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From the American Scene: Make Mine Manhattan

- Abstract

I AM not quite a classic case. When I stepped off the train at Pennsylvania Station in September 1946, I was not carrying my few but spotless possessions in a cardboard suitcase; there were not even metaphorical bits of straw sticking to my clothes. I was not a fresh-faced innocent, the prototype of Nathanael West’s hero in A Cool Million, about to be sacrificed to the wicked city, nor the male counterpart of the girl who sang, “You’d not dare molest me, sir, if Jack were only here.” I was familiar with the surfaces, at least, of Chicago, San Francisco, London, Paris; I had even passed through New York City once -on my way to Europe and the war-and stopped long enough to eat a lobster and to see the last two acts of a bad play (Diana Barrymore in Rebecca).

Innocence would have been impossible even if I had never set foot in a city larger than Connersville, Indiana. I am speaking phenomenologically, not autobiographically. The innocent rube and the city slicker had died many years earlier. The novelists had long ago rediscovered sin in the small towns (what one New York-born editor still calls “peasant crime”) and had helped to redress the urban-rural imbalance of sophistication. The gold-brick salesman had been gone for years from the Grand Central neighborhood, although he later turned up in Connecticut, operating from a real estate office.

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