times. He just wanted to talk about baseball.”

Eventually, Keith Hernandez went to a shrink.

Hernandez and fiancée Sheri Montgomery in 1988. Photo: Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

“Two people changed my attitude and my life. I came to New York, to spring training for the Mets, in ’84, and Rusty Staub said, “You’re single! You’ve got to live in the city.” Rusty got me to live in the city. Ed Lynch, Danny Heep — who was married, but Janey was one of the boys — Ron Darling, and me were the only four who lived in the city. We’d have lunch at Rusty’s restaurant on Third, baby back ribs, and then go to the ballpark in his meat wagon.

In ’86, we win the World Series. I remember after the final game, Bobby Ojeda, my brother, me, and some other people get a limo and we’re going to Columbus, a restaurant on 69th. That was a pretty hot little spot, a lot of entertainment people went in there. We walk in around 1:45 in the morning and it’s packed. They all stood up and gave us a standing ovation, started yelling, “Speech, speech, speech!” I almost didn’t make it to the parade the next morning. I overslept. I didn’t shower. Stupid me, we took a cab downtown, Ojeda and me. We couldn’t get near the cars we were supposed to ride in for the parade. It was a throng of people. There’s a wrought-iron fence, ten feet high, separating us from where we need to be. People lifted us up, Bobby and me, and passed us over the fence.

After we won the World Series, I didn’t pay for a meal for six weeks. We’d go to Canastel’s, down on Park Avenue South. It was Dom Pérignon or Cristal for the table. They wouldn’t let me pay. Obviously, we left lavish tips.

The second person who changed my life in New York was Bobby Zarem, the publicist. We were in Los Angeles in 1987, playing the Dodgers, and a bunch of us went out to a club, and I met Bobby. And Bobby Zarem is the one that opened up the amazing world of New York City to me. From ballet to theater to movie openings — Sea of Love, and I met Marty Bregman and Ellen Barkin and Al Pacino. Opera —Verdi. Went backstage and met Plácido afterward. He’s sitting on like this little throne, and he knows I’m coming, because of Bobby. He goes, “Keith! I am so sorry — I sang like a .230 hitter tonight! I’m sick. Please forgive me. Come again and I’ll sing like a .300 hitter for you.” He is a huge baseball fan.

And of course Elaine’s, and the people I met up there through Bobby. I’ve been at the same table as Elia Kazan and Sophia Loren. Keith Richards was there with his wife one night. I didn’t know what to expect — he had the bone in his hair. He knew baseball! He didn’t want to talk about the Rolling Stones. I’m a kid from a little town in the artichoke fields just south of San Francisco. I’m the son of a fireman. There were nights at Elaine’s I’d look around and think, Where am I?

Elaine is the one — I was around three years into retirement and coming in there most nights. I was on my … sabbatical. I’d had enough of baseball, and I was trying to figure out what was next. She came up to me and whacked me in the shoulder and sat down and said, “What the fuck are you doing with your life?” She goes, “You are so talented! You should be managing the Mets! You’re wasting your life!” I’d never had a conversation with her like that. It sure made an impression. I was still a couple years away, though.

I had lunch with Richard Nixon five or six times. What was weird about it was I would try to get him to talk politics and foreign policy and he wouldn’t go there. He just wanted to talk about baseball. The last lunch I had with him, I finally said, “Mr. President, you always talk about baseball. How about once …” He said okay. And he went on for an hour and a half about the Russians, the Chinese, the Vietnamese, the Germans. It was like I had a class at Harvard or Yale. Bobby opened up every aspect of the arts to me, having conversations, dinner, with these people.

I’m living out in Sag Harbor now. I used to be fearful of being lonely when I got older. Also, my dad was embittered at the end of his life, and I felt myself maybe going down the same path. So when I retired I did five years of Freudian psychotherapy. Five days a week on the couch with Dr. James Strain. I was probably able to go to him because he’s a baseball fan. The most important thing I got out of it was I had always needed to have someone around me. Now I don’t. I can be alone. I don’t go from one relationship to another just to have comfort. Funny, isn’t it? I had to come to New York to learn to be alone.

As told to Chris Smith

My Fellow Drunks: “ ‘Why did you read that one?’ Norman Mailer asked. ‘I wrote it in a weekend.’ ”

How I became good at literary parties. By Christian Lorentzen

George Plimpton with Elaine Kaufman in 1967. Photo: Jill Krementz

The first time I visited New York after turning 21, it was for a party at George Plimpton’s house. I’d only ever been inside one other Manhattan apartment before. Norman Mailer and Lou Reed were there. My best friend told Mailer he’d just read his novel Tough Guys Don’t Dance. “Why did you read that one?” Mailer asked. “I wrote it in a weekend, for money.” None of my friends had the temerity to talk to Lou Reed.

I found myself engaged in mutual elbowing with a man about my height in the crowd advancing on the bar. It was Plimpton. He got his glass of Dewar’s on the rocks and I my cup of wine. I put my cup on a table, lit a cigarette, and told Plimpton that his book The Curious Case of Sidd Finch — about a pitcher from the Himalayas with a 168-mph fastball — was the first novel I’d ever read. “What are you reading now?” he asked. I was reading Swann’s Way. “Well, then I pointed you in the right direction.” I picked up my drink and took a swig. It was a bitter slosh of cigarette butts and ash. Wrong cup.

Parties are a crucial part of the equation in publishing. The little magazines introduce the talent first, and parties are the way they draw in readers and sell issues, reward the grunts who do the (usually free) labor, and create an aura around their editors. Writers do their work in solitude, but it’s sometimes good for them to get out, too, even when it’s only among kids who will fawn over them. It’s at parties that they play the role of Writer, acquiring allies and rivals. They might even pick up material, an idea, or at least a notion of what not to write. In his notorious memoir Making It, Norman Podhoretz said it was parties and the prospect of talking about their pieces at parties that made writers get their pieces written. After his book came out and all his friends trashed it, he started drinking alone. Then he became a Republican.

Minor humiliations, like vaccines, are important for young writers, and I made it back to Plimpton’s house a couple of times after I moved to New York. It was there that a novelist mentioned he’d noticed a recent long essay about the Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare. I sensed that this was my chance. “I wrote that!” The novelist said nothing and walked away, which I see now was entirely appropriate. My anointment would have to wait.

In those days, I only knew one guy with a cell phone, and he had a mild obsession with Plimpton. He made his way into Plimpton’s study at one party and called himself from the phone to get the number. A few times over the next couple years, he’d call Plimpton in the evening to gauge his interest in sitting on panels he was setting up — events that were entirely fictional. We knew Plimpton’s assistant in those days, and she put a stop to this. “When you called last night, George was on the phone with Muhammad Ali and had to put him on hold for ten minutes!” My friend was bereft when he lost the phone with Plimpton’s number. But it turned out George was in the White Pages.

Open City threw the downtown parties, the cool ones. McSweeney’s was still run out of Brooklyn when I hit town, and I remember lines around the block at Galapagos in Williamsburg for the launch of issue No. 5, the number with the long brilliant story “Mister Squishy,” by Elizabeth Klemm, a one-off pseudonym for David Foster Wallace. A friend of mine got drunk that night and had all the readers sign the Kurt Vonnegut novel he had on him. What’s the market value of a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five signed by Dave Eggers, Sarah Vowell, and John Hodgman? The drunk guy runs a corporate-publishing imprint now.

Once I had a real job as an editor at a magazine with a staff of three, no website, and few readers I knew personally. I spent some of my off-hours helping my friends start n+1. I was a “consultant,” and besides showing them how to make a table of contents, proofreading, finding them designers, and writing movie reviews, I tended bar at their parties. I met all my friends that way. The first time the mag tried to make real money off a party, with rich people there, somebody stole the cash box. There was a rumor it was used to start another magazine. At least that was the hope.

