New York City

As a native New Yorker, who has lived here my entire adult life (and dislikes leaving it, even for an afternoon in “the country”), I have always treasured (and even written about) the literature and art of my home town. Nonetheless, it seems to me that though the greatest books appear to capture much of New York City, the place still exceeded the capacities of either authors’ imaginations or their medium. Not only was too much left out, but one recurring problem apparent to me is a failure to acknowledge how unprecedented and how extraordinary this City was—how it became a second nature that had all the coherence and comprehensiveness of primary nature and yet was completely apart and different from it.

—“Resounding New York City” (1984)

Soon after I commenced to do creative work, beginning with visual poetry in 1967, I thought of doing a book of many pictures and few words that would emphasize images peculiar to New York—not only the familiar, extravagantly vertical landscapes unique to this city but such more subtle, less familiar peculiarities as rows of retail stores selling exactly the same items: jewelry stores on 47th Street, Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, or bridal shops that ran at that time along a certain block of Grand Street, just east of the Bowery. (That such stores could survive, amidst immediate competitors, is a fact that by itself implicitly distinguishes New York.) My ambition then was to put between covers a New York that had never been there before, with examples that would at once be unfamiliar and yet be comprehensively illuminating. It follows that I wanted these photographs to run off the margins of the page, to burst through traditional frames, just as the city itself is perpetually exceeding its frames and running off the margins of itself; for the design of the book I felt should be, in principle, as different from other books as New York City is different from other cities. My notion then was to make a book that was not just a representation of New York but an imaginative, stylish distillation of its uniqueness. However, unable to find a sponsor for this project, I let it recede into dormant memory.

—“Resounding New York City” (1984)

You can tell that New York City subways must be safe, contrary to myths heard elsewhere, because you can see people riding them at all hours of the day and night. The obvious truth, likewise applicable to city streets, is that, if they weren’t safe, nobody would use them.

As even my chronically sore feet are more reliable than any machine, I need not worry about whether my car may have failed. If personal, physical mobility is a measure of liberty, as it should be, there is no doubt that my life in New York City is very, very free.

Recreational opportunities? I mentioned the proximity of both Yankee Stadium and the ocean beaches, but more important is my living once in and now near a neighborhood filled with art galleries that regularly have “openings,” which is to say libation-oiled parties where friendships are refreshed, new lovers can be met, and you can be reminded, as I often am, even in this purported “expensive” metropolis, that many of the best things in life are free.

Scenery? The great New York City painter Ad Reinhardt inherited enough money, fifty years ago, to take a trip around the world. He shot pictures of whatever caught his eye. His slides, which I’ve seen, represent a wealth of verticals and horizontals, which is to say that everywhere he went Reinhardt captured a “nature” parallel to ours. I too prefer our urban landscape to any collection of trees. To my professionally aestheticized sensibility there are few views in the world equal to that of the New York City skyline that, incidentally, I can see from the rooftop of our eight-story apartment building. . . . Indeed, I routinely refuse all invitations to do a weekend to the country, in winter as well as summer, often to the consternation of hosts who think their bucolic hospitality irresistible.

Need I add that nothing but nothing scares this city boy as much as any venue completely devoid of people? My fear of untethered creatures, including dogs, begins with the fact that they don’t speak English or any other language. Don’t tell me that any venue containing “wild animals” offers me more freedom than my city. No way.

Don’t forget that a sure measure of social tolerance in a community is the visible presence of homeless people. Anyone found undomiciled within a hundred miles from here, without a family nearby, is allegedly put on a bus to New York, because, as one backwoods official once told me, “They know how to deal with such people there.” Or not deal with them, to be more precise.

Ambitious artists come to New York, don’t forget, because the place offers liberties, epitomized by opportunities and communities, unavailable anywhere else. That goes for homosexuals too, unless they go to San Francisco or South Florida. The kinds of people who might object to someone being long-haired, artistic, or gay in some provincial burg customarily keep their mouths shut in most of New York.

—“New York as Libertarian Heaven” (1995)