It's All In The Game
by A. Charles Corotis


It's All In The Game: A selected Collection of Gay Essays
on Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Mnemosyne,
Assayed from the Provocative Pages of
New Jersey's Literate Review Weekly, The Argus

By A. Charles Corotis



Onofry Wasilyshyn fingered the rich tapestries, the antique vases with the loving care of a devoted mother. These were links to the past, these handsome relics of a day long gone, resplendent in their elegance, and Onofry treasured them as though his own.

It was early in 1914 that a young Ukranian, fired with tales of the magic wonders in a glorious land across the sea, fled the oppression of a medieval czaristic tyranny and became one of Emma Lazarus's "huddled masses, yearning to breathe free."

The eager young immigrant settled, like most of the "tempest-tossed," on the New World's doorstep, and got a job at the McAlpin Hotel. A few months later, he shifted to the Waldorf-Astoria, and has been with that famed citadel of splendor ever since.

When the rococo old Waldorf on 34th street was razed to make way for the Empire State Building, Onofry went with Oscar, the fabled chef, and other old-timers to the lovely new building on Park Avenue. Oscar and most of the others who hark back to the old days are gone, but Onofry has his cherished mementoes nevertheless that keep alive the glory of the old queen.

We had gone up the mezzanine stairways, the family and I, to feast our appetite for beauty on the fabulous ball­rooms of the Waldorf-Astoria. Touched by our manifest interest, the old gentleman appointed himself a committee of one to guide us through the magnificence, and it was from him we learned that some of the most sumptuous of the ornamentation that embellishes the new Waldorf was transplanted from the old.

Carefully, tenderly, there were extricated from the debris and protected from the cataclysmic might of the wreckers some of the noblest murals and portraits, statuary and bric-a-brac, marble and vertu.

Painstakingly, paintings imported from abroad— from France and Italy and Britain— were removed from walls, frescoed into the gilded, curving ceilings of the foyers and ante-rooms to the great hall in the new Waldorf. Some, lending themselves not too well to such treatment, were woven into screens, others hung on walls. Lustrous, ornate objets d'art added a brilliantly decorative touch to the mez­zanine floors, shining in their resplendence, precious, many of them priceless.

But it was plain Onofry Wasilyshyn was less interested in their intrinsic value than their sentimental attachment. To him the mirrors of distressed glass with their 14-karat gold leaf frames, the splendent carpeting, the marble fireplaces, their mantles adorned with Wedgewood and Darby, Bayreuth and Bristol, all are nostalgic symbols of a day of dignified leisure—otium cum dignitate—when the sumptuosity of such as the Waldorf was reserved for royalty and wealth, when noblesse oblige was the theme and haughty grandeur the motif.

"Now," complains the old ouvrier, with just the suggestion of a sigh, "everyone comes to the Waldorf."

I wondered, self-consciously, if we had perhaps stirred up the resentful resignation in his voice.

No longer are the institutions of old sanctified by their reservation for the Pentacosiomedimni, true enough, but that scarcely is a condition to be deplored. Today almost anyone with eyes to see and sense of sentience can enjoy the luxuries that once were thought the exclusive right of the rich.

Onofry himself, with all his time-tinted longing for the old days when visitors to the Waldorf were almost sure to be kings or millionaires, yet is not averse to reaping the benefits of the progress that has seen the old order changeth.

"I never knew what it was to have a Sunday off," he admitted ruefully. "We worked fourteen hours a day, seven days a week. Now it's an eight hour day, five day week."

No, for all his glorified memories, I can't believe our newfound friend from the Ukrainian plains would return willingly to those days of yore. And as for returning to his homeland—a fate worse than death!

"This is the only country," he says fervently. "This is the world."

It is indeed. Lucky we.

New York is more than a cold, heartless monster of steel and masonry and brick, an iceberg that towers a quarter mile into the sky and burrows in multi-layered, caterwauling catacombs almost equidistant into the lithosphere. Millions of miles of wire and cable, piping and conduit form a metallic mat gaping above caverns, one below the other, which are home for Manhattan's mole-like subway and train systems.

But New York is more than a miracle of techtonics. It is truly the metropolis of Mundus, the conglomerate, cosmo­politan cosmorama of all history, and its people, rendezvousing here from every point of the earth, reflect every facet and nuance of humanity. Who is to say the people are less exciting, less newsworthy than the skyscrapers and marts?