The best friend I made from going to lit parties was Matt Power. He was a journalist and an activist, had lived in a squat in the Bronx and with the Flux Factory collective in Queens, rode a motorcycle, and flew all over to write his pieces. At lit parties, whenever Matt met a fiction writer, he’d mention that he’d dropped out of the Columbia M.F.A. program because he thought true stories were better than what he could make up. I would roll my eyes and interject that style was the only thing that really mattered. Matt always wanted to crash New Yorker parties to meet his globe-trotting heroes, but I thought you shouldn’t go to their parties if you didn’t write for them. Still, we crashed a few. In general, I learned, you should stay away from parties for rich people, because their purpose is donations and having a good time is secondary. Never go to a networking event. Poetry readings are either the best or the worst things. You can skip any book party because they only happen once, they end too soon, and there’s no narrative to them, especially if you’re not there. I’ve only been to one really good one, for Jon-Jon Goulian’s The Man in the Grey Flannel Skirt, at the Wooly. Things got messy, somebody got sick, and I almost got into a fistfight. That was all after Bob Silvers left. The best way to befriend famous people is to have no idea who they are.

Today, Open City is gone, and McSweeney’s is elsewhere. New magazines flare up all the time — Triple Canopy, Gigantic, The New Inquiry, Jacobin, Adult — and transform the landscape, transform what it means to be a magazine. After George Plimpton died in 2003, the offices of The Paris Review moved to a Tribeca loft. Same party, new shape. One night Lorin Stein and I were busted for smoking on the fire escape. A no-no with the neighbors. Lorin is the editor now, and he moved to another loft in Chelsea. An eminence will occasionally appear, Vivian Gornick or Ishmael Reed or Frederick Seidel. I go to see old friends. I’m the little brother of the older crowd now. Matt died of heat stroke on assignment, walking the Nile, in 2014. I still read his stuff. I still miss him at every party.

My Tormentor: “I just found her irritating. Conceited! An airhead!”

The issues that surfaced while belly dancing. By Mary Gaitskill

My experience of envy was the most banal type you can think of, among the most ridiculous and to me initially really confusing. I envied the youth and beauty of a young girl! This is not normal for me. I sometimes envy youth and beauty in a general way, but I don’t often compare myself to specific people, especially not to girls who at this point in my life are in a completely different category.

She was someone I met at a belly-dancing school delightfully called Bellyqueen, which is the kind of intensely multicultural place that is unique to New York City. Some students will plainly go pro, and some already are. Some are performance-addicted amateurs, some are, like me, more casual. Everybody who stays with it does so because they love it, because it is incredibly and deeply fun. I recently told a writer suffering from depression that she should try it, because if you have joy anywhere in you, belly dancing can wake it up. I meant that.

There are many pretty or beautiful girls at Bellyqueen, and most of them I just appreciate. This girl, as I say, was different. I am guessing she was about 20. She was Chinese, tallish, with shoulder-length very black hair and a slender, delicate frame. She did not appear to be an experienced dancer, but she was a natural dancer, radiant and lithe. She had some of the common markers of beauty, as least as I define it: glowing skin; full, finely shaped lips; a soft but sensually heavy jaw; deep-set, heavy-lidded eyes. But what made her irresistible to my gaze was something in the way she moved, a preening exuberance that was sometimes touchingly awkward, as if she were slightly dazed by her own loveliness. Everybody warms up in front of the mirror, but she posed and danced at herself as if she were the only person in the room.

At first, I didn’t even realize that what I felt toward this girl was envy. I just found her irritating. Conceited! An airhead! Mindlessly pleased with herself! Most of the time I didn’t even think words, I just felt that dismissive irritation. I think it took months for me to realize what I was actually feeling, and when I did, that of course made the experience even more irritating — and bewildering. Why, of all the pretty girls at Bellyqueen, of all the drop-dead beautiful girls of my acquaintance in New York, had my psyche chosen this girl to be envious of? Really, I knew that if I looked like she did, I’d dance at myself, too. I also knew that many people would consider her cute rather than actually beautiful. None of that mattered. My irritating envy was like a tiny glass splinter in my foot, the kind of splinter you can only feel when you step a certain way, and which you can’t see to remove.

Then I took a PURE class. PURE stands for Public Urban Ritual Experiment; it is a loose affiliation of artists who aim to promote “community, healing, and social change through dance and music,” a mission that sometimes takes the form of therapeutic workshops, which happen at Bellyqueen with some frequency. These classes (with titles like “Return to Love” or “Reimagining Beauty”) are not strictly belly dance; elements of other dance styles show up, and there is often a therapeutic element — journaling, expressing emotions in movement, revealing all manner of “issues” to a circle of reliably empathetic women. It’s corny, but it’s my kind of corny (yes, I want to “Return to Love”), and so, early on, I decided to try a class. I don’t remember what the class was called, or what it was about, because my memory of it is dominated by the weird fact that she (she needed therapy???) was there, exuding her usual degree of overjoyed self-delight. Most of the dancers there were older (by that I mean 35-plus), and as they introduced themselves to the empathetic circle, they revealed various angers, insecurities, pains, and fears related to self-esteem or “body image.” I thought: If this girl is going to complain about her body issues, my head is going to explode. But when her turn came around she simply and energetically declared, “I am Lu Lu! And I am here to learn about myself!” Inwardly face-palming, I thought, Of course. Of course you are. But I didn’t have time to dwell on it because the instructor was describing the exercises/choreography she had planned and then we were paired up to explore our issues together through dance. Guess who my partner was?

Our first exercise was for each to mirror the other in an improvisational dance. I had never looked Lu Lu directly in the face for any length of time before, and when I did my irritation … evaporated. This was partly because I was busy focusing on what we were doing together; it was also because it was impossible to feel irritated by what I suddenly realized was a quite guileless and tender face. Then came the second exercise, which required us to stand hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder, and put our arms around each other. Almost immediately on touching her I felt something that completely contradicted my idea that she was a shallow, narcissistic twit of whom I was senselessly envious.

To explain: I have an ability that I am guessing many people have, that is, the ability to sense another person through touch. This doesn’t happen every time I touch someone, but when it does, I pay attention. My physical sense of a person may not always be right, it could be shaped by fear or desire or something else. But experience has taught me to trust this tactile understanding, especially when it contradicts what I thought I knew or had assumed. What I felt through touching Lu Lu is hard to describe except that it was wonderful: gentle, truly sweet, somehow sparkling, like a soft landscape at dusk with the fireflies just out. Inner beauty: Yes, I think that is what it was. I don’t remember what we did in terms of movement, only that it felt a little like falling in love, not erotically but emotionally. And that when it was over I took her hand and said what I had probably always wanted to say (for I believe that people always desire to say what they most truly feel): “Lu Lu, you are so beautiful!” And she replied — of course! — “You are beautiful too, Mary!”

When I repeated this exchange to another dancer, she deadpanned: “Yeah. I can just see it.” By which I thought she meant I was making a big deal of nothing or maybe that I’d taken PURE’s message a little too much to heart. Maybe. But if nothing else, I realized what I had actually been envious of: the girl’s undamaged inner beauty, which I believe was the most real thing about her, even if she was perhaps also vain or even shallow. I didn’t become friends with Lu Lu after that or even have a conversation beyond friendly greetings. A 40-year age difference is pretty significant, and I don’t know what we would’ve talked about. But I never felt any irritation with her again, or even real envy. I felt warmth. I still do.

My Rich Clients: “In 1978, I sold the first co-op for $1 million, to the Bolivian tin king.”

A. Laurance Kaiser IV, a real-estate broker, coined the term “triple-mint.”

I just turned 76, and I’ve been a broker for 51 years. When I started, there were only seven or eight firms, and everybody knew each other. Now everyone is part of a “team,” where one person shows the apartments and another negotiates, like an assembly line. I studied the buildings on Fifth Avenue. I could walk a client from the Sherry-Netherland at 59th Street up to 97th Street and point out building by building: That one has summer work rules; that one, you can’t put in air-conditioning because it will freeze the outside of the building; this building might have an 11-room apartment for sale, but most of the rooms are on an air shaft. I can do the same thing with Park Avenue.

The first apartment I sold was the apartment of the niece of Averell Harriman, at 955 Fifth Avenue. I don’t remember how much the buyer paid, but it was 50 years ago; it couldn’t have been much. In 1978, I sold the first co-op for $1 million at 834 Fifth Avenue, apartment 8B. It was the estate of Jean Flagler Matthews, of the Flagler family from Palm Beach, and the buyer was Antenor Patiño, the Bolivian tin king.

