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BUMPERSTRIPS: rKENNEDY ’68 Fluorescent, genuine peel-off btunperstrip stock. 1 for. 25c 6 for $1 100 for $10 .1,000 for $65 Pass the Torch in ’68 Committee P.. 0. Box 3395 Austin, Texas 78704 1 An Editor-at-Large in New York 1 New York City I had the idea that New Yorkers were cold and unfriendly, but either I’m an irresistibly helpless looking yokel, or when I just up and start talking to them, they’re so surprised they feel friendly. The other day I got on the bus and asked my way to a place, and four or five people on the bus, from both sides of the aisle, gave me advice on how to get there. I might have been a stranger in Zeuhl, Texas, trying to find the outhouse. I was standing at a bus stop and another New Yorker I’d asked how to get where I was going stopped me from getting on the wrong bus. I asked a pretty Jewish blonde something, this time on the back seat of a bus, and she answered very prettily, and I said, “I guess you know I’m a yokel, since I spoke to you.” “Yes,” she said, “up here nobody talks to anybody, because they think if you talk to them you want something.” She went right on to tell me everything about herself, including why, if you go in for implications, she doesn’t make love outside wedlock. She takes her children to Switzerland every year, and although the people over there are kind of hard inside, it’s good to get away, because, she said, being in the business world, she knows, deep down, how rotten people are. She said she makes a good show of it, but really she doesn’t like the human race very much, and her lips went bitter,, like someone in despair or dying. She said she has a great respect for the religions, although she’s an agnostic, because they do give people rules that have accreted through the centuries about how to act contrary to their own selfishness, arid this is a very great thing, seeing as how people are really the way they really are. I whispered, half to myself, something about Dachau and Hiroshima. “In business,” she said, “it’s killing or not surviving.” There on the public bus she told me that she lived by her religion’s rules not because they were divinely ordained, but because they’re the handiest club to keep the goddamned human race . in line. She got off before I did and doubled back to cross the street so that she was walking straight toward where I was sitting as the bus was starting up again, and I waved at her, like, you know, hell, we’d practically become brother and sister there on the back seat; but her eyes were lengthened out, and her lips were set hard, as if she had gone into a deep freeze locker for something she had to get; staring ahead, she didn’t even see me, waving to her a few feet above her eye level. She had closed back in to her loneliness in the mass. P EOPLE ON THE streets here talk to themselves a lot, or sing, and don’t even seem to be drunk. I would mark this down for further study if the explanation had not already occurred to me, shortly after I heard myself reciting Patrick Henry’s oration on 42nd between Eighth and Ninth. You really are alone in such masses of people, not just alone in the ordinary sense, but psychically alone in the same way you are when you’re in the bathtub or walking along an open highway or fishing in a river. There is a kind of security in it, you know nobody knows you, nobody cares what you’re doing or where you’re going or what you’re thinking, and so, nobody cares what you’re saying. Isn’t it strange, that the largest tribe in the history of the country are Talkers to Themselves. “The first sign of insanity,” the commonplace runs, yet also a way of making sure that you still are real, crumpling in fear before the tide of commuters running against you or breasting them slantwise like a fox until you make it safely to the bank. People have been friendly in the open streets and the buses, but not in the dank, dark subways. There’s something about subways that makes you feel like a ferret, or an inmate doing time. And the other day I decided to try an Automat. How can a thousand people eat so silently? You sit at a table with two or three others and they never say a word or look at you. Having a cup of coffee at one of those tables is like sipping from a canteen on a rock twenty miles from the nearest town. I let my eyes play on the other tables; it was uncanny. Each person at the table had eyes and face set carefully to avoid the eyes, even the awareness of the presence, of the others sitting right there. They all chewed steadily, looking nowhere, perfectly depressed inhabitants of an efficient and meaningless world. As I left my companions at my table I looked at them to smile, but their eyes were fixed on the hollows. When I first came to New York years ago, I knew no one, the high school journalists’ conference I had come for could have cared less that I had appeared only if I had died shortly before arriving, and this loneliness made me hate New York. I knew that, living with it daily, I could not sustain my belief in my own ability to matter, to make a difference, to be relevant, and would go down. There was a popular song those days, “Heartache,” that I associated with a girl I passionately wanted to make love to, and since she never knew I did, and we never did, I might as well tell her name, Scotty Kimbriel, and one day walking along Times Square, \(like where else did I “Heartache” that I loved, piping forth from the entrance to a record shop. That was New York to me then. Every time I had to go back I got in and out fast, before the despair closed in and locked me away. I arrived, this time, the day after the February blizzard, at the Greyhound Bus Station, and toting my heavy bags to Eighth Avenue, I looked about as to the prospect of hailing a taxi cab. I noticed a lot of people standing out in the middle of the street, at the far edge of the sludge, but thinking nothing about it, this being a strange city, I set my bags down on the sidewalk and made as to wait. A cab curved into the crowd of street-standers, who yielded grudgingly to its thrust like linebackers pawing charging tackles while keeping an eye on the balltoter in the backfield, and as the cab slipped past them, they went to grabbing for the door handles and running alongside until the cab stopped. Well, yes: New York. Standing there between my heavy bags, I was very cold and I didn’t know what to do; I didn’t feel like combat. As I watched, a lady, who had grabbed a cab handle and then been jolted forward by the cab until she stretched along behind -it like a football streamer, but had not let go, turned on some poor devil trying to get into it with her and let fly with everything but her fist, which, happily, was now frozen to the cab door. Oh, God, it was depressing. I called a friend and told him I was lost and was going back to Texas; wait, he said, wait; we’ll figure out something. And we did. WITH FRIENDS New York becomes as much mine as anyone’s, its friendliest and tiniest restaurants, the best lousy play of this otherwise, I’m told, totally lousy season, the way to get around, the time of day. I am given to a sense of my place, which is Texas, but nowadays, with jet planes and dollar telephone calls anywhere after eight o’clock, even the great nation is a locality, and it’s easy to be at home a while in streets that are strange. I have learned, from a friend’s remark, how simple and how fine it is to walk in the city, to walk thirty, forty, fifty blocks, ticking them off in the cold air, striding along with someplace to go. You can pick up the paper, read it as you walk along; most of the time there’s nothing much you want to look at, for after all it’s mostly just buildings and shops. You can stop any little warm place and have coffee, what if it does cost fifteen cents?, and write letters, do what you please, nobody cares. But if you ask them to arrange the weath March 17, 1967 11