Chapter 9: THREE DAYS IN MANHATTAN
My most vivid dreams come to me when I'm particularly tired, hot, and
sleeping in a strange bed, so it was no surprise I started having them in New
York. I dreamed Richard Bergeron was at a convention and everyone there was
ignoring him, me included. I woke up then, staring at the ceiling of Stu
Shiffman's Washington Heights apartment. Jesus! If I was dreaming about him now
then this Bergeron business was really starting to get out of hand. Ah, if I'd
Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Tom Weber. In rear is the
flatiron building where Patrick
would work for Tor years later.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Tom Weber called for me at 10am, and the three of
us set off into that bright September morning to explore Manhattan. Over and
above the sightseeing, I wanted to buy a cheap replacement for the camera I'd
left on the plane (which I did at the first shop we came to) and to come up with
something funny enough to make Teresa fall over. As a foreigner, I was worried
that I might have a problem achieving this. Humour, after all, is very
culture-dependent and I was in a country where men managed to keep a straight
face while answering to a name like Randy and, for all I knew, Horny.
We started at Columbus Circle ("Guess who's statue is on top of the
column?" -- Patrick) and from there walked up the Avenue of the Americas.
Traversing Park Avenue, we went through the Pan Am building and down the
escalators to Grand Central Station, with its impressive main hall. The ceiling
features the constellations of the zodiac -- painted in mirror-image by mistake
-- and skylights that were blacked out during World War II and have been that
way ever since. Seems that it's not only in Britain that a 'temporary measure'
can become pretty permanent. We moved out onto 42nd Street and what, according
to my notes, was "the good end", whatever that means, and then across
Madison Avenue to meet up with Stu Shiffman.
"I'm very comfortable in women's underwear," explained Stu, over
The four of were eating at a Japanese restaurant called Larmen Dasanko
(which was part of a fast-food chain, apparently) where, having resisted all
attempts to get me to try sushi -- raw fish is a disgusting concept -- I'd
settled instead for a salad, noodles, and what my notes refer to as "strange
dumplings". Stu had joined us on his lunch break, his striking statement
being a comment on which part of New York's extensive garment industry he worked
in, of course.
After the meal, Stu took us to see a rundown hotel that had been the first
LIFE building, and then pointed out the "temple to Roscoe" opposite.
This was a fur trade building with a lobby containing ornate Assyrian decoration
and, honest to Roscoe, a gold lift door inlaid with the figures of beavers.
Amazing. (And having encountered Grand Central Station and a fur trade building
on a single day in New York, it was all I could do to stop myself naming this
chapter MANHATTAN, TRAINS, FUR.)
Rob Hansen with pigeon
With Stu's lunch hour over, Patrick, Tom and I re-entered the subway system
at Penn Street and travelled to South Ferry, on the southernmost part of
Manhattan Island, to catch the Staten Island Ferry. At twenty five cents a time
a trip on the ferry was, according to Patrick, "the best tourist bargain in
New York". And so it proved to be. It was a gloriously sunny day, but very
windy, so while we stood on the deck for a fair part of both the journey out to
Staten Island and the journey back, we also spent much of the time inside,
sitting on the long rows of wooden benches that seat thousands of commuters
every day. At one point I glanced up and saw a pigeon casually perched on the
back of a bench. Patrick, as deeply erudite as ever, knew why.
"It's following its ancient migratory route between Manhattan and
Staten Island," he explained.
I was disappointed with the Statue of Liberty, which was obscured by
scaffolding (in revenge, no doubt, for the unconscionably long time Big Ben had
been similarly sheathed), but the view of Manhattan was priceless. This was the
view of the island's skyscrapers that we're all familiar with, the one of
Manhattan sitting low on the water that's been seen in a thousand films and TV
Rob Hansen without pigeon
"New York is big on landfill," explained Patrick, gesturing
expansively at Manhattan Island, "and the FDR Expressway is built on
bombing rubble from London and Bristol that was shipped over as ballast in
returning merchant ships during World War Two."
There was something deeply symbolic in this, but for the life of me I
couldn't figure out what it was.