I now represent Susan Gutfreund’s apartment at 834 Fifth, which is the best co-op building in all of New York. I’ve known Susan for over 40 years. The apartment is 12,000 square feet, with 100 feet facing Central Park. It’s the only older building on Fifth where the windows go low to the floor. When you’re at Jayne Wrightsman’s apartment in 820 Fifth, you have to walk to the window to see Central Park. And we just reduced the price to $75 million.

Before the internet, everybody found apartments through the New York Times real-estate section. There were no pictures in the ads back then, and you really had to pick your brain to make it descriptive and interesting. You needed something catchy. I made up the phrase “triple-mint” to describe the condition of an apartment, after the “Doublemint Twins.”

You still need a good broker to steer you into the right co-op and get you through the board. And to vet the buyer to make sure they are legitimate, or the seller will hate you. But today there is no client loyalty. Part of that is because you don’t have to have any credentials to get into a condo. With the younger crowd, you can spend months showing them condos and then they find 75 other things they like on StreetEasy and never call you again. There are plenty of new neighborhoods, too. Some people only want “new.” They only want to decorate, not renovate. They want Lutron lights and high doors. Those tall new buildings in midtown will never have the same cachet as Fifth Avenue. Unless you want to be on the 70th floor.

The other thing that’s changed is that people used to be private about money. They didn’t want everyone to know how much they paid for their home. Today they have a need to advertise how much money they have, and as my father used to say, “A spouting whale gets harpooned.”

As told to Steven Gaines

My Audience: “All the dudes are like, ‘Yo, shorty knows the words!’ ”

Desus and the Kid Mero on figuring out how to be funny.

Desus and the Kid Mero. Photo: Andre D. Wagner

The Kid Mero: I used to take the bus all the way up Tremont Avenue to West Farms, and my cousin Jochi would have me out on the block, hanging out with the older dudes. Just being there with the guys in front of the building, talking shit, listening to music. A lot of my comedy came from that. I was an 8-, 9-, 10-year-old hanging out with dudes that were like 20, 25. Just having to defend yourself in that atmosphere — these dudes know a lot more than you, they’re funnier than you, but you gotta hold your own. It was the essence of Bronx culture. There’s something very specific about the Bronx. You had Jamaicans, you had Dominicans, you had Puerto Ricans, you had West Africans, East Africans. Just by osmosis, you learn what they all think is funny and hone your comedy voice. You had to be so quick on your feet, because if you’d lose some little joke battle, for a week you’d get laughed at walking to the bodega by 12 different people.

I remember one day we were standing in front of the building and the Wu-Tang song “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’ ” came on. I’m like a kid, right? And I knew this song word for word. And there’s this dude singing along with me, just me and him, and he fucked up some of the words and I was like, “Bro, what?!” I just called him on it and then all the dudes are like, “Oh shit! Yo, shorty knows the words and you don’t know the words! Aaah!” It was validation for a fuckin’ 10-year-old, you know what I mean? Like, yo, I memorized “Raw I’ma give it to ya / with no trivia / Raw like cocaine straight from Bolivia.” And I just felt super.

Desus: My story would be different. When I was fresh out of college, I was working security at New York City nightclubs. They were all in Manhattan. One was called Speed; another was called Green Room. It was such a weird time in my life. You know you’re not going to be working at a nightclub forever, but it’s still a little depressing. There’s a lot of standing around for, like, five hours. I remember one night the temperature with the windchill was something like negative five. I was teamed with this Nigerian guy. He was taking accounting classes during the day, a really serious guy. So we were out there, like, freezing. Shaking your hands trying to keep your fingers warm, moving around. So to pass the time, I’d be making jokes. If you’re laughing, fives hours feels like three hours. And if I could get him to show his teeth while he was laughing, I was like, All right, I got a good one right there.

As told to David Marchese

My Real Friends: “Have you ever seen a crackhead hustle?”

Sabu learned to hack on the Lower East Side.

I grew up in the LES. In the ’80s and ’90s, we had a lot of drug problems and a lot of different gangs, like the gang my family was part of, the Champions. A lot of people died. I was always with my aunt. She was 14 years old when she was taking care of me as a toddler. She was considered a queenpin, and I got to see how she operated. Fast-forward to 1996, my aunt and my father had gone to prison. Giuliani did a massive sweep, took everybody. It worked out, because, you know what, they were either going to die or be degenerates in the street all their lives. So I was by myself, and there was a computer there. My aunt bought it for me before she got arrested. A cousin of mine, Kenny, came over and said, “Look, I know you’re depressed. You lost your whole family. I’m going to get you AOL. You can get on the internet and experience the world.” I was a 13-year-old boy stuck on AOL late at night.

There were a bunch of freaky-ass people online. But it’s how I got to experience the wonders of hacking. Here’s this little kid, in the middle of the projects, learning about Unix. I had no mentors. I had no guys on the corners saying, “Hey, I will teach you Unix for free.” I had to learn by brute force. But you know what I learned from the streets? It was the social engineering. Social engineering is the hacking of the human mind. Have you ever seen a crackhead hustle? That’s Social Engineering 101. So when I got online, it was crazy how I mixed technology with that environment.

By my late teens, I was living two lives. I hung out with my friends all day. We’d go out to a strip club, we’d get girls, go out to the races, get a couple drinks. Then I’d go home, and I was breaking into systems before I’d go to bed. In 2011, the FBI came to my house. They had something like 12 informants working against me. In the end, I did eight months in the MCC — it’s a maximum facility down the block. I also had to do three years of supervised release and a year of house arrest. Getting arrested was the best thing that ever happened to me. It changed my life. Now I’m a director at a cybersecurity start-up. I lead the social-engineering team. So I’m just hacking all day long. And I live in Queens. It’s a nice neighborhood. It’s in the middle of gentrification now. I’m watching it as it happens.

As told to Nick Tabor

My Boss: “She made those nice New York intellectuals seem like the Sopranos.”

Taking dictation from Diana Trilling. By Cathy Horyn

Trilling in 1994 at age 89. Photo: Michael O’Neill

Where do our thoughts go when we are growing up and suppose that we have no further use for them?” Diana Trilling asked at the end of an essay about her experiences at summer camp in the late 1910s and ’20s. “The Girls of Camp Lenore” ran in The New Yorker in 1996, two months before her death. I would be among the mourners at her funeral, 20 years now separating me from the time I worked for her as a secretary, really a girl Friday. I find that I say that line to myself a lot, half in wonder at the mysteries of memory and half in love with the sound of the words — especially whenever my mind reels back to the summer of 1977, when, in addition to Diana, I worked for a woman named Mary Loeb. Mary, 76, had recently gone blind and hired me to read to her on weekends at her apartment on Sutton Place. We began with Lolita.

The two women were as different as two people could possibly be who happened to be born in the same era in the same city. One was an intellectual powerhouse, the widow of Lionel Trilling. Diana was about to have a spectacular second act — on her own — with the publication of Mrs. Harris, her 1981 account of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor murder, followed by a memoir of her marriage. Mary had never needed to work, but through her late husband’s family she became loosely connected to the world of artists and writers. His cousin was Peggy Guggenheim, and his brother, Harold, had founded the literary magazine Broom. I remember her delight at telling me about the time she met F. Scott Fitzgerald at a nightclub in the 1920s. We were sitting up late in her room, her wig removed for the day, a Marlboro burning in an ashtray on her lap, when she recalled being out with her husband and Maxwell Perkins, the editor, and a tipsy Fitzgerald approaching their table, his eyes glued on Mary.

“What did he say?” I asked.

She let out a throaty laugh. “He said, ‘Tell me, Max, who is this beautiful Jewess you are with?’ ”

I can see in hindsight that it was strange for a college junior to be spending so much time with two old ladies, especially when you consider that the city was in the throes of punk that summer. But punk barely entered my consciousness. My father, an advertising executive from Ohio, had sent me off to Barnard with the understanding that he would pay tuition if I covered my expenses, including rent ($130 for my share of a two-bedroom on West 114th Street). I knew no one in the city, and as a transfer student from a small college in Ohio, I’d found it difficult to strike up friendships with girls who’d bonded as freshmen. Yet I was not lonely. On the contrary, I felt intensely at home on the Upper West Side, with its anomalous mix of students and old people whose faces told you they had survived the Holocaust. I loved wandering into the gloom of the West End bar and thinking, Kerouac was here.

