Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Wonderful Town, Installment Two

A man boarded an elevator in a Los Angeles building and chose the button for his floor. Even before the elevator had climbed to the second floor, he pushed the button three more times. A lady on the elevator said, “You must be from New York.”

New York, New York is “A Wonderful Town.” It’s a small town where Adolph Green, co-lyricist with Betty Comden of the song, “Wonderful Town” (not from the show “Wonderful Town” but from “On the Town”—got it?) became a wonderful New York chum. Adolph Green was a Jewish leprechaun to me, “spritely” and mentally mischievous. He was the best “drop-the-needle” player I ever encountered, meaning he could identify a piece of classical music faster (I suspected) than even the composer of “Wonderful Town” and “On the Town,” his collaborator on both shows, Leonard Bernstein. Adolph once sang a movement of Mahler for me (unsolicited) on the corner of 63rd and Central Park West. That’s not likely to happen at Hollywood and Vine.

A tourist from L.A. stops a New Yorker to ask, “Pardon me, could you tell me how to get to Times Square or should I just go fuck myself?”

My friend Herb Graff and I shared passions for New York quirks [see “A Wonderful Town” entry below], New York anecdotes and incomparable New York characters like Adolph Green. Profiled in The New Yorker for being one of the city’s great raconteurs, Herb could break up any room with his punchy, borscht-belt delivery, but when we dined with Adolph, it was Adolph who provided the often-suppressed laughter, often inadvertently. When Adolph typically couldn’t make up his mind—in this instance about what entrĂ©e to order—he looked at the next table to see what they were having. But he didn’t stop there. First he praised the way a certain dish looked, then asked what it was and was it good, and then, only faintly commended by the uncomfortable diner, he ordered it.

Herb dined out for years on this one: A man approached Adolph saying, “I’ll bet you don’t remember me.” Adolph screwed up his face and whined, “Don’t make me guess.” According to Herb, Robert Redford, on the town, when asked exactly the same question by a fellow who prefaced it with challenging remarks like “You’re a big man now” and “After all, you’re a star,” and the capper, “We went to school together,” replied, with initial feigned warmth, “I DO remember you! You were an asshole then and you’re an asshole now.”

It is a wonderful town. Herb had two California acquaintances who came to New York, excited because someone had given them, gratis, an unoccupied East Village pad to use. An un-air-conditioned pad. In the dead of August. On their first night here they tossed and turned until dawn in a one-hundred degree chamber until one of them suggested they put on the clothes they’d strewn, piece by piece, from beds to floor and go for a walk to get some air. Ninety degrees outside felt good to them when suddenly, at the crack of dawn, a man came charging down the street toward them… and past them… in a low-cut evening dress and stiletto shoes. These two Californians had never seen such a thing! They couldn’t wait to see Herb to tell him and couldn’t get the words out fast enough. Herb’s reaction? “He was probably late for work.”


  1. Why the hell do we still live in Milwaukee?

  2. "A tourist from L.A. stops a New Yorker to ask, “Pardon me, could you tell me how to get to Times Square or should I just go fuck myself?”"

    Cute, but the fact was a tourist from San Francisco (me) on an Island between red lites and asking for directions to the Theater where Cats was showing (tickets obtained thru the good graces of the sonofthecucumber king) was that the Ionesco theatre?

    Heck Ray I always still give you credit for "Misto the Strong Man" - sigh prolly because I'm a "conservative" soul and not a "progressive" (not to be confused with Republican and or Democrat who are both Fubar

  3. I've told you my favorite quote from Steve Martin, haven't I? I can't quote it exactly, but here's the gist:

    When it's 100 degrees in New York, it's 76 in LA. When it's 14 degrees in New York, it's 76 in LA. There are 7 million interesting people in New York. There are 76 in LA.


  4. Laugh out loud at that asking directions in New York story. Very good.