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New York: A Serendipiter's Journey

This Serendipiter's Journey sets an errant course through the city's back alleys and boulevards to visit some determined individuals in the swarm of conformists. There are voyeurs and eccentrics, a silent-screen star and a little rag-picking lady from the Bronx whose estate will amount to a hundred thousand dollars. There is a street musician, and a man who makes a living by impersonating George Washington, a man who buries dead horses, a deep-sea diver who retrieves wet fortunes and waterlogged bodies, and the erect, lynx-eyed gentleman who is paid a fortune to appraise skyscrapers. There are midgets, and eight-foot-two-inch Ed Carmel, the city's tallest man.

The mannequins in store windows come alive during this unusual voyage through New York, and so do the charwomen who rule Wall Street by night. New York is a city with 5,000 prostitutes; 200,000 stray cats; and one chauffeur who has a chauffeur. Each day New Yorkers guzzle about 460,000 gallons of beer, swallow 3,500,000 pounds of meat and pull 21 miles of dental floss through their teeth. New York has waterfront cats, Bohemian cats, boss cats, and, logically, a cat psychiatrist. There are plenty of pigeons for the hawks who prey on them from the peaks of skyscrapers.

There have been a great many books on New York -- but none like this. Gay Talese and Marvin Lichtner have given us a view that makes of the great city a new and very different place.

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