Late in the afternoon, we arrived at the New York branch of Forbidden
Planet, which had more floor space than its London counterpart (then still
located on Denmark Street) but not, so far as I could tell, a larger variety of
stock. I felt a moment of nostalgia for L.A.CON II when I looked up and saw the
now-familiar figure of an inflatable Terl the Psychlo hanging from the ceiling.
Moshe Feder, Lise Eisenberg, and Teresa Nielsen Hayden were joining us at
Forbidden Planet, which they duly did, for a foray into the East Village, a part
of Manhattan in many ways reminiscent of London's Camden Town. The plan was for
more touristing, so with Moshe getting into the role of tour guide with great
enthusiasm and demonstrating his encyclopedic knowledge of New York, we set off.
New York's Forbidden Planet
I was happily snapping away with my instamatic, capturing such delights as a
moving van whose lettering revealed it as being operated by 'Van Gogh Movers'
and the 'Think Big' shop whose stock consisted entirely of gigantic versions of
everyday objects ("Holy elephantiasis, Batman!") when I somehow lost
my grip and it fell to the sidewalk, popping open and ejecting the film. This
was not my day it seemed, particularly as Teresa fell to the ground soon
afterwards and I had nothing to do with it. We'd just turned onto Canal Street ("Formerly
a canal!" -- M.Feder) when it happened. Teresa took one look at a shop
called 'Three Roses' -- a shop with a neon sign outside that featured two
roses -- and down she went. Poot.
Two roses...or three? (To be fair, it does look
as if one has fallen
Canal Street soon merged with Chinatown and it was near there, in the
depressingly scuzzy Columbus Park, that we sat down to decide on what we were
going to do for dinner. While Moshe and Lise got into their traditional heated
argument with the Nielsen Haydens over where exactly we were going to eat, an
inevitable ritual when eating out with New York fandom, I glanced around at the
various crazies wandering around the park and either muttering to themselves or
talking loudly to no-one in particular in a remarkable reenactment of a Worldcon
Business Meeting. Parked just outside the park were a pair of blue and white
buses which, according to the writing on their sides, belonged to the
'Department of Correction'. I was deeply impressed by this evidence of American
open-mindedness. In Britain, the taste for 'correction' among Conservative
politicians usually leads to them quitting in shame amid ribald comments from
press and public. How much more enlightened they must be about such matters in
the US, I thought; instead of persecuting such hard working public servants
they'd set up a whole department to minister to their needs.
Having finished fighting naked in the mud, arm-wrestling, or in some other
way solved their dispute while I was contemplating correction in America, the
New York fans had finally decided that we should eat at a pizzeria near Andy
Porter's apartment. Then, not only would I get to sample real New York pizza for
the first time but, since Andy lived in Brooklyn, I'd also get to cross the
Brooklyn Bridge. On foot. Which suited me just fine. Of course I had sore feet
by the time we got to the other side (it's a
big bridge), but I wouldn't have missed that view of Manhattan after
dark for anything.
Rob and Brooklyn Bridge
"For a flat stomach eat flatfish" advised the sign in a shop near
Andy's apartment, a dubious piece of advice I had no intention of following.
Andy was tall, stout, bespectacled and bearded and had no sooner ushered us into
his apartment than he was showing us a detailed breakdown of the voting in the
fan Hugos. Since Patrick & Teresa's IZZARD had been among those fanzines
nominated they examined this with no little interest. IZZARD had placed behind
the filking fanzine FILK FEE-NOM-ENON, and the figures revealed some surprising
"There were twenty people who voted for us in first place and FILK
FEE-NOM-ENON in second," said Patrick, clearly appalled that such perverts
were allowed out without supervision. "Who would do that?"
Who indeed? Patrick was still marvelling at this when we got back to their
place a few hours later, and fretted about it as we all sat around talking and
winding down. I had a feeling Patrick would lie awake trying to square this
particular circle but me, I intended sleeping as soundly as I could.
