Obsessive New Yorker

It's impossible for me to visit Central Park, say, and not think of it as a literary setting, meant to serve a purpose within a fictional narrative, rather than as a place where people go to jog, which is what most people do there. Jogging is not what I do there. I am on vacation in New York City as I write this, and I have just walked from the Upper West Side to midtown, cutting through the park on my way. The route reminds me of countless stories by John Updike, Ann Beattie, and J. D. Salinger, through whom I have visited the park many more times than in person.

Because so many American writers dwell in New York City, in print as well as in person, or else in legend, American literature seems to belong here in a way it doesn't anywhere else. And particularly so for me because, even aside from the city's profusion of publishers and writers and literary locales, my awareness of literature began (and is continually nourished) by reading the New Yorker. I collect old issues and have read books on its history and whenever I'm in New York City I always spend obscene amounts of time loitering on West 43rd Street, where the New Yorker has been located since 1930.

Before the magazine moved to its present location (it moved down the street a couple years ago), I once worked up the nerve to pay a visit. In its way, it was its own kind of literary setting, though I hardly remember it. My distinct memories are of seeing, in someone's hand, the first page of that week's Talk of the Town, before art was added, and of passing a couple of people in the hall. I learned later, from the receptionist, that the two I passed were Joe Klein and Roger Angell. I didn't recognize them.

I'm a more centered person these days and might have something coherent to say if I ran into a pair of my favorite writers. Just hours ago, I ventured into the lobby of the glassy building where the magazine is now, but couldn't convince the guards to let me through. I described myself as "an obsessive and bizarre fan" of the New Yorker. They described their policy of only allowing in people with appointments. (The guards were doing their jobs, of course, which is to bar entry to obsessive and bizarre people.) And anyway, what would I do if I did get up there? The last visit, like the consummation of any obsession, had been surreal and somehow meaningless.

But here I was. I walked outside, dejected and bored with myself. I considered going to Dunkin' Donuts. (Would that make me more of a loser?) I paced West 43rd Street, looking for writers I might recognize and, finding none and feeling pathetic, moved on.