Tuesday, July 14

Part 3 - How to run away to NYC to become a children's book illustrator


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Our bumbling saga continues as our spanking new Knickerbocker finds his way around town... full of pep, vim & vigor.

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Next problem... where the heck was I going to live? After about two days I started feeling way too at home in the Vanderbilt YMCA, except for the bedbugs. I could have stayed on for weeks actually... like in the old movies, when characters live in hotels. There's something about having a desk clerk, lounge, cafe and elevator that kind of gets to you.

The next few days I adopted a new schedule of looking around all the far flung boroughs of New York City. Being too clever by half, I figured I'd live out in some unpopular borough, and save on rent. I took the train over to Hoboken one hot sticky morning... summery sticky sidewalks and a mist of humidity in the air. I remembered the Frank Sinatra song about Hoboken. I must have heard something about Hoboken being nice... and it was surprisingly quaint. Old fashioned iron fences surrounding old parks and boulevards. Brownstones lined up and still keeping their diginity from the last century. But... Hoboken wasn’t for me.

I thought I’d outsmart the commute one day and locate on Staten Island! Brilliant! I figured it would be almost like riding the ferryboat across Puget Sound from Seattle to Bainbridge... only not quite as pristine. I remember taking the ferry to Staten Island (the first and last time I ever went there) and then riding the train out to the end of the line in Staten Island. I remember walking down the tracks... way the hell out in the middle of nowhere... feeling totally lost and impossibly too far away. Dumb idea I thought to myself. So I got right back to Manhattan.  This wouldn’t be the last time I moved away in error... and came back to New York. I did that twice.

A few more days went by... I was getting used to NYC but starting to worry about finding a place. Then one bright day I picked up a Village Voice and looked through the want ads. There was a room listed on West 78th Street. I hadn’t even been to the West Side before... so of course I went. I think I might have walked all the way there, and the more I walked the better it looked. I remember walking up Central Park West and going past the Dakota... though I didn’t know it was the Dakota then.  The streets were quaint and charming and totally New York. I loved it.

At the apartment, Maury, the ‘super’ showed me around. It was a classic Upper West Side brownstone. Maury was a delightfully crusty old bolshevik, with an accent as thick as garlic bread. He dressed in about 3 old tattered colorless coats. I’d later discover that’s what he always wore... winter and summer. He could have been a screen double for Charles Laughton... only tattered.

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I loved my little room at first sight. A little sunlit room facing south on the second floor of a walk up brownstone.  It was a really narrow room... you could almost reach out and touch the walls on each side, but it had a VERY high ceiling and it was quite long. A long narrow tall room with a window... a subdivided room actually.

Maury had one of those accents like onion soup... heavy, flavored, almost impossible to know what he was saying... but I liked him right off. He was my kind of bolshevik. I don’t think I ever saw him outside of his standard ‘moscow wear’... a heavy dark shapeless winter overcoat with a matching hat. He even wore the three overcoats to the Met, where I ran into him one day. "Paintings! You like paintings? Look around! Beauty!", he said. You just don’t meet guys like that in Seattle or Salt Lake. So I signed on... $35 a week... dirt cheap. It had a little refrigerator and a stove and a squeaky spring mattress and the shared bathroom was down the hall. Roaches, no extra charge.


I had an address now... 161 West 78th Street. I loved my new room... roaches and all. If you leaned out the window you could just see the Museum of Natural History at the end of the street. It was like living in one of those great New York Jack Lemmon movies or something. It was a life I could never have imagined. Plane trees and fancy iron railings all along the street... a great place. Just one week earlier I’d been in Seattle... 3 days ago in Denver. Now I had my own place for a whole new life. Wow! My life seemed suddenly so very much more exciting. I’ll always be grateful to the Village Voice for listing a place like that. Just like always... when things seem impossible and there are no good choices... suddenly the BEST possible choice pops up at an affordable price out of nowhere. Life does things like that sometimes... but I guess you have to pay the price of waiting through all the other stuff first.

10 years later I was happy to see that Seinfeld's TV apartment was located on W 81st. St... just a couple blocks away.

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To be continued... until your socks get bored right off!

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