In New York Magazine's 45th anniversary issue, 39 city notables narrate accounts of their childhoods, shedding light on pockets of the city from the Rockaways to Inwood. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell recalls riding his bike along Kelly Street in the Bronx, where class divisions weren't noticeable because every family's income was $50-$60/week; author Jonathan Lethem grew up in Brooklyn but would go Manhattan for his father's gallery openings and to the Upper West Side to visit his great-grandmother, which "might as well have been a voyage to Europe." Former governor Mario Cuomo, for his part, grew up in Queens, where his father made a living at a grocery store. Here now, the 20 best quote about being a city kid?you get the sense that the old times were very different, sometimes better, and always colorful.
1) Joan Rivers, Brooklyn: "We were right off Eastern Parkway, which was all leafy and green... New York was Oz. All I wanted to do was to get out of Brooklyn and get into Oz."
2) Nicky Hilton, Manhattan: "Walking down Madison and seeing all the schoolgirls and smelling that fresh-laundry smell that you only smell on the Upper East Side still gets me very nostalgic."
3) Larry David, Brooklyn: "I moved to Sheepshead Bay from Brighton Beach in '55. ... If you wanted your friend to come over, you just went down into the courtyard and yelled his name as loud as you could. ... We called them houses, by the way. We never called them apartments. ... My grandmother lived upstairs on the third floor, with my uncle. And my cousin. Next door was my aunt and uncle and my two cousins. There was no privacy. Zero."
4) Zac Posen, Manhattan: "I watched the change of Soho. It had been a very small artistic community—the kids that I grew up with selling lemonade. ... I would stare outside and watch all the supermodels living on Mercer and Greene Street and get a peek of Cindy Crawford or of Naomi Campbell."
5) Rudy Giuliani, Brooklyn: "We used to take the subway from Brooklyn up to Yankee Stadium. It seemed like I was going to Canada. Then, when you'd arrive, it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. You could see the stadium from the elevated subway."
6) Leonard Lauden, Manhattan: "It was a little kid's paradise. We lived on West End Avenue between 74th and 75th Street. There was the 74th Street gang, and the 75th Street gang, and the 76th Street gang. In May, it was marble season?we would play marbles in the street?right on West End Avenue. It was World War II, and there were no cars."
7) Mel Brooks, Brooklyn: "I grew up at 365 South 3rd Street in Williamsburg. I remember doing my homework?it was to write down as many signers of the Declaration of Independence as you knew. I knew three. My brother Irving came home, and I said, 'Irving, I only have three. I'm going to fail this test.' He said, 'Where do you play ball?' 'I play ball on Franklin Avenue.' He says, 'There's one.' He said, 'Where do you play roller hockey?' 'On Hooper.' 'There's another.' 'Where's the library?' 'Hewes.' 'Well, there's another one.' I said, 'Wait a minute, I'm beginning to get it.' I aced that test."
8) Matthew Broderick, Manhattan: "I remember playing in Washington Square Park, all day basically. It was not as finished-looking as it is now?you could play pickup games of softball or catch on the fields. Now I think you're not even supposed to walk on them. ... I should also mention that I was constantly robbed."
9) Richard Price, Bronx: "I remember spending all Saturday with my grandmother in that neighborhood?which involved, first, sitting with her in beach chairs by her open kitchen window and looking down on Vyse Avenue and listening to her running commentary on every junkie, alcoholic, slut, whorehound, and wifebeater on the block."
10) Antonin Scalia, Queens: "There were a lot of vacant lots around in those days in Queens and Elmhurst, and we used to have campfires and camped out, if you can imagine that, in pup tents. ... I visited my old neighborhood a while ago, and it's so different?there are no more vacant lots, for example. A lot of the houses have bars on the windows. We used to leave the doors unlocked often. It was a wonderful place. You had the subway; the world was your oyster."
11) Regina Spektor, Bronx: "I came to New York from Russia via Vienna and Italy when I was about 9 and a half. We lived in this walk-up on Kingsbridge that was kind of cool?there were a few Russian families who moved there all at the same time, so we had a lot of friends in the building. But there were bars on the windows, and a lot of cockroaches, and it was kind of scary in its own way.
12) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Manhattan: "Harlem was an incredible place, the center of black culture, but we moved in 1950 to Inwood, where we were among the first black people. ... There's not a whole lot of ethnic neighborhoods anymore. They've taken all the people in New York and put them in a blender, and they land in chunks and puddles in various parts of the city."
13) Spike Lee, Brooklyn: "You've got to fight for what you want. You've got to hustle. You've got to climb. You just can't sit around thinking shit's going to fall in your lap. You learn that by just trying to find a fucking seat on the subway and the bus. I was riding the subway when I was 6 years old."
14) Chevy Chase, Manhattan: "New York was such a huge place?the concrete canyon of it. The buildings were all so tall. I just assumed all cities are like that. Well, they aren't! ... I must have known every alleyway, every possible place you could either hide or cause trouble from up in the Nineties to Grand Central. It was a joy to be a naughty boy in New York!"
15) Robert Caro, Brooklyn: "I loved the subway because I never did my homework when I was supposed to?you'd always have that subway ride. The front of the car had a window?I haven't done this since I was a boy, but I loved to stand at the front window and watch the stations come up."
16) Harry Belafonte, Manhattan: "It was all something we just understood. We didn't go below 110th Street. We didn't go north of 150th Street ? or 145th Street. We didn't go farther west than Riverside Drive?well, I guess there's not much farther to go there! And we didn't go farther east than the East River. That was our ghetto."
17) Anthony Weiner, Brooklyn: "It's hard for anyone who visits Park Slope now to remember, but that was an edgy community in the sixties and seventies. I could hardly afford today to rent the upstairs apartment in the duplex that my father and mother bought in the sixties for less than $40,000. Back then, your universe revolved around your front stoop."
18) Barbara Boxer, Brooklyn: "Brooklyn was just everything to me. It gave me everything I needed. On Nostrand Avenue, where we would go shopping for food, practically every other store was run by a refugee who escaped Hitler. The fact that I'm now here, on the Foreign Relations Committee, it makes me choke up, you know?"
19) Christine Quinn, Queens: "My whole family loved Rockaway. You could rent a room in a boardinghouse, like the Quinns did, or you could rent a bungalow, like my mother's family, the Callaghans, did. ... You'd spend all the days at the beach ... And then we'd go back to this teeny-tiny bungalow, with no air conditioning, and my grandfather would have undoubtedly cooked a roast beef. It would be a gazillion degrees."
20) E.L. Doctorow, Bronx: "This part of the Bronx, new and open under the sky, had flourished in the few years since the independent subway line had been extended from Manhattan, making possible a fast commute into town. This was the faux-rural Borough of Escape for all the folks working their way out of the Lower East Side. And it was an equitable society, everyone penniless together, scraping along."