Take Morris Jacobs: "Fifty years ago I used to drive a nanny-goat carriage on the mall there," he reminisced while he kept one eye warily on an eager Ross, handling the reins for our hansom meander through Central Park. Chubby, a sad-faced, fat twenty-one, knew his way around, of course, but still responded sensitively to pressure on the bit, and he was inclined to ignore such modern trappings as traffic lights without a firm tug.

"Yes, sir, New York has changed," vouchsafed old Mr. Jacobs.

"Everything has changed. Look at automobiles. When a car plows into one of these iron carriages it crumbles up. Tissue paper," he snorted.

Morris was in fine fettle.  Before leaving his home in Coney Island to report for duty that pleasantly cool day in mid-August he had had himself a swim for a mile or so out into the ocean.

"Used to belong to the Polar Bears Club," he explained. "Swam all winter. Cut that out, though. But I still get in a swim every morning this time of year."

Morris Jacobs began his equestrian career away back in the 19th century, driving a horse-car on the First Avenue line. He's stuck to horses ever since, except for his Capran interlude on the mall.

"Al Smith and Jimmy Walker wouldn't ride with anybody else," he says proudly. "When they felt like a turn to relax, they'd wait for me. Oh, I've seen 'em come and I've seen 'em go."

Morris Jacobs, like Onofiy Wasilyshyn, is not entirely convinced the changes he's seen have been for the best. "Look at these roads," he says, hurt in his voice. "Concrete. Concrete roads in a park. Horses have to be shod twice a week. Not right."

Our sympathetic tsk-tsks paid dividends, for from Cabbie Jacobs we learned much of the history of Central Park; the spot where Sousa conducted his band for concerts, who did what and where, what the various statues and monuments represent, who built and lived in the hotels and apartment houses surrounding the park— "See that twin-topped place there? That's the Majestic. Frank Costello had a penthouse suite there."

You can learn a lot by listening to the oldtimers.

We managed to piece together a few more days for a re­turn visit to the big town before the youngsters left on their several scholastic ways. Again we were fortunate: clear and cool was that week of August 17, perfect for New York, and we made the most of it. We toured on land and water, we visited theatres and movie houses, we tried restaurants we had missed before. And we marveled anew at the ability of this fabulous place to take everything in its stride.

The very day Onofry Wasilyshyn was drawing the veil from the mysteries of the Waldorf, President Eisenhower was there, but we didn't even see him. Adlai Stevenson was over at the Biltmore, Governor Dewey at the Commodore. Farther to the east, the diplomats of the world were wrestling with the problems imposed by the Korean truce. But all this simultaneous activity of historic significance made no dent at all on the complacent metropolis which, like Moloch, consumes all that come within its embrace without disturbing the equability and equanimity of its placid pace.

Down the Hudson steamed our sightseeing yacht Circle Line on the first leg of a three-hour cruise encircling Manhattan. On our left towered the world-famed skyline of the downtown financial district, to the right the busy Jersey ports of Weehawken, Hoboken and Jersey City; ahead whole freight trains on barges ponderously passed on their lighterage trip to East River piers, towed by toiling tugs. Like a spectator at a tennis match, one's head swivels from side to side, turning from the world's fleetest craft, the sleek United States, on the left to the world's largest clock, the fifty-feet Colgate octagon on the right; from the world's largest communications center, the Long Lines of AT&T on the left to the forty-two-acre Todd Shipyards, largest and best equipped ship repair shop anywhere, on the right.

Today meets yesterday as the Empire State Building rises majestically above the tiny Custom House where Peter Minuit constructed Fort Amsterdam in 1626. Chrysler lords it over Bowling Green Park, where the Canarsie Indians from Brooklyn sold Manhattan Island, which wasn't even theirs to sell. Those Brooklyns!

A mark of the swift pace of modern progress is the forty-year-old Woolworth Building, once the world's tallest, now eclipsed by many, only half the size of the Empire State.

Past Ellis Island, first acquaintance with America for mil­lions, we steam, into Upper New York Bay, within hailing hearing of the Lady with the Lamp. In the distance, the twin funnels of the giantess of ships, the Queen Elizabeth, stand boldly against the sky as the 85,000-ton empress maneuvers through the Narrows bound for the open sea and Britain.