The Trilling apartment was on the ground floor of 35 Claremont Avenue, and when I went to be interviewed — or, as she put it, “to see how we will get along” — she greeted me with a smile I would come to know: at once warm and weary. Dressed in dark wool, the sleeves of her outfit pushed to the elbows, she showed me into a large, dim living room, and I took a seat in a wing chair. Then 71, she was totally self-assured, easily the most formidable human I’d ever met. And at that moment I was glad Lionel was dead, because I don’t think I could have faced them both.

Diana had developed tendinitis and wanted to avoid the strain of letter-writing by dictating them. The volume was enormous. The year before, she’d found her picture on the front of the Times, next to her friend Lillian Hellman. It was the literary catfight of the season, though actually the fight was between Diana and Little, Brown, which had canceled publication of her new book of essays when she refused to delete comments critical of Hellman’s Scoundrel Time, also a Little, Brown book. There was still fallout from that episode — Diana had moved the book, We Must March My Darlings, to Harcourt — plus the usual correspondence to friends.

Well, not usual. It was a quiver of names at the heart of American and British cultural criticism. Isaiah Berlin, Jacques Barzun, Norman Mailer, Paul Fussell. Two or three evenings a week, I would sit in the wing chair, scratch down what she dictated, and pray I didn’t miss anything. Then I would walk the two or three blocks to my apartment, past the Chock Full o’ Nuts, and in my room type “Dear Norman” and “Isaiah dear” on her letterhead. The next day, I would take the pages back to her to be proofread and signed. I saved no letters, of course, but they were always remarkably like Diana: unsparing, precisely worded, surprisingly affectionate.

Diana had planned to be an opera singer, until a thyroid condition nixed that. So when she began to write, she told me, her musical training helped. It was important to write not just with your head and heart but also with your ears. Listen to the sound of the words. Another one of her lessons was harder for me to put into practice. It was: Be contentious. Stand your ground. Until I sat in that living room of hers, I’d never imagined that so many people could be mad at one another. She made those nice New York intellectuals seem like the Sopranos. And she was the fiercest of all. No one was let off her moral hook. I once told her that, coming from a small town, I didn’t understand how a person could be so critical and expect to get along. She looked at me like I was a Martian.

I continued to work for Diana until I graduated, in 1978. That summer I moved to Chicago, to begin graduate school in journalism, and in September I received the first of many letters from Diana, typed by a successor.

Cathy dear:

As the summer progressed I fell ever deeper into a slough of despond, to the point where to have answered your letter would have been a long-distanced cruelty. What a yowl I’d have emitted! It was a horrid summer, I hated every minute of it, never stopped scratching and still feel as if my body were encased in a half inch of heavily peppered molasses. This is not intended to be funny, it is for medical use for any doctor with whom you may happen to take up in your adventurous life in Chicago. But if my health hasn’t been improved by my return to the city, surely my spirits have. By the way, my menage à cinq quickly became à trois and ended à me alone. I think I need some references from old employees.

Your j-school (see how quickly I learn) experience sounds absolutely perfect, including the fellow from Fordham. Imagine anyone of his/your age knowing all these things. You must ask him if he would wish to be adopted and I don’t mean by Hellperson. Has term started again? If it has you mustn’t bother to answer this letter, just get right back into your thousand professional words a day. There could not be better training.

I do miss you, think of you often, and send you my best love.

My Other Mother: “How could nobody have told me Anne was so sick?”

Donna Karan’s fateful year.

Donna Karan with her daughter, Gabby. Photo: Courtesy of Donna Karan

“It was in my second year at Parsons that I went for a job with Anne Klein. She said, “Walk for me,” and I was like, Why should I walk for you? She’d thought I was a model. I said, “No, I want to be an assistant.” So I was, but all I did was sharpen pencils and get coffee. I wasn’t exactly designing. Anne used to work till two or three in the morning, and I would stay, and then she fired me because I couldn’t keep up. I got a job with Patti Cappelli, who had a line called Addenda. The first day, she said, “Get a passport; we’re going to Paris.” I was a nice Jewish girl from Long Island, I was 19, I had never been to Paris before! And then we went to St.-Tropez, where everybody thought I was Marisa Berenson. And then one day I’m looking in the bathroom mirror at Byblos and I see this face and I said, “Oh my God, you must be Marisa.” There was something — we did look like each other. Then we went back to Paris and I thought, This is not what I want to be doing. So I called up this guy I had broken up with, Mark Karan, and I said, “Meet me at the airport, we’re getting married.” I got married three days later.

I really wanted to go back to Anne because I had to prove myself. I asked for my job back, and she gave it to me. It was just the two of us, really. The first time I went to Europe with Anne, we went to St. Moritz and we wore long silver fox coats and had our dress-form mannequin tied to the top of the car. Gunther Oppenheim, who owned the company, was so embarrassed. So we went out shopping and I brought a taxicab-yellow fake-fur coat and Anne bought a fake fur in black and we looked so cool, because everybody else was wearing tiaras.

Then Anne got sick. In those days, you knew it was cancer, but you didn’t talk about it. I was pregnant, and Anne was in the hospital, and I was writing the cutting tickets between contractions. We were speaking hospital to hospital, figuring out how many buttons should be on the navy coat, four or six, then I have Gabby, and they said, “When are you coming back?” The next day the collection was due, but Anne died. I ran out of the house. How could nobody have told me she was so sick? She was like my mother; we were really, really close. The collection was the day after the funeral.

As told to Amy Larocca

My Mishpocheh: “I knew the Shah. I mean, he didn’t come to my house for Passover.”

Cindy Adams on just about everybody.

Photo: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

“This is probably the last gasp for gossip columns. I deplore what it’s become. It’s much too vile and vulgar. Soon, they’ll put a camera in the bottom of a toilet and shoot up. When I started writing a column 38 years ago, gossip columns weren’t so nasty. I would never out anyone. I would never tell about someone who is married and is dating someone else. Being a gossip columnist used to be one of the most glamorous things in the world. My husband, Joey Adams, had a very popular column in the New York Post, a humor column, like Bennett Cerf’s. He was the “adopted son” of Fiorello La Guardia, so some of the best judges that money could buy were made in my living room. Joey practically grew up in the Stork Club with Walter Winchell, the most powerful columnist who ever lived. There was no TV, no cell phones, no internet when Winchell wrote his columns. He was a dinosaur. He roamed the Earth. He brought down presidents and created stock-market changes.

In the late 1970s, I was writing probing, incisive articles like “Where Does Lawrence Welk Go From Here?” for TV Guide for $200 an article. What started me with the Australians at the Post was a story I wrote about my hospital visit with the Shah of Iran. I knew the Shah. I mean, he didn’t come to my house for Passover, but I knew him because Joey did shows in Iran. And when the Shah was tumbled out of power and was dying of cancer, his twin sister phoned me and said His Majesty wanted me to visit him in his hospital room. I spent two and a half hours alone with him. He was sitting on the edge of the bed in white silk pajamas, and across from him there was a giant mural of a gorilla with fangs and claws and the words CHEER UP, THINGS HAVE TO GET BETTER.

I wrote that story for the Post, and after that the Australians never let me alone for a second. Not that I wanted my own column — it was foisted on me. I did not need the money. I did not need the stress. At least I didn’t have to gather any items, because Joey’s friends were the Frank Sinatras of the world; they were people I was already having dinner with.

Over the years, the Australians kept pushing me to take “Page Six.” I said no. It was written by committee, and it had no personality. I don’t know a great many of the names you find in gossip columns today. I don’t even know why the Kardashians exist. That’s how flimsy gossip has become, that an absolute nothing who’s accomplished nothing can get written about. I still write about people we all know. I’m still writing about Clark Gable.

