Joseph Mitchell photographed by the Village Voice
Luc Sante comments on Joseph Mitchell in an interview with Believer Mag.
BLVR: One guy who really had that huge capacity for human behavior was former New Yorker writer A. J. Liebling, about whom you’ve written lovingly as a chronicler of the flotsam, riffraff, and Low Life of the New York. He’s a member of a lost breed of anthropological investigators of the city. Have those societies, tribes, castes, and languages of the Low Life of New York disappeared under the heel of gentrification, or are writers just not working hard enough these days as chroniclers?
LS: The sorts of subjects Liebling and Joseph Mitchell wrote about have indeed disappeared, and the number of suspects in the case are almost too many to enumerate—not just gentrification, but also population growth, the rise of electronic media, the disappearance of whole categories of occupation and trade, etc. At the same time, though, there are many tribes, castes, and languages out there. There are societies of Chinese fishmongers, Jamaican croupiers, Romany auto-body repairmen, Filipina nurses, and so on, that are every bit as complex as those of Mitchell’s oystermen and fortune-tellers, and there are criminal strata of all sorts and all backgrounds in the five boroughs of New York City alone, and who knows what their lore may consist of or what their slang means? For all I know there are just as many eccentric public characters on the street as there were in the 1930s, only they are little-known outside their own neighborhood or ethnic group. But it is so much more difficult now to live reasonably well on little money, so eccentrics either lose their color under the pressure of trying to stay alive, or bug out completely and wind up in the bin
ATTEMPTED SCAM IN HELL’S KITCHEN
The New York Times carried the story of a man whose corpse had been wheeled in an office chair to a check cashing place.
So on Tuesday afternoon, the police say, they dressed Mr. Cintron’s corpse, carried him down a flight of stairs and heaved his body into a computer chair with wheels. Outside, they rolled him over the uneven sidewalk, pulling the chair toward Pay-O-Matic, a check-cashing shop on Ninth Avenue.
But as the men turned the corner, trying to steady the floppy corpse, they ran into the law. At Empanada Mama, a restaurant next door to the Pay-O-Matic, Travis L. Rapp, a detective, had sat down to lunch.
Detective Rapp looked out the window and saw the unwieldy trio. Something about the way they struggled to balance the man in the chair caught his eye.
“At this point, when they approached closer, I saw the body and I said, ‘Well, this is a dead guy,’ ” Detective Rapp said on Wednesday in a phone briefing.
PIGEONS IN NEW YORK
From the New Yorker. December 3, 2007. Ben McGrath.
Pity the New York City pigeon. He finds a place where natural predators are few, and where bread crumbs—note that stooped woman clutching a plastic bag—are bountiful, and yet his life expectancy is just three to four years, compared with fifteen for his cousins in captivity. So life is short: he stuffs himself before he mistakes an office window for open sky. Or maybe he has the misfortune of needing to relieve himself—perhaps more than once—near a subway stop in the district of the Honorable Simcha Felder, councilman from Brooklyn. Felder steps in the guano—he calls it a “puddle” of excrement—and becomes enraged, commissioning a report from his staff: “Curbing the Pigeon Conundrum.” Soon after, Christine Quinn, the City Council Speaker, refers to pigeons as “flying rats.” Now there’s talk of implementing the report’s Recommendation No. 5: “Create Pigeon Czar.” The czar’s responsibilities would include reducing the food supply, promoting birth control (via oral contraceptives disguised as crumbs), and supervising a pilot program called “dovecoting,” which involves confiscating pigeon eggs and replacing them with decoys.
Image from a blog called Nature’s Revenge.