Drifting and striding, in Hollywood and elsewhere, with Geoff Nicholson - author of The Lost Art of Walking, and Walking in Ruins withcholson, author of Toff Nidrifting and stomping withcholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, considers the narrower and wider shores of obsessive pedestrianism.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


I’m going to New York next month, and I’ve been looking in to hiring a car in Manhattan.  I’m not planning to drive in Manhattan, but to use the car to drive out of Manhattan and go upstate and do some walking.  Yes, yes the ironies abound, I know. 

The yelp and tripadvisor reviews suggest that car rental firms in New York City are a bunch of knaves or fools.  And all I can say is that if Norman Mailer had had his way it would probably have been a lot worse.  When he ran for mayor of New York in 1969, his plans included free public bicycles, no private cars allowed in Manhattan (he, of course, rather conveniently lived in Brooklyn), and a day a month called “Sweet Sunday” when all mechanical transportation, public or private, and including elevators, (and I suppose bicycles since they’re mechanical) would be banned.  I guess rather a lot of walking would have been involved.  And of course the chances of Mailer actually getting elected were small, though he did win a fairly creditable 5 per cent of the vote.  I can’t say I ever imagined Mailer was much of a walker, and toward the end of his life he certainly had to use two canes, though here he is about to go for a “perp walk.”

The picture below, by Tom Callan, for the Brooklyn Paper, shows Mailer walking along Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights in 1991.

In the movie, Factory Girl, about Edie Sedgwick, there’s a scene where Andy Warhol (played by Guy Pierce) goes to confession and says, “Well, I have this friend, Mark, well he buys all his clothes from Bloomingdales, but because he’s from London everybody on the Cape keeps talking about his fabulous English look, which really is so good.  He was in a party up there last weekend and Norman Mailer walked up and punched him the stomach. And when Mark asked him why he said it was for wearing a pink coat.  I know I should have been happy for Mark that Norman Mailer punched him but all I could think was, will Norman Mailer ever punch me?  I don’t even have a pink coat.”

The episode is essentially true.  The punchee was Mark Lancaster (that’s him above on the right), and it seems to have been a pink shirt, not a coat, and Mailer apparently called him a “pansy effete Englishman” before punching him.  Warhol however didn’t wait to go to confession to deliver his line, he Warhol said it at the time, as a camp put down of Mailer’s “manliness.”  And in fact, I’m sure Norman Mailer would have been very happy to walk over and punch Warhol too: though he saved the stabbing for his wife.

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