I wrote about a lot of dictators. I knew Noriega well. When I went to see him in Panama, he had all the lights turned out at the airport and we landed in the dark. I was escorted to see him by men with guns and rifles. I also knew Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos. It was a very long plane flight to the Philippines, and once when I was invited to see them, I was so exhausted I fell asleep at dinner on Ferdinand’s shoulder. I was also friends with Hillary Clinton. Hillary and I were thrown out of the University Club because we were making too much noise exchanging birthday presents and I was using my cell phone. A potted plant from across the room came over to us and said, “You can’t use that device here,” and he had me and the sitting First Lady escorted out. I’ve never had a feud. I don’t believe in feuds. I mean, if you don’t like me, I don’t like you either. I will take care of my friends forever and ever. But if you weren’t nice to me, I’ll get you in this life or the next one.

As told to Steven Gaines

My “It”: “She hooked me up with Aaliyah, you know what I’m saying? And that was my first really true love.”

Damon Dash answers four questions.

From left: Natane Adcock, Damon Dash, Aaliyah, Jay-Z, Sean “Puff Daddy Combs, and Jennifer Lopez in East Hampton, 2000. Aaliyah died the next summer in a plane crash. Photo: Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

Woman’s voice [Dash’s assistant]: Okay! This is for New York Magazine, interview with Damon Dash. [Reading from a questionnaire.] “When you came to New York, who was the person who put you on your path? Think about this carefully. It could be a mentor or a teacher, or it could be a lover or a rival.”

Damon Dash: Well, if we’re talking about the scene, I would say the person that put me on in the scene was Natane Adcock. She was like the “It” chick of the moment. I don’t remember what year it was, but we were goin’ to Spa and um … I forgot what the name of that spot was where we would go upstairs … Actually, it ended up being my club for a minute — damn, I hope I remember that name. We just were going out every night, but I had met Natane at Russell Simmons’s house in the Hamptons, and then, you know, we ended up bein’ cool and hanging out, and then she like hooked me up with Aaliyah.

Woman: Next question is “What was the coolest thing you accomplished thanks to this person?”

DD: I mean, she hooked me up with Aaliyah, you know what I’m sayin’? And that was my first really true love. She actually secured the fact that I was able to be with the coolest girl that ever graced the planet. She used to make sure that when I came in the club that I was surrounded by the best people, all beautiful women.

Woman: Could you name some other people that this person introduced you to as well?

DD: Natane got me cool with, like, May Andersen and Manon, and probably the Ronsons — Samantha Ronson and Charlotte Ronson. She introduced me to one of my best friends, Citizen Cope. She would always pull my coat to cool stuff — she still does.

Woman: At the time, who was your biggest professional rival?

DD: We used to play Puff in softball. It was Bad Boy versus Roc-A-Fella, for sure. I never looked at them as rivals, but I guess Puff looked at me as a rival somewhat. We were in the same age demographic, but they did the R&B thing, and we did the more hip-hop thing. But we were in the same circle, so that’s what the competition would be, it would be in those softball games. I’d be the pitcher, and we’d get uniforms and we’d have the best girls — and, you know, we won. You know what I’m saying? Every year. And then like the second year we did it with Bad Boy and Russell — Phat Farm. It was just fun. Music, all that. It was dope. With Jay, and you know what I’m saying?

My Artists: “Jasper said, ‘Well, I’ve had a hard time in my life. Don’t take that as the reason that I can paint.’ ”

Agnes Gund hates it when things are askew.

Gund in 1989 with Leo Castilli (left) and Robert Rauschenberg at the Museum of Modern Art, where she is president emerita. Photo: Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art; New York

“How things are hung is so important. Once, at Brown University, we were up in a small faculty room and I was so taken by the fact that these pictures — they were by nobody of note — were set up where they weren’t straight against the wall. And when I got up to straighten them, nobody could believe I was so affected by it. Now, at MoMA, I can tell somebody, “It’s a little askew.” But in somebody’s house, I really am tempted to do it, too. I don’t like things to not be as they should be. I think I started being like that because, when I was little, my father used to pick up rubbish off the street. For the first half a year I was living in New York, I would do it, too, until people would say, “Don’t pick up things! You never know what you might get on your hands.” It was like a painting askew. I still do it once in a while, but I have to be careful who’s with me so they don’t have a fit.

I just love the Rothko painting I have. Once, I wrote Rothko a letter to say how wonderful it was to take a nap in my living room when I was pregnant with my fourth child, because when I woke up, there was the Rothko, and it had been changed by the light. Well, he called me and said, “I am so glad to see your letter because Jasper [Johns] and Bob [Rauschenberg] are taking over the world. Everyone wants to have them.” He later committed suicide, of course.

We see Jasper quite often. I once told him, “You’re so lucky, because you can use your art to express your feelings — whether you’re feeling dismal or feeling great — and I can’t do that and I wish I could. I’m very unartistic.” And he said, “Well, I’ve had a hard time in my life. Don’t take that as the reason that I can paint.” And I didn’t mean that at all. But I meant that he had an outlet, and I wish I did.

There are many more people collecting now. They don’t look at their works. They don’t loan them. They just store them to get a better price. I don’t think you should hold on to things so they grow. Not that I haven’t been well rewarded for doing so. But I would loan them for places where they could be seen. I wish I could do more. But I’m getting old.

As told to Carl Swanson

My Snobs: “All this futzing over places that served terrible food!”

Learning how power works. By Rebecca Traister

When I was 25 years old and I interviewed for a job as a fact-checker, the boss asked me my SAT scores. Arthur Carter was a sculptor and a pioneer of the leveraged buyout; he was also the owner of the New York Observer, the salmon-colored weekly newspaper that at that point — it was 2000 — was best known for its coverage of New York real estate, media, and social gossip. It had been eight years since the test: I had been to college, waited tables and scooped ice cream, worked as the personal assistant to Harvey Keitel and as a secretary at Talk magazine; in none of these contexts had anyone spoken to me about my SAT scores. To be clear: I was not sweet Mae from the country, innocent of the connections and privileges that had landed me there. I knew, kind of. But I didn’t understand. And if I had wholly absorbed the degree to which the job I wanted him to hire me for would be to immerse myself in a hierarchy of status and fake merit, I might have run.

Very soon, I learned why it mattered in the magazine industry what table you occupied at Michael’s for lunch, or how close you were seated to the Newhouses at the Condé Nast holiday party, or who was at Elaine’s — all this futzing over places that served terrible food! I learned that for a period it was a very good thing to have your event at Lot 61, until its owner, Amy Sacco, opened Bungalow 8, at which point Lot 61 became déclassé. I learned that you wanted to list your apartment with Dolly Lenz and was taught, as I covered movie premieres, to stand and watch where the invited celebrities and movie executives sat in relation to the cast of the movie.

I didn’t write about politics back then, except as spectacle. Peter Kaplan, the paper’s legendary editor, himself had politics, cared about them very deeply, and ironically lived a quiet suburban life, eating canned tuna every day at lunch at a diner uptown, away from the status rituals he was so keen for us to map (though, in truth, his abstention was its own performance of power). But as I studied the Kremlinology of who stood where on what red carpets, I was learning not only the carpentry of journalism itself but that the power wielded within this small subset of painfully wealthy New Yorkers was built on structures, connections, access, and proximity. The same forces (if not the same specific signifiers) that social, racial, economic, and political inequality are built on and around today. I learned how to cover sexism, racism, and class bias — to see how it mattered whether you were in the room where it happened, and what the repercussions of being outside of it might be — by being forced to think about Lizzie Grubman.

I’d learn something else about power from the Observer in the years after I’d left it: that the old man who cared about his employees’ educational pedigrees but used his fortune to support a truly independent editorial enterprise was leveraging his influence in a far more original and moral way than would the young real-estate developer, Jared Kushner, who would buy the paper and try to bend it to serve his personal and political needs some years after I left, decreasing its value and its influence. Money and proximity to power, and the prestige that come with them, can get you a long distance in Manhattan. But what Carter understood, and Kushner certainly didn’t, was that trying too hard and too bluntly was to diminish their strength. Kushner’s was — to use the crude power-mapping skills I was taught to hone in my youth — a very Jersey view of power.

My Marden: “Jesus, I’ve got to pay for this thing now.”

