We all have horror stories of moving to New York and having the gauzy-eyed fantasies of life in the city get crushed by the reality of, well, actually living here. For example, just after we’d moved to Manhattan for the first time, we got a frantic e-mail from one of our roommates who had come home to find three pigeons roosting in our living room: “Either I’m going insane, or between the mice and the roaches and the ten thousand rats downstairs and now the freaking pigeons, we LIVE IN AN URBAN BARN!” So last night at the Paramount Hotel Library Bar, as we fêted the new book My First New York, which started as a cover story in this magazine and compiles famous New Yorkers’ tales of moving to the city, we asked the contributors present to give us some more unvarnished details of those early days.
“I came home to six little mice in a glue trap once,” said Parker Posey, clearly our soul sister. “They were screaming. It was so horrible. I called a girlfriend, a lesbian. She threw it out the window.”
Dan Rather’s first terrifying moments in the city came as a hitchhiker in 1954. “I was so terrified of the whole place. You know, big buildings, canyons, and all of that,” he said. “In fact, I thought about just standing outside Grand Central Station and not moving, just sleeping in Grand Central Station and just walking around the block.” But walk around he did. “I didn’t have a whole lot of money,” he went on, “and I passed Birdland, which was a recognizable name. It was kind of cold out. So I wanted to go in, but I wasn’t sure I should, so I thought, well, I’ll just step inside the door. And I stepped inside the door, and a man with a short cigar — that shows you how long it’s been — and snap brim hat said, ‘Take your coat sir?’ And I just blurted out, ‘Does it cost anything?’ He said, ‘No, I’m a fucking Chinese coolie; I work for nothing.’ It so startled me, I just backed out. Welcome to New York, right?”