21 questions

James McBride Recommends Daily Nietzsche

Photo: Chia Messina

Name: James McBride
Age: 56
Neighborhood: Hell’s Kitchen
Occupation: Musician, screenwriter, award-winning author. Next Tuesday, May 20, he’ll be reading at the annual Author’s Guild Dinner at the Edison Ballroom, which will  also be honoring Joyce Carol Oates.

Who’s your favorite New Yorker, living or dead, real or fictional?
John Coltrane.

What’s the best meal you’ve eaten in New York?
A shared hamburger with my first girlfriend at a long-forgotten diner near Cardozo High School in Bayside, Queens. Then we kissed on the Long Island Rail Road tracks. Best hamburger I ever ate in my life. I was 15.

In one sentence, what do you actually do all day in your job?
I say to myself, “No problem,” even when there is a problem.

What was your first job in New York?
Covering Michael Jackson for People Magazine for six months straight. That drove me mad.

What’s the last thing you saw on Broadway?
Billy Elliot. Horrible. Loud. Weak. Corny.

Do you give money to panhandlers?
Of course. They need it.

What’s your drink?
Yerba Mate tea.

How often do you prepare your own meals?
Every day. No problem.

What’s your favorite medication?
A daily dose of Nietzsche goes a long way.

What is the best thing in or about your apartment?
The building hasn’t collapsed on it yet.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen on the subway?
If the quality of my life is so poor that I have to store those kinds of memories, I need to get a new life. But I did hear of a subway escalator once that ate a woman. Gobbled her up. The escalator step gave way and she fell through. This was years ago.

When was the last time you stayed out past 3 a.m.?
When the great jazz and blues clubs closed, joints where the cash register rang loudly and there wasn’t ESPN on TV over the bandstand, and people smoked cigarettes and drank whiskey and hollered “Play on!” When those places closed, I was pretty much done.

Which do you prefer, the old Times Square or the new Times Square?
I used to walk through the Old Times Square fearing for my life. Now I wouldn’t be caught dead there.

What do you think of Mayor de Blasio?
Doing his best to make New York a real city again for the working class, as opposed to the outdoor mall for tourists that it has become.

What do you hate most about living in New York?
Seeing home groceries delivered. What’s the point of living here if you don’t struggle with a shopping cart now and then, and interact with your neighbors and get a little funk under your fingernails? Why have neighbors at all? Why live here?

If you could banish one person from New York forever, who would it be?
The guy who created charter schools.

When’s the last time you drove a car?
Yesterday. And I parked illegally, too. And it’s a diesel. Thank you. Have a nice day.

Finish this sentence: The NYPD _____.
… has the second hardest job in the city behind public school teachers.

Times, Post, or Daily News?
I read ‘em all.

Where do you go to be alone?
Atop the radiator in my second-floor walk-up. I sit on it. In winter. Waiting for heat. Guarding 43rd Street from my window. Fantastic view.

What makes someone a New Yorker?
Be a member of the human race. Love somebody. Change the world.

James McBride Recommends Daily Nietzsche