21 questions

Ta-Nehisi Coates Is Not One of Those ‘I Hope New York Goes Back to the Grimy Eighties’ Fools

Name: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Age: 34
Neighborhood: Harlem
Occupation: Writer/editor, The Atlantic; author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. He’ll be at the NYPL next Tuesday at 7 p.m. talking with David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker and author of the new book, The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama.

Who’s your favorite New Yorker, living or dead, real or fictional?
Arnold Garbage, the juvenile junker from E.L. Doctorow’s Billy Bathgate. “ … and you wondered why you didn’t live that way yourself. To love what was broken, torn, peeling. To love what didn’t work.” Awesome.

What’s the best meal you’ve eaten in New York?
The falafel at Maoz is damn good.

In one sentence, what do you actually do all day in your job?
I answer the questions that keep me up late at night.

Would you live here on a $35,000 salary?
I’ve already done that. When I was 25, I moved here on $30,000 salary with my lovely partner and 10-month-old kid. That salary was hers, not mine. I think I made $2,000 our first year here.

What’s the last thing you saw on Broadway?
The 3 train.

Do you give money to panhandlers?

What’s your drink?
Vodka martini.

How often do you prepare your own meals?
Four to five times a week.

What’s your favorite medication?
Theraflu. Awesome.

What’s hanging above your sofa?
A blank white wall. I have a giant poster of Malcolm X waiting in the wings. I haven’t hung it in years, as I’ve been debating what he means to an older me.

How much is too much to spend on a haircut?
Too much. Eighteen bucks. I remember when I could get hooked up for seven. This is a problem for black dudes, by the way. We have to go every other week, and if we’re really keeping it tight (like Obama during the campaign) we go every week. It gets expensive.

When’s bedtime?

Which do you prefer, the old Times Square or the new Times Square?
I wasn’t here for the old one. But I’m not one of those nostalgic, “I hope New York goes back to the grimy eighties” fools. These people did not spend their teenage years meeting the bum-rush. I was in Baltimore during the crack era. My sense is that New York may have been worse. Either way, longing for the days of sky-high crime is a luxury afforded those who have never been repeatedly punched in the face.

What do you think of Donald Trump?
He’s cool, I guess. Never met him.

What do you hate most about living in New York?
Not having a car — which is, incidentally, what I also love most about living in New York.

Who is your mortal enemy?
My son. This will change in ten years when he leaves the house. At that point we will form an unlikely alliance to rid the world of preposterous evil.

When’s the last time you drove a car?
A few weeks ago. I travel a lot and end up in rentals.

How has the Wall Street crash affected you?
I really have no idea.

Times, Post, or Daily News?
Times. You knew that already, though.

Where do you go to be alone?
This is simply not a possibility for me.

What makes someone a New Yorker?
This is a question that you have to answer for yourself. It’s like Bruce Leroy and The Glow. If you have to ask, you probably are not.

Ta-Nehisi Coates Is Not One of Those ‘I Hope New York Goes Back to the Grimy Eighties’ Fools