Into the East River we swing, past the Battery where a fort was built to protect New York in the War of 1812, past historic Governor's Island. Familiar landmarks drift by: narrow little Wall Street with famous old Trinity Church its anchor and marker . . . the Fulton Fish Market, Al Smith's beloved alma mater . . . the teeming East Side where so many famous Americans began life under forbidding but conquerable odds . . . the bridges spanning the East River, including the oldest—Brooklyn—which launched the Roebling empire . . . America's favorite flattop, the Hornet., in Brooklyn Navy Yard for repairs . . . the monolithic giants—Empire State, Chrysler, RCA—passing in review . . . the newer type structures: UN and Lever House . . . Welfare Island, with its hospital and upsidedown house that starts at the elevator off the Queensboro Bridge and builds downward . . . the plush apart­ment buildings beyond the East River Drive . . . the great number of hospitals, famed Bellevue, New York Hospital, Cornell Medical Center, Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center among them . . . the public housing projects on both sides of the river, nice to look at but testimony to New York's tax headache . . . graceful Gracie Mansion, interim residence of New York's successive mayors . . . Ward's Island and the footbridge across the Harlem River leading to its little-known and slightly-used park . . . youngsters stepping out of their clothes and diving au naturel into the Harlem . . . the huge "house that Ruth built," Yankee Stadium, and across the river the older Polo Grounds, home of both the baseball and football Giants . . . New York University and its famed Hall of Fame . . . the cove where Henry Hudson anchored the Half Moon in 1609, and beyond, the bridge named in his memory, spanning the Harlem ship canal where it meets the Hudson .... Down the majestic river then, the Palisades to the right, on the left such treasures as Fort Tryon Park, the Cloisters museum, Castle Village which won George Pelham the American Institute of Architecture Award, the vine-clad wall of Dr. Charles Paterno's famous castle, George Washington Memorial Bridge, Grant's Tomb, Riverside Church, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument; finally the piers, one after another, temporary home for the great vessels of the world, gathered from all the oceans, moored within halloo distance of bustling Broadway. What a city!

Hedonic  Highlights

Still Broadway's biggest bargain after four years— "South Pacific." Ross, inclined to complain that thirty dollars was too much to pay for five tickets to see a show, silenced by the excitement, enthralled by the robust action .... The cuisine and atmosphere of the Plaza's Palm Court .... The tour of Rockefeller Center, an international city of its own .... The Gothic splendor of St. Patrick's Cathedral from the seventieth floor of the RCA Building .... The adult— and  unadulterated— wit of "The Moon Is Blue". . . . Holland House Taverne, faithful to Ross's emphasis on things Dutch this past year at MFS, with its Hollandsche Voorgerechten, Erwten soep met kluif en worst, hutspot van peen en uien en klapstuk, nassi goreng oost indiesche stijl, gebakken versche schol, doperwtjes and aardappelen, arnendel broodje, banket, leidsche, goudsche of edammer kaas and the rest of those mys­terious Dutch dishes .... The precise Rockettes in a Swiss setting at that modern Hippodrome, Radio City Music Hall, where I saw "The Band Wagon" for the second time so the family could see it for the first time .... The Brooklyn-Battery tunnel, world's longest under water. . . . The well kept gardens on all the setbacks of the Rockefeller Center buildings— tons of soil hoisted high into the air .... The American counterpart of Rumpelmayer's famous Parisian restaurant in the flossy St. Moritz. As frothy and delicate as its profiteroles and marrons .... The madhouse that is Grand Central at five. Ross intrigued, even more than with the teeming homebound hordes and famous gold clock, by the animated advertising signs .... Driving through Times Square with a hitchhiking pigeon perched nonchalantly on the hood .... Emil Coleman's continental melodies on the Waldorf's Starlight Roof .... The crooked winding streets of Chinatown, and Tien Sang's exotic wares at 1 Doyer Street .... The unexcelled cuisine of Gluckstern's on 49th. But with all of New York's wonderful restaurants I couldn't find a place near the hotel that served kippers for breakfast .... The perfumed lobbies of the Waldorf, converted into a temporary cocktail lounge by the seasonal shutdown of the Peacock Alley cafes for alterations and redecoration .... Fifth Avenue from 88th to 89th, where the controversial $8,000,000 glass-domed, bulging round Guggenheim art museum, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is to go .... The incomparable facade of the great, glittering Street of Dreams —some realized, more broken: Broadway.