A New York Memoir

Richard Goodman has just seen the release of his memoir, A New York Memoir. It’s really a collection of 14 true stories covering the author’s experiences in New York City.

For years, people would ask Richard why he wanted to live in New York, and the book is his eloquent and emotional answer to that question. It’s about how New York made him who he is, as a person and an artist.

Here’s a brief glimpse:
It is a sweltering summer in August. Everyone with any sense has abandoned the city. Not you, though. You not only stay, you like it. It’s difficult to romanticize three-day old garbage in August heat. Still, you’re not appalled by the scent. Far from it. You think that if someone hasn’t spent a sweltering summer here then they will never know it completely.

You are living in the East Village. It is 1985. The hot air sucks the breath out of you, and hits you in the stomach. The heat is so fierce you have oasis shimmers in the back of your eyes, and you walk like a man with terminal heart disease. It is so hot, you have to be careful about touching street lamps. You are sitting on a stoop of a brownstone apartment next to people who live there. Some you know, some you don’t. The heat has forced you all out on the street. You are living in Elmer Rice’s city and in Weegee’s city and in Henry Roth’s city, a world you love, of ordinary people from another era. There you all are, men and women, some younger, some older, all depleted from the heat, the women struggling against the despot of modesty, the men in armless T-shirts, or bare above the waist.

You see pretty young women, normally vigilant about buttoned blouses and the high water mark of skirts when they sit. They abandon all decorum. They have hair that sticks to sweaty necks, and the backs of the blouses are damp and flat against their back and the high backs of their skirts are damp and even the inside of their thighs, showing wonderful maps of desire, and so many blouse buttons are unbuttoned you believe in Santa Claus again. And when they sit on the stoops they pull their skirts up high for any possible breeze, and this approaches the total sheet-discarding indifference of childbirth.

Here on this stoop in the heat you encounter the oral tradition of storytelling from these urban griots. In the sultry evening, you listen to the man who went to parties where Kerouac sat on a couch and Ginsberg was there as well as Corso. What did they say, you ask? What where they like? You listen to the aged black superintendent who proudly says he saw Joe Lewis knock out Max Schmelling. And you say, you mean you were in there? And he says, yes I was. And someone heard Emma Goldman speak once, in Union Square. You don’t know who Emma Goldman was yet, but you nod appreciatively. Here, everyone is a storyteller, and that’s what you want to be, too. You are part of this oral tradition now, and the storytellers have cans of Schaefer beer and panting dogs and cigarettes glowing in the late evening, and you could listen all night, all night long.

Reprinted by permission of Transaction Publishers. For more information about Richard and his book, visit richardgoodman.org