This Is New York


Tony Judt was a very clever and learned Brit who taught in the Big Bagel and died last August from that dreaded Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was extremely brave until the end, writing and lecturing from his wheelchair – so convincingly that some nice guys banned him from speaking just before the end because of his opposition to Israeli policies. (They called him an anti-Semite although Judt was Jewish, which is par for the course.)

Judt wrote an essay about “My Endless New York” which was a gem. At times I think only foreigners can catch the city’s pulse – New York, of course, not being America. The city has never been homogeneous. The finest thing about the place, we are told, is the variety of its sideshows. Sixty-five years or so ago, A. J. Liebling spoke for the city, writing about boxing and the man who laid out the gloves and headgear for the pugs at Stillman’s Gym, or Hymie the Jew who operated sleazy clubs on 52nd Street, or Miss Ira, “the Harlem modiste” who sold turbans to ladies who liked to impress the men late at night. Liebling wrote of New Yorkers so submerged in one environment, such as the Garment Center or Jack and Charlie’s, that they lived and died oblivious of the other worlds around them.

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November 22, 2010