Well, it wasn't that sound a sleep but I was refreshed enough the
next morning to get into a long and involved discussion with Stu about the
Jewish influence in comics (which, as those of you at all familiar with American
comics will know, has been huge). We breakfasted at a nearby diner with Bill
Wagner, a neighbour of Stu's and yet another member of the fannish enclave that
then existed in northern Manhattan. Bill was large and droll and, though not
active in fanzines, was probably the funniest person I met during my whole TAFF
Like Friday, Saturday was given over to sightseeing, but the pace was much
more leisurely and included Washington Heights itself. The area has now been
taken over by drug dealers, but in 1984, though grubby and rundown, it still had
a certain charm. It also had a pretty good little park, reached by way of a lift
at the 190th Street station, that looked out over the Bronx on one side, and the
Jersey Pallisades and Hudson River on the other. We spent a couple of hours
here, a welcome change of pace, before joining up with the others and getting
into some serious touristing downtown in the afternoon and early evening. But,
really, as enjoyable as all this was, the best bit was back at Stu's apartment
that evening when I finally achieved my burning ambition. All through the
afternoon, Teresa had been falling over as Bill and Patrick made various wry
remarks, but none of my own seemed to make it. During a conversation at Stu's
she asked me what had happened in North America in 1812. I knew the answer.
"The US invaded Canada," I replied.
Laughing, Teresa collapsed in a heap on the carpet. At last I had succeeded.
The only thing is, I still don't know what was so funny.
Bill Wagner at South Street Seaport
The following morning, Stu, Bill, and I set off for my final day's
sightseeing in New York soon after 11am, and I manfully resisted the urge to
sing 'Feelin' Groovy' as we drove under the 59th St Bridge. We stopped off in
Chinatown for a dim sum breakfast at the Nom Wah Bakery before continuing, by
way of a stop off at the South St Seaport -- another area oddly reminiscent of
London's Covent Garden -- on our journey to Manhattan's southernmost tip. I
shouted for Bill to stop the car when we got near the base of the World Trade
Center, leaping out, whipping my glasses off, and craning my neck to get a good
photo of the twin towers. We drove for another block after this before I
realised that I'd left my glasses on the roof. Amazingly, when Bill slowly
brought the car to a halt they were still there. This was an enormous relief. As
wonderful as I was finding America, I doubt I'd have appreciated spending the
rest of my trip seeing it as if it was underwater.
"You needn't have worried", said Stu, airily, "my cousin the
optometrist would've only charged you a couple of fortunes for a new pair."
Having allowed ourselves to be seduced by the charms of Barnes & Noble ("World's
Largest Bookstore") we were late meeting Patrick at the Empire State
Building, not that he seemed to mind. Despite it no longer being the tallest
building in New York there was never any doubt in my mind that it was the Empire
State Building I wanted to gaze across New York from and not some newer
pretender such as the World Trade Center. There's something
mythic about the Empire State Building, something somehow a whole lot
more real. The view from the observation deck was terrific, a 360 degree
panorama that took in the five boroughs of New York and, closer to home, the Pan
Am Building, Central Park, Liberty Island, Macy's, the art deco splendour of the
Chrysler Building, and a billboard that read: "BP -- America's Newest Gas".
Hey, hang on a minute....
On the way back to Stu's we drove along the road that ran alongside Central
Park, leading Stu to wax lyrical about the park.
"It's a wonderful place", he enthused, "really neat. Inside,
you can't hear the traffic."
"Only the screams of the mugged", agreed Bill.
"That's an exaggeration!" Stu protested.
"True", said Bill, "but I swear the first time a guy came up
to me there and said 'loose joints?' I thought he was talking about his medical
That evening, my final one in New York, I went out for dinner at the Dyckman
House Restaurant with Stu, Bill, the Nielsen Haydens, Stu's fannish neighbours,
Sue-Rae Rosenfeld and Frank Balazs, and a guy whose name I didn't catch. It was
probably Horny. We ate, we drank, we talked, and I'm sure we all had a good
time, but on this my notes are silent. New York had been fascinating and
overwhelming. I'd seen more of it than of anywhere else in America I'd so far
been, but I'd barely tasted what it had to offer. At once ugly and beautiful,
grubby and exhilarating, New York was somewhere I promised myself I'd visit
again one day. Until then there was still tomorrow to look forward to, and my
journey to the nation's capital -- Washington DC.