Larry Gagosian on the painting that got him a loft that got him a gallery.

Larry Gagosian and Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1983. Photo: Courtesy of Larry Gagosian

“I started my business in L.A. around 1977. It wasn’t even a gallery; it was more of a poster shop. I started traveling to New York fairly regularly because it was clear that New York was the center of the art world and I would have to spend time there if I wanted to grow my business. But also I fell in love with the city. I was enchanted and stimulated by the energy. I met Leo Castelli because I had done a small show with a photographer named Ralph Gibson who had a studio on West Broadway. He was represented by Castelli, which I didn’t even know when I’d first reached out to him. I just liked his work.

I wasn’t really ready to do major business, but I guess you could say I was aggressive and I started doing deals. I would come stay at the Stanhope Hotel because I knew a manager — he happened to be an Armenian guy, and I’m Armenian, so he gave me a really special rate for a broom closet of a room — $40 a night! — but I was spending most of my time in Soho, which was just emerging. One day, one of the guys who I was working with who owned an art-shipping company said, “We’re developing this loft building on West Broadway, and there’s one left.” I’d never considered buying a loft here, but there I was with this guy, and he pointed to the fifth floor of this six-floor building right across from Leo Castelli and he said, “If you want to buy it, tell us right now.” I said, “I’ll take it.” It was $40,000, which I didn’t even have in my bank account. And then I said, “Jesus, I’ve got to pay for this thing now.” I said, “I’ve got this Brice Marden painting. Would you be interested in trading for the loft?” It was called For Otis, about Otis Redding, and they said, “Okay, we’ll do the deal.” So I gave them the painting and I got the loft.

Peter Marino, who recently did my home on the Upper East Side with Annabelle Selldorf but who I didn’t know from Adam at that time, was doing another loft in the building for a very important, successful diamond dealer named Ara Arslanian, who is another Armenian friend of mine. I said to Peter, “I don’t have much money, but would you help me with my loft?” Peter looked like a different person back then, Brooks Brothers suit, very bookish-looking. I think I traded him a Twombly drawing for his services.

So I built this loft, and I started doing shows there, and the building freaked out. They said too many people are coming up and down the elevator. They were right. I’d have an opening with 300 people, and we’d go till four in the morning, and if I lived there, I wouldn’t have been happy either. A few years later I was standing on West Broadway in front of my loft with Peder Bonnier, who’s a friend of mine, and he said, “Larry, I’m going to rent an office for my art dealing. Want to go take a look at it with me?” So I got in the car, drove over to West 23rd Street between Tenth and Eleventh, and he went up there to seal the deal with Sandro Chia, who owned the building and was a very successful artist at the time.

I’d never been to Chelsea before that. There were no galleries, and there were crack vials all over the sidewalk. It was a rough neighborhood with a lot of prostitutes: At night, they’d chase you down the block if you had a nice car. But in Sandro’s building I noticed there was a truck dock on the ground floor. I said to him, “What are you doing with the truck dock?” He said, “I want to rent it.” I said, “What are you asking?” He said, “I want $3K a month,” and I said, “I’ll take it.”

Now, until that moment, it hadn’t crossed my mind to actually have a proper gallery in New York. I had my gallery in L.A., I’d had my loft thing in New York. I was doing well in L.A. And this became the beginning of my career as an art dealer.

As told to Amy Larocca

My Salesman: “I did not need a new toothbrush, as far as I knew.”

If only she hadn’t declined the Fuller Brush man. By Lydia Davis

In my last year of college and for some months after I graduated, I lived in an apartment on West 107th Street, just east of Broadway. I had various roommates in different combinations, and a parakeet. I first went out to work from that apartment. My starting job was with a temp agency, which I quite enjoyed because of its variety — a different place every week or two — and because the work was generally easy, if tedious, like putting files in alphabetical order in a windowless basement room. After a while, I was hired at W. W. Norton & Co. as an editorial assistant. I played chess with my boss at lunchtime, and typed letters from a Dictaphone.

It was on the doorsill of that apartment that I had an encounter with a Fuller Brush man. The Fuller Brush man was a highly respectable sort of door-to-door salesman who offered a well-made specialized product — Fuller brushes of all kinds.

My apartment doorbell rang one day, I opened, and there, in the dimly lit hallway, was the Fuller Brush man. He was dressed in a rather funerary suit and had just set down his case full of larger brush samples and smaller brushes for sale. He greeted me soberly, identified himself, and then, consulting a notebook, told me that on his last round in my neighborhood I had bought from him a toothbrush. He suggested that I might be interested in buying another toothbrush now.

Face to face with him, I did not have time to think. I was sure he was right, that I had previously bought a toothbrush. But just now, I did not need a new toothbrush, as far as I knew. And so, quickly, I thanked him but declined the toothbrush. In my memory of the encounter, he simply nodded, put away his notebook, picked up his case, said good-bye, and left.

This was all — and yet, maybe in part because he was so quiet and matter-of-fact in his acceptance of my refusal, I have been haunted all these years by the scene. The regret that I feel probably began within minutes of his leaving.

It would have been so easy simply to buy a toothbrush, whether I needed it just then or not. The transaction would have been so modest. The preparation for it had involved, on his part, meticulous, if habitual, record-keeping and a plan to include me in his rounds that day. He could expect that a potential customer who had already bought a Fuller brush was more likely to buy another.

Perhaps I was startled that I, and my previous purchase, had been in his notebook, and in his business expectations. I was not yet a steady person, with steady employment and a permanent address. The parakeet would one day fly out a window, my small television would be taken out through another window by someone coming up the fire escape, and I would soon be far away, too. But in his notebook, I was expected to be in the same place; he was endowing me with a life of some predictability, in which I might say to myself it was time to buy another toothbrush, and wait for him to come by.

My Demo Team: “My name will be known.”

Harry Macklowe on his education.

Harry Macklowe at the Metropolitan Tower in 1986. Photo: Courtesy of Harry Macklowe

“My father was in the textile business, and so I had no experience in real estate. In 1959, I’d taken an apartment on 78th between First and Second, in Yorkville. I had a duplex, the ground floor, and the garden. I met this guy who was buying 25-foot-wide tenements and cutting them into four pieces, which substantially increased the occupancy. The city had a regulation where if you substantially increased the occupancy of a building, you could get possession of the rent-controlled and rent-regulated apartments. I admired what he was doing, and I said to him, “Real estate, it seems so exciting. I’d like to work in real estate.” And he said, “Nah, nah, you can’t. I don’t have the money to pay you.” I told him I’d work for no money. I don’t mind. I just want to learn. But we remained friendly, and I got a job as a broker and was able to start to invest.

The first building I bought, with a group of friends, was on 28th Street between Madison and Park Avenues. It was a loft building, 12 stories and 50 feet wide, but for me it was glorious, as big as the Empire State. This was 1960, ’61. I was going to take the dollar-and-a-half-a-foot rent and take it up to $4 a square foot. I was going to make it into a tertiary office building. I needed to demolish the walls to get it in a condition to offer it to brokers and office tenants. I had a station wagon, and I went down to the Bowery and asked some guys, “Do you want some work?” And I got six guys to pile into the car. I’d bought five-pound and ten-pound sledgehammers and laundry baskets, and I said, “You guys go take down these walls on these floors.” So they came to me at lunchtime and said, “Mr. Boss, we want to have lunch but don’t have much money. Could you pay us our wages now?” And I said of course. And they never came back. And that’s when I realized I couldn’t do it all myself.

Because of the buildings I’ve made, my name will be known at least a little while after I’m not here. With 432 [Park Avenue, a 1,396-foot-tall condo tower] I left a mark on the skyline. People actually talk to me as if I am a celebrity because of it. They tell me, “I follow your work.” When I showed Renzo Piano 432 Park, he told me, “I admire the building very much, Harry. You cannot fuck up a square.”

As told to Carl Swanson

My Curator: “Why didn’t you just call me?”

Thelma Golden saw her future.

Golden with Ray MCGuire at the Whitney’s “Black Male” exhibition dinner, 1994.

