Amazing book by Tamara Shopsin, daughter of the legendary NYC chef/philosopher Kenny Shopsin who died a few weeks ago. I watched the 2004 documentary I Like Killing Flies to understand more about this lovable eccentric but I think Tamara’s book adds all sorts of melty layers to his essence. It’s almost a love letter to her dad and his utterly unique friend Willy. Stories about Willy seem almost too good to be true, but I believe them. Like how in the 1960s he was looking up World Wide Photo (a photo-assignment agency) in the phone book but mistakenly swapped Wide World instead of World Wide. Then he bought that mistaken name in the phone book, put his number there, and would field erroneous calls for the real agency, buying images from the real one and selling them at a higher price to the rubes who dialed him instead.
Kenny originally had a store instead of a restaurant, open between 7am and 8pm, but he gave sets of keys to his regular customers so they could help themselves 24 hours a day, just writing down what they took. “The city may have been more dangerous, but it was a less hostile place. Everyone knew each other. The rent stabilization laws were hard for landlords to beat, so people weren’t forced to move out. They lived on the block forever. And that forever built a neighborhood.”
Vivid and heartbreaking descriptions of a New York that is fast disintegrating if not already gone.
Bonus: discovering the Donnell Library’s basement with the NYPL Reserve Film and Video Collection, a curated archive of “educational, avant-garde, political, industrial, out-of-print, rare, foreign, local, and historic films.” It shut down in 2008 when the NYPL sold the building, but the film collection lives on in the Library for the Performing Arts.