A Gift for the New Year

January 9, 2011

Whether the instinct to collect items of evident charm but dubious value is a genetic trait or a practice learned from one’s parents at an early age, I have it, as does my mother. It is, in some regards, a satisfying affliction to suffer when one is young, inclined to foot and bicycle sojourns at all hours, and a resident of New York, for that city, packed as it is with humanity and famed in like portion for the industry and aspirational nature of its denizens, tends to be a great depository for stuff: New Yorkers are always hustling, trading, acquiring, and, ultimately, discarding, and the eagle-eyed pedestrian can, with regularity, happen upon sundry treasures.

One of my wife’s more formidable missions since we began cohabiting nearly twelve years ago, probably second in degree of difficulty only to her efforts to make me reform my lackluster approach to financial matters, has been a campaign to rid our homes of the many fruits of my compulsion to collect. With each successive change of abode, she has succeeded in persuading me to let go of some once-cherished book or cultural artifact, among them Venezuelan Democracy Under Stress, Who’s Who in East Africa, 1968 (a real snapshot of the end of the colonial period!), and a talking Master P doll (press his belly to do like the song says and “make [him] say, ‘unnnnh; na na na na!'” or, once the batteries get depleted, ‘unnnnnnhxgrrrbllttt.’) (Are you looking for footage of a platinum-plated army tank? That video contains the footage!)

I think that collections such as mine must have some sort of critical mass, for as the size of my collection has dissipated, so too has my willingness to fight for the retention of its component parts. That said, there are a few things I will never part with, and one of them is the Almanac for New Yorkers, 1938, a Federal Writers’ Project opus, the cover of which is pictured above.

I came across my dog-eared and moth-nibbled copy of this humorous little tome during my college years, where I found it in uncomfortably close proximity to an impressive collection of pornographic magazines on the blanket of a sidewalk bookseller on lower Broadway. If memory serves, the Almanac, which cost me 50 cents, was attainable more cheaply than any single exemplar of its salacious neighbors, many of which, by their titles, purported to cater to carnal tastes far more unusual and particular than my own. The Almanac, however, contained between its covers something more revealing and unexpected than a reader of the glossy, flesh-colored tomes beside it could ever hope to find:

Notes from one of the authors! At some point, my copy of the Almanac was a gift from Manly Wade Wellman to Doctor Mack Lipkin, who was apparently his creditor at one time (whether in a fiscal or merely amicable way, we will likely never know).

As it turns out, 1938 and 2011 are alike not only in that they are presided over by Stalinist Presidents bent on grinding our free will into the dust with their black-heeled boots (kidding!), but in the fact that their calendars and days of the week line up in the same way. When I realized this (today), I had the idea to scan the Almanac and post it weekly, that it might be put to use. (After all, the book itself announces that it is “ACCOMMODATED TO THE FIVE BOROUGHS BUT MAY WITHOUT SENSIBLE ERROR SERVE FOR THE ENTIRE METROPOLITAN DISTRICT AND EVEN MORE DISTANT POINTS.”) A few pages into this endeavor, however, it occurred to me that I might be duplicating labors already realized, and a quick consultation with my friend, the Internet, revealed that no less an institution than the New York Times has done the dirty work for me.

So, friends, whether this new year finds you in the five boroughs, elsewhere in the metropolitan district, or in even more distant points, enjoy the Almanac for New Yorkers, which is replete with fun historical facts, early bits of work from many famous American writers, and a generally urbane wit and offhanded New York liberalism that is, in my humble opinion, delightful.

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