“As a young child in St. Albans, Queens, I read magazines and newspapers, imagining everything that happened in Manhattan as I read about it. And I began to understand many of the people who occupied the city. When I was 12 or 13, I remember reading about a curator at the Metropolitan Museum named Lowery Stokes Sims. I don’t think I had a name for the job curator when I saw her picture; I just knew I loved it when I went on field trips to museums, being in rooms full of art. But I’m not sure I knew who made that possible. But seeing her picture — an African-American woman — gave me such a sense of possibility.

In my junior and senior years in high school, I was in the internship program at the Met. I still think of it as my first job. And I spent every single day hoping I would run into Lowery Stokes Sims. It never happened. When I did meet her, five or so years later, after I was a curatorial fellow at the Studio Museum, the first thing she said was, “Well, why didn’t you just call me?”

As told to Carl Swanson

My Wife: “I tried to get one of the piers and make it into an office building, but that was hopeless.”

Barry Diller on moving to the West Side with Diane von Furstenberg.

Diane von Furstenberg and Barry Diller at Studio 54 in 1978. Photo: Robin Platzer/Twin Images/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

For years, my wife — we hadn’t yet gotten married but we were with each other — had her studio on Little West 12th Street. She’d moved down from an old Deco-ish building on Fifth and 57th. She loved the diversity you could draw on, the street life you could, you know, suck up from. She was definitely a pioneer there. The atmospherics were completely different. In some ways, they were cozier. You know my building [the shiplike IAC headquarters, designed by Frank Gehry]? I don’t know that there had been a building constructed around here for 50 years. Most of the landlords were just sitting on the land. They were trying to get the High Line blown up because they thought it was hurting their nonexistent building plans. My wife, uh, and — um, why will I blow his name? You might know — Goddamn — who had that 24-hour diner. Florent. So Florent and my wife, learning that Giuliani had signed the order to tear the High Line down, got involved. And they got it stopped. Without an idea in their heads of what to do with it.

My company was on 57th Street, and I wanted a building on the water. I tried originally to get one of the piers and make it into an office building, but that was hopeless, and the next best thing was the West Side Highway. People said, “Where are you going? No one’s down there. Also, it’s a little far from the subway,” and all that other garbage. But I had this mania. To think that now Google is near us. Now I would never move here; I couldn’t afford it.

My wife’s building is on 14th and Washington. With the semi-pyramid on top. She lives there above the store. That is where I sometimes live. I was allocated the space of a small drawer. So I am partly there and partly at the Carlyle. We kind of split it between the two. Anyway, who cares. The other thing that has changed is the Hudson River Park. You can now get to the river. One of the things which really bothered me about pulling out of the island [Diller’s proposed floating park, which became entangled in lawsuits] is that it would dampen other people’s drive to do things like that. But memories are short, so I don’t think so. And my desire to continue to do things in New York is not going to end because of the end of that. My wife and I are lucky enough to have resources and an interest in public spaces and public art, so we’ll find something else. I just don’t know what yet.

As told to Carl Swanson

My Benefactor: “It felt like they really cared, you know?”

Mikhail Baryshnikov on his safe landing.

Photo: Norman Jean Roy. Grooming by Cecilia Romero for Exclusive Artists using Chanel Les Beiges.

I met Howard Gilman, the heir of the Gilman Paper Company, after just a few days in New York. We had mutual friends, including Mstislav Rostropovich, the Russian cellist. We probably met briefly through Rostropovich, at coffee or a cocktail party. Howard hosted a dinner party in my honor at his place, and we kind of clicked.

The dinner party, my God, it was the whole of New York — from Jackie O. to Lenny Bernstein to Isaac Stern. There were probably 40, 50 people there. It was kind of remarkable. I couldn’t communicate with them freely, because I didn’t speak any word of English — a bit of French, maybe — but some people, like [the ballerina] Natalia Makarova, helped translate my thoughts.

After my — I still don’t like this word — defection, Howard gave me a place to live and advice when I really needed it. He had a beautiful apartment on 57th Street east of First Avenue, and he kept a little penthouse for a guest looking over the East River. I stayed there on and off for a couple of years. He was there living with his boyfriend, and I was welcome anytime. Any minute of the day and night. It felt like they really cared, you know? He made it possible for me to really work without worry, without fear. It felt like I had found a lost relative who wanted nothing but for me to succeed and be happy.

I would never label myself a mentor, but I am kind of a voyeur by nature. I’m intrigued by this 18-year-old choreographer Gianna Reisen, who had a kind of remarkable debut recently at the New York City Ballet. I haven’t yet read her bio or anything. But it’s very exciting to see people break certain rules and discover new depths of their possibility. That’s what art is about.

As told to Rebecca Milzoff

My Moses: “As it happened, they tore down the Coliseum.”

Robert Caro on the grandiosity of his subject.

Robert Moses, 1958. Photo: AP Photo

“I happened to be waiting my turn at the coffee cart on West 57th and Broadway, near my office, when suddenly I felt a hand gripping my arm with a grip that seemed like a steel vise. “Caro?” The voice came from behind. “Yes,” I said, turning around to see a large man with a hard hat on. “You know, I have read The Power Broker over and over, and now I am reading the Johnson books.” I was taken aback. He didn’t seem like my typical reader, but as he talked about the books, he was a very intelligent one, and I quickly realized my own prejudice. His name is Jack Vaughan, and he is a foreman of the crew that is building, on the northeast corner, what “is going to be the largest residential structure on the face of the Earth,” according to Jack. When I look out my office window, from the 22nd floor, at this mass of men high up in the sky, I wonder which one Jack is.

My whole relationship with New York is filtered through my work on The Power Broker.When I look north and west at Columbus Circle, I see the Time-Warner building. The New York Coliseum used to be there. Robert Moses built it in the 1950s and named it that because he was thinking of the Romans and because he believed all of his works would endure and confer immortality on him. When my book was published, in 1974, I will never forget Moses asking, then answering, his own question: “Well, how long will The Power Broker be around? It will be gone before you know it.” As it happened, they tore down the Coliseum, but the book is still in print.

I can’t go over the Triborough Bridge without thinking of Moses. When I am on the Cross Bronx Expressway, I think about the long mile of six- and seven-story apartment buildings that were torn down, how the community of East Tremont was destroyed, how thousands upon thousands of people were displaced, in order to build that trench. And when I walk to work in the morning, entering Central Park at 69th Street and coming out at Columbus Circle, I walk past the Tavern on the Green and think about how Moses wanted to build a parking lot where the playground is, and how mothers lined up with their children in strollers and stood in front of the 

As told to Jonathan Coleman

My Critic: “Oh, honey, you shouldn’t be showing that to anyone.”

Walk away from Pauline Kael, they warned. Whatever. By David Edelstein

In July of 1984, six months after I’d become the third-string film critic at the Village Voice, Pauline Kael introduced herself in a movie line and said nice things about my work, and within a week I’d gotten calls from concerned colleagues.

One said not to get close because she’d eat me alive. Another took a longer view. I should keep my distance, he said, because the association would harm my career: I would be forever known as a “Paulette,” a member of a claque of youngish men who were said to take marching orders from the Queen Bee. My votes at critics’ societies would be suspect and my style viewed as slavish imitation — though it was probably viewed that way already. (Four years earlier, my voluble college film professor had told me he feared I’d turn out like her — a “bourgeois impressionist.”) And I was at the Voice, for crying out loud, home of Kael’s nemesis, Andrew Sarris, as well as the more formalist (and political) J. Hoberman, and editors who thought she was variously misogynistic, philistine, and even reactionary. Walk away, walk away.

I didn’t walk away. It was Pauline Kael, for fuck’s sake.

For many movie lovers in the late ’60s,’70s, and ’80s, Kael was the most exciting critic ever. Her reviews in The New Yorker often went against the general consensus, and what I had found most challenging when I first read her (as a teenager) was that if she hated something I loved, she did such a brilliant job evoking and analyzing it that I couldn’t say, “Well, that’s not the movie I saw!” It was the movie I saw plus.

I said “evoking and analyzing,” but Kael wove analysis through her evocation. The experience came first — the mind trailed behind. Her collections had sexual/romantic titles — I Lost It at the MoviesGoing SteadyDeeper Into Movies — and … I don’t know how to say this tastefully … it was as if she were going to bed with filmmakers while telling them what they were doing right and wrong and then maybe — maybe — surrendering. It must have been emasculating for directors who didn’t perform.

