PW:A Drinking Life and your new book, Downtown, make a pretty good Pete Hamill bio when put together. Are you considering writing some kind of autobiography in the future?
Pete Hamill: I doubt it very much. I have three novels I want to write and if the good Lord's willing and the creek don't rise, as Hank Williams said, who knows? But I think both books, more or less, tell you what was going on in this life.
How has downtown Manhattan changed from when you first moved there nearly 50 years ago?
The first thing that's amazingly important was that it was affordable. The notion that three of us from Brooklyn could cross over the bridge and find an apartment for $63 a month. I think that's an enormous loss for the city, that you can't have kids getting off the bus at the Port Authority Bus Terminal to come and live in New York and be dancers or teachers or writers. Even if they fail, we don't get them in the numbers we used to get them, and that, I think, diminishes the city because it's not simply the city of immense fortunes, it's also a city in which new ideas and new artists and new writers and everybody have a chance to find themselves, which they couldn't do in Ohio or North Dakota or California. We have to have those people. They are as important to us in a way as the immigrants are. It's important to be a place where artists learn how to be bad before they get to be good.
Why is Times Square so important to the psyche of New York?
Because it became the zócalo, what you have in Latin American cities, the center of the place. When September 11 happened, we did not go to Times Square, we went to Union Square, to mourn, to let sorrow live. We did not go to Times Square because Times Square is where that sailor kisses that girl [on VJ Day in 1945] and the whole world celebrates. Times Square is a place for eruption and celebration, not for mourning.
How did 9/11 change New York for the better?
I think it was a factor in diminishing race because clearly it happened to everybody, it didn't happen to one particular race or one class. There were black heroes and black casualties. Because it improved manners—noticeably. For New York, "excuse me" can be as revolutionary as the Communist Manifesto. You began to notice it two or three days later on the subways and it has, more or less, continued to be that way. Usually the bad manners now are from people out of town—not from us. Better manners. Diminished intensity of the race thing. And, I think, a kind of healthy fatalism, which the immigrants didn't have to be taught—they had it from the countries from which they came. But New Yorkers had to learn it again, the second-, third-, fourth-generation descendants of immigrants. A healthy fatalism, not a melancholy fatalism, gets you through the day.