21 questions

Author and Critic Daniel Mendelsohn Hated ‘Spring Awakening,’ Loves ‘Law & Order’

Photo: Hannah Assouline/www.agence-opale.com

Name: Daniel Mendelsohn

Age: 48

Neighborhood: West Seventies

Occupation: Critic and author. A collection of his essays, How Beautiful It Is and How Easily It Can Be Broken, is out this week from HarperCollins.

Who’s your favorite New Yorker, living or dead, real or fictional?
Addison DeWitt, in All About Eve.

What’s the best meal you’ve eaten in New York?
Dinner at the counter of Jean Georges on Valentine’s Day, 2003. The food had little to do with the best-ness.

In one sentence, what do you actually do all day in your job?
I spend the day reading (or reading about) whatever it is I’m supposed to be writing about; then I go into my bedroom and tune the TV to a Law & Order rerun; then I get into my bed, open my laptop, and pretend that I don’t have a deadline and am, in fact, just watching Law & Order. That usually gets me writing.

Would you still live here on a $35,000 salary?
Having been self-employed nearly all of my working life, the idea of any salary has a positively exotic allure about it, I must say. But, yes, I would; I’ve lived here on far less, and the bald truth is that I had a lot more fun in the city then than I do now.

What’s the last thing you saw on Broadway?
The 39 Steps, which was sheer bliss, from start to finish. Before that, it was the first half of the loathsome Spring Awakening.

Do you give money to panhandlers?
Sometimes, and—like everyone else, I suppose—I feel foolishly inadequate when I do and guilty when I don’t.

What’s your drink?
A sweet Manhattan made with rye whiskey, which very few bartenders seem to know how to make anymore. I can’t imagine why; it’s very easy to make. Then again, the 80 million cosmopolitans they have been forced to mix in the past seven years have, no doubt, eroded their memory of what actual cocktails are.

How often do you prepare your own meals?
If, by “prepare your own meals,” you mean either (a) calling the Ivy Café and ordering the $5.95 lunch special (which comes with soup or egg roll and a main course and a carton of white rice!) or (b) walking a block to Café Luxembourg, I would say about five times a week. Otherwise, never.

What’s your favorite medication?
Alka-Seltzer Plus cold medicine. It’s like drinking soda pop, and it actually works. My least favorite (since we are on this deeply fascinating subject) is Prednisone. When my absurdly adorable Jewish doctor prescribed it to me recently and I asked him what the side effects were, he rattled off a list that ended with “Well, sometimes there can be a psychotic break.” A week later, he called me and asked how I was doing. “Well,” I said, “I stabbed my neighbor 34 times with a butcher knife, but the itching is gone!”

What’s hanging above your sofa?
A wonderful forties oil painting, vaguely Robert Delaunay–ish: a sort of teetering cityscape with (as you only notice upon close inspection) a man in a green topcoat hurrying down the street. I got it at the flea market — the great old one on 25th Street, not the “crafts”-and-tube-socks one in Brooklyn I keep hearing about — a few years ago, along with pretty much everything else in my apartment. I’m there every Saturday and Sunday morning around 7:30. Everyone thinks I’m a dealer, but I’m not.

How much is too much to spend on a haircut?
I suggest you look at my photo again. The last time I had my hair cut in Manhattan, Reagan was president. And, anyway, I went to Astor Place, where it was either free or really, really cheap. Where are the snows of yesteryear?

When’s bedtime?
Around midnight. But as I am up before six every day, that’s not as wimpy as it may sound. I’ve learned, for reasons I cannot go into here, that I tend to be just rising and shining when many of my, uh, peers are heading to bed.

Which do you prefer, the old Times Square or the new Times Square?
I know the fashionable thing to say is the old Times Square, but the fact, as we all know, is that they are both disgusting, merely in different ways. Anyway, does anyone really go there, except, occasionally, to one of the 24-plex theaters at Eighth Avenue and 42nd Street to see huge blockbusters at 10 a.m. on opening day?

What do you think of Donald Trump?
I don’t.

What do you hate most about living in New York?
Having to read about the Hamptons from May to September every year. I really, really don’t care.

Who is your mortal enemy?
I don’t have any enemies; I’m far too nice.

When’s the last time you drove a car?
This morning. Why do you ask?

Who should be the next president?
As I have said many times, my pal Lise Funderburg, who lives in Philly. She is the most sensible and the most capable person I know.

Times, Post, or Daily News?
Times, although in certain sections the differences have begun to elude me.

Where do you go to be alone?
I’m a writer: I am alone. I have to go somewhere to be around people.

What makes someone a New Yorker?
Staying in the city on summer weekends.

Author and Critic Daniel Mendelsohn Hated ‘Spring Awakening,’ Loves ‘Law & Order’