Readers, meanwhile, could relive the movie in language that was nimble, jazzy, rich in feeling, and so goddamn funny — especially in capturing the essence of an actor. That language was different from the drier, more arm’s-length voices that had preceded her, and it flowed so easily that you could be fooled into thinking it was just gushing out. You weren’t aware of how tightly structured her reviews really were. You experienced them as great monologues, often great comic monologues.

Notice I just slipped into writing “you.” Kael was criticized for employing the second person so often, as in: “Watching [name of movie], you feel [this].” It was irritating if you weren’t feeling what she said “you” were feeling at all. She claimed that “you” was because “one” was so stuffy. But it was also a crafty mode of rhetoric. She could wear you down. I mean, wear me down.

The first time I saw her alone was in her New Yorker office, then on 44th Street near the Algonquin, where she stayed when she came to the city from her Berkshires home to see movies and work with editors. A printout of her latest review was on her desk, full of cross-outs and additions in pencil. “Do you love it, the writing?” she asked. I said no, I found it torture, and she let out a sad sigh. The process was joyous for her. Her writing always seemed like a journey, an elevated form of thinking out loud. Sometimes the parentheticals — the curlicues that sprung into her head as she wrote — were the best things.

Her Parkinson’s had a huge impact on her writing because she did it in longhand on yellow pads, her daughter Gina standing by to type it up (eventually justifiably resentful for having to be at her mother’s beck and call). Perhaps that’s why her reviews got shorter in the last decade. But in the ‘80s, the movies had also gotten smaller, their content engineered more tightly by newly corporatized studios looking for blockbusters. In what she considered her prime, she could dig into breakthroughs like Bonnie and Clyde (her celebrated New Yorker debut, when she was 48 years old), as well as The Godfather films, CabaretMean StreetsMcCabe and Mrs. MillerLast Tango in Paris … so many more that it was hard for me to settle on the ones above.

The charge is misleading, though. Her idea of fun encompassed one of her favorite authors, Henry James. She loved Baroque opera. She titled her Godfather review “Alchemy” because she said that Francis Ford Coppola had transformed a garish potboiler into a profound study of American aspiration. She hated violence when filmmakers employed it casually, for kicks: She wrote that the splattery killings in The French Connection made her worry that movies would devolve into “jolts for jocks.” Some people can’t remember when movies were anything else! I’ve read that she told one friend, “When we championed trash culture we had no idea it would become the only culture.” What irritated her about those “Come As You Are As the Sick Soul of Europe” art movies was their airlessness, the way directors wrote down to and circumscribed their characters.

I never hung out with Pauline during her New Yorker tenure, but I’d see her at screenings. Even at five feet, she stood tall. You noticed her. But you noticed others, too. In the days before the internet and review aggregation sites, readers had more personal relationships (for better or worse) with critics. They felt they knew Andrew Sarris, Rex Reed, Richard Schickel, Vincent Canby, or, writing for New York, Judith Crist and Molly Haskell and John Simon and David Denby. Critics openly took one another on — although Kael, who first got noticed with an attack on Sarris’s auteur-theory primer, was forbidden by The New Yorker’s editor, William Shawn, to go after other writers by name. (Her reviews, I think, were better for that.)

The one time I sat next to her at a screening the movie was Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa. Once it started, she didn’t acknowledge me. Her concentration was total. During one act of violence, she leapt halfway out of her chair and her limbs moved spasmodically. She loved the movie. She quoted Noel Coward’s line about how potent cheap music can be.

Several years after I’d met her, Phillip Lopate interviewed me for a smart but barbed magazine profile of Kael and I learned that my photo was going to run as part of a gallery of her friends and acolytes. But — but — but — I had only seen her a handful of times! I was just an acquaintance! I called Lopate and begged him to take me out of the lineup, and he did. But then I walked around for a day wondering if I’d have named names to HUAC. Beside, shouldn’t I be honored by the association? I phoned the editor and asked for my photo to go back in. Now it was official. Over the years, some writers whom she actually helped get jobs took pains to disassociate themselves from her publicly. Whatever. My lone regret was it was a shitty photo. And I told people I wasn’t a Paulette but a Paulinista.

In the late ’80s, I visited her in her turreted old house in Great Barrington, with its tub sinks and owl busts. (Owls were a sort of jokey avatar.) Maybe ten years earlier she wouldhave eaten me alive. But she’d mellowed some. I remember the music of her voice, high and fluttery, a feathered quill that could tickle and skewer. I never got any marching orders. She was actually careful not to share her opinions before she wrote them up. By then, I think, she was sensitive to that “Paulette” charge. And although she took issue with people who didn’t respond to works she cared about — what person for whom art is central doesn’t? — she hated imitators. The critics — and filmmakers — she liked were those who made her do “fresh thinking.” If she had an “aesthetic,” it was, surprise me.

And that’s what she passed on to me. That and the belief that I should trust my own responses, which can be faster and smarter than later, rational analysis. Analyzing those responses is the challenge — explaining them to yourself.

Pauline gave up reviewing in 1991. She wasn’t turned on by many of the films she was seeing, the trips to New York were getting more difficult, and she wanted to go out before her writing lost its steam. At that point, I’d taken a break from criticism to work on a play, and she encouraged me, saying, “Do it now while you’re still young and have all that crazy energy.” She’d written plays herself when she was young. She wouldn’t show them to me — she said they were heavy and pretentious. She said that was probably why she was so hard on a certain species of High Seriousness. It was easier to write than it looked.

I moved to San Francisco for two years, which Pauline envied: Berkeley was where she had spent the ’50s and ’60s, running a repertory cinema and hanging out with painters and poets. We talked every week. “When are you going to send me something?” “Soon.” A week later: “When are you going to send me something?” “Soon.” I finally sent her a draft by FedEx and an hour after she’d gotten it she called and said, “Oh, honey, you shouldn’t be showing that to anyone.” I’d written a traditional farce (although the theme was drug abuse) and she said it “lacked elegance” and that I “didn’t like my characters.”

I protested that I liked those little people very much and she said that was the problem. “You have to make them smarter than you are,” she said. “Even if they’re dumb, they have to be brilliantly dumb. They have to surprise you — otherwise, why write about them?”

This was the humanist in her talking, although one who’d been partly formed by heady screwball comedies of the ’30s and ’40s. If she could have been anyone else, it would have been Barbara Stanwyck.

Pauline hated getting old, but she never drew the curtains. I thought of her as the anti–Miss Havisham. She was surrounded by light, by books and art and fresh flowers, and there were always letters to answer heaped on the dining-room table. Friends would call and she’d say, “Tell me what you’ve seen.” Directors sometimes sent prints of new movies, which a local theater screened for her in the mornings. When I’d come up for a few nights I’d drive Miss Pauline to whatever was around. (She never learned to drive.) When we disagreed about things (say, horror films or Mahler, both of which she hated), she’d roll her eyes — affectionately. When I’d show her something I’d written, the worst thing wasn’t when she hated it. It was when she said, “Well, you can get by with it.” She did love my second play, a comedy called Blaming Mom. I’d tried to make the characters brilliantlyinsane.

Once I told her about my professor who’d said she was a “bourgeois impressionist,” and she was quiet for a moment. “I’d always tried to be a bohemian impressionist,” she said.

She died in 2001, eight days before 9/11. One magazine scribe marked the occasion by writing, “The Paulettes are probably rending their garments.” No, just devastated over the loss of a friend — and a capacious soul. Since then there has been a dismayingly unsympathetic biography and what seems like a determined attempt to undo her legacy at The New Yorker. But I think anyone who picks up one of the books of her collected reviews for the first time will find — agree or disagree with her opinions — one of the great and most unquenchably vivacious American voices. Reading her, you’ll feel more alive. Yes, you.

Some months before the end, I drove her to the nearby emergency room when her blood pressure suddenly dropped. While she was in with the doctor, one nurse called out to another, “Is her name Pauline or Paulette?”

I interjected, “She’s Pauline. I’m Paulette.”

My New York: Long Agos