Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “Five Flights Up” by Toni Schlesinger

If you want a window into what NYC was like 15 years ago and this book! Originally a column in NY’s favorite but now extinct downtown paper The Village Voice. I read this book last week and LOVED IT!

A flop house, a pumping station, a maid’s room, a homeless center, a former brothel, a Richard Meier building, a circus trailer, a sailboat, a skyscraper, buildings named Esther and Loraine just a few of the places New Yorkers call home. For the past eight years writer, Toni Schlesinger has been bringing us these “conversation places” in her weekly column in the Village Voice. Through her incisive questioning, original writing, and comic parallel reveries, Schlesinger creates miniature documentaries on the lives, passions, hopes, and heartbreaks of many of New York City’s millions.

Five Flights Up chronicles people living in New York’s extremes, occupying 150-square-foot spaces, paying over half their income for rent, living eight in an apartment, and taking showers in twos to save time. These are people who make movies in their living room and then sleep in it later. They surround themselves with their baby teeth, with 500 volumes of Moby Dick, plaster rabbis, birds’ nests, 30 modernist chairs, 50 loaves of Wonder Bread, and more. In Toni Schlesinger‘s hands, their stories are much more than novelties.

Artists, actors, dancers, librarians, social workers, busboys, bankers, porn stars, au pairs, urban planners, bakers, shamans, masseuses, web designers, and students come alive when they discuss where they came from and where they’re going. Each interview is a vivid and insightful portrait, revealing the creative energy, camaraderie, desperation, and hope that fuel the daily lives of people in New York and everywhere.


“Toni Schlesinger’s book describes the relationship of the accidental to the profound, the domestic to the totally weird; she visits, draws out, and celebrates this permanent impermanence better than anyone ever has. The book is so funny, so rich, so full of wonderful surprises – the people you know and the people you wish you never want to know. each one in her/his box, all jumbled together like New York itself.”


“I knew rooms were just a lot of stage sets,” Schlesinger writes of taking on the Village Voice “Shelter” column in 1997. The drama taking place behind New Yorkers’ drawn curtains, Schlesinger reveals in this selection of interviews, is varied and vivid: bizarre, unhappy, frenetic, obsessive, euphoric, awkward, and endless. Divided into 15 sections, the book captures people at a moment in time, before 9/11 and after, telling the deeply personal stories that lead to new addresses: stories of death, ambition, love and rent control. Schlesinger finds a man with a 129-pound rubber band ball, a 105-pound pet pig in Brooklyn and a man who has turned his living room into a giant pinhole camera. “Manhattan’s density,” Schlesinger notes, “is 871 times that of the U.S. as a whole.” Rents are as sky-high as the architecture, which explains why a family of four might keep their rent-stabilized 295-square-foot studio in Little Italy. Sometimes Schlesinger enters homes and smells gas, sometimes dumplings, and it’s not uncommon for her to make interviewees ill at ease. “Don’t you want to write about the apartment?” one man asks. Her associative ramblings aren’t binge-reading material, but the book’s Spartan design and casual, if bizarre, banter offer sliver-sized glimpses into the epic stories of New York lives.

A Review of the book ‘Five Flights Up’.

Toni Schlesinger’s Q&A sessions with quirky New York residents in their even quirkier apartments are a true gem that will find a place in the heart of anyone who went through that formidable process of NYC apartment hunting. A compilation of the original Village Voice column, “Shelter,” the book is separated into sections such as “Miniature,” “Light,” “Utopia” and “Haunted,” but what I really love about this book is that it allows you to randomly pick a story from over three hundred interviews whenever you happen to pass by it. Schlesinger is a writer for the Voice, so naturally, you can expect an insightful, knowledgeable and confident interviewer at work, but I found the unexpected affection, brilliant candor and humor in the many voices of Manhattan she chronicles to be her greatest achievement. The book answered for me that mysterious question why even after the rats, the horrid rent and evil landlords New Yorkers still find it so enchanting to live in New York, or “Neverland” as Schlesinger calls it.

Available here at Amazon’s Third-Party Sellers

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Book Shelf Writer

Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “Make My Day: Movie Culture in the Age of Reagan

Make My Day: Movie Culture in the Age of Reagan

Acclaimed media critic J. Hoberman’s masterful and majestic exploration of the Reagan years as seen through the unforgettable movies of the era.

The third book in a brilliant and ambitious trilogy, celebrated cultural and film critic J. Hoberman’s Make My Day is a major new work of film and pop culture history. In it he chronicles the Reagan years, from the waning days of the Watergate scandal when disaster films like Earthquake ruled the box office to the nostalgia of feel-good movies like Rocky and Star Wars, and the delirium of the 1984 presidential campaign and beyond.

Bookended by the Bicentennial celebrations and the Iran-Contra affair, the period of Reagan’s ascendance brought such movie events as JawsApocalypse NowBlade RunnerGhostbustersBlue Velvet, and Back to the Future, as well as the birth of MTV, the Strategic Defense Initiative, and the Second Cold War.

An exploration of the synergy between American politics and popular culture, Make My Day is the concluding volume of Hoberman’s Found Illusions trilogy; the first volume, The Dream Life, was described by Slate’s David Edelstein as “one of the most vital cultural histories I’ve ever read”; Film Comment called the second, An Army of Phantoms, “utterly compulsive reading.” Reagan, a supporting player in Hoberman’s previous volumes, here takes center stage as the peer of Indiana Jones and John Rambo, the embodiment of a Hollywood that, even then, no longer existed.

“Singular, stylish and slightly intoxicating in its scope.”
—David Fear, Rolling Stone

“Rigorous, scholarly . . . for readers seeking an insightful, academic meditation on the relationship between media and sociopolitical issues.”
Library Journal

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Book Shelf Mime Photography Women Writer

Vaudevisuals Bookshelf – “Street People” – by Janet Beller

Street People by Janet Beller

This book cover is a little beaten up from constantly looking up some of the most interesting people that walked the streets of New York.

Originally published in 1980 when characters were everywhere you walked in New York City. It was what New York was!

It’s People!

Here is the Forward by photographer Janet Beller.


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One of the ‘people’ that Janet Beller photographed in the streets of New York.

Jim Moore mime

Performing in front of the 42nd Street NY Public Library between the lions in 1980.

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Juggling Magic Mime Performing Arts Photography Variety Arts

Philippe Petit and Marcel Marceau improvise in Washington Sq. Park – 03/1983

Appeared in Village Voice/Howard Smith Scenes Column in the March 29th issue of 1983.

Marcel Marceau was in town performing his one-man show at City Center and coordinated to meet Philippe Petit in Washington Square Park.

They did a short improvisation before Marcel Marceau had to go uptown to prepare for his show. I happened to be there to take these photographs!