"It's four o'clock in the morning, and you'd like to play a fast game of billiards and cash a check. Before this unique book was published, you might have had a devil of a time. But now.the whole city after dark is at your command, ready to satisfy your every pleasure and your every need!"
Neighborhood-by-neighborhood guide to the city, geared "for the convenience of the person out at night," with separate directories (for bakeries, food stores, bookstores, barbers, restaurants, etc.) for each. The individual business directories often include the names of the proprietors (or maybe just the friendliest employees) -- e.g., at Rapoport's (on 2nd Avenue near 6th), you're advised to "ask for Adolph." On page 10 is a rundown of all the individuals who contributed to the book.
The introduction is by Jean Shepherd, who advises the reader: "Do not expect to be welcomed to New York. It will simply envelop you and will shed no tears when you leave."
"A New York Man never begins to
Cut Ice until he is West of Rahway"
And things have not changed a bit. Sixty years and more have passed since George Ade laid down his one-line description of life and times in the Big City. If there has been a change, it has only been to make it more so.
Very few New York men cut any ice in New York. And it is wise for the visitor from the Outside to keep this in mind when dealing with the Natives. There is a strong tendency for the New Yorker to pretend that this is not so. Do not believe him, since his pretense quite often takes the form of making broad and sweeping generalizations and didactic pronouncements about what he presumes is his city.
His presumption that New York belongs to him is compounded of equal parts of fantasy, wishful thinking, and sheer unadulterated good old American braggadocio. New York does not belong to him; it never has and it never will, because there really is no New York, not in the sense that there is a Cleveland or a Chicago.
The complex, insane beehive that is this city defies distillation and analysis as completely as does the sea itself. And the analogy is not a loose one. There are depths in the sea that no one will ever plumb, and there are sunny, remote shores that only a few have seen, and the wild storms which rage over its surface can destroy all in their path. New York, a human sea, can do quite as well.
But then, seas are often beautiful, exciting, exhilarating, and the givers of Life. So is the big town. Every ocean has its Sargasso Sea, its graveyard of lost, derelict ships where there is no life but only the loneliness of the floating, bobbing Dead. New York, like all great seas, is no exception.
In many respects the city is, to carry the analogy further, as much a trackless waste as the Pacific. True, there are sea lanes; there are well-defined charts, but they are only pathways hammered out through a great expanse of Unknown. And every man who comes to this city begins to develop within him his own map; his guide posts, his rocky shoals, and maintains forever that this is New York.
No guidebook can even remotely approximate the reality of this incredible warren. It seems to change just like the sea, from hour to hour and from day to day. New York at Three A.M. has very little relationship to the city at Noon, and at dawn it's something else again that it won't ever repeat.
Physically, it runs the entire range from the overwhelmingly spectacular to a kind of monotony, a deadening sameness, a dirty dinginess that numbs and debilitates the senses. But then, so does the Atlantic. It's a town that engenders a hate for itself that defies adequate expression. It also triggers love that borders on true ecstasy, and often both in the same person. But one thing New York will do: it will remain.
As an old New York hand, I have just about given up any ideas that I might once have had about what the city is or isn't, what it has or hasn't, what it can or cannot do, since I have come to realize that it can do everything and is everything, and will always be. It's a great town to live in, and a great town to flee from, but once you have really tasted it you can never forget it completely, or even drive away that insistent pull from inside that says you've got to go back just once more.
All great cities of the world have this indefinable immensity and lure, a kind of dangerous, magnetic pull that moths and flames seem to share. Paris, London, Tokyo, New York - they all have it, and what It is no one ever quite knows. They are human seas, each one. Each different; yet the same, as the Pacific is different from the Atlantic and the Atlantic is different from the Arctic Sea, but something universal is shared by all of them.
New York is one of those great world gatherings of men. Its century is Now. Just as Athens had its time and Rome was once the center of the Universe, and so was Paris, today it is New York. And it pays a man to bathe in it at least once in his lifetime, if you will excuse the mixed metaphor. But metaphor-mixing and adjective-juggling have always cursed those who try to write about such phenomena as this great Babylon By The Sea.
Do not expect to be welcomed to New York. It will simply envelop you and will shed no tears when you leave. It is very difficult in this city to cause a ripple that lasts for more than a few moments. On the other hand, envelopment can be a comforting experience, if you are prepared for it. Remember, you are not in Cleveland, nor even Chicago, and I say this as an ex-Chicagoan, meaning no slight. You are in New York, and that is something else again.
There is no such thing as a guidebook to this complex monster. There can only be a few handy hints and kinks that describe some of the watering holes, several of the well-beaten trails through the jungle, and a dash or two of Exotica. But n