“Subways Are for Sleeping”

“What’s it like to flourish in New York City without a job, without a home, without friends?” reads the preface of this noir-ish little paperback, published in 1956. “Here are the amazing, bizarre, incredible, hilarious, true stories of people who live without money and like it. A strange breed of off-beat characters, they inhabit a city New Yorkers seldom see.”

Each of the 10 chapters tells the story of some eccentric New Yorker who manages to survive without paying rent or holding a job. Do characters like this still thrive in a city devoted more than ever to careerism and the pursuit of material pleasures? I bet they do. Time for an updated version of the book.

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6 Responses to ““Subways Are for Sleeping””

  1. Striver Says:

    This book, which I recall fondly, was made into a Broadway musical (short-lived), which I saw – and do not recall fondly. Thanks for the memories, though!

  2. Rory L. Aronsky Says:

    I was searching on Google yet again to see if anyone had mentioned the book and not the musical. Happy to find at least one more new musing.

    Five years ago, my family (parents and sister) and I moved to the Santa Clarita Valley of Southern California, 30 minute north of Los Angeles, and therefore the Backwoods of Los Angeles. Most who live in this valley commute to L.A. and there’s no real sense of identity here, as much as the city council tries with various annual events.

    In my first year here, I felt bewildered. First, I was getting used to there being an amusement park so nearby, because when in South Florida, Walt Disney World was four hours away. Closer when we lived in Casselberry (merely a few minute from Orlando), but more regularly four hours away. I had been to Six Flags Magic Mountain during a trip we’d taken to Southern California for my dad to go on job interviews at various middle schools. Back then, I’d only known about Six Flags, not that there was an entire working valley behind the thing. Put simply, if you were to tell someone about Santa Clarita in other parts of Southern California, they might not know where you’re referring to. If you mention Magic Mountain, they immediately know. Six Flags is our beacon to the rest of SoCal. Pretty sad to me.

    Anyway, actually living here in that first year, I didn’t really pick up on any strong personalities in the apartment building we lived in. It was, and still is, the kind of apartment building where people move in and out often. I’m sure the monthly rate has gone up even further and that’s what usually drives people out.

    I was wondering where the sense of community was, not that it was anything to be concerned about in later years because most of the population is really dull in mind and spirit. What they perceive to be their personality is just the same as anyone else’s here. Except for a few people. The fringe of the valley, as I call them. They’re the ones who hold tightly to who they are because they seem like they’ve come from other places, like I did.

    For example, there was the guy living in one of the apartments on the second floor of my apartment building, who kept a fully-loaded fish tank on the ledge of his patio. Plugged in, aquarium lights on, the works. To me, just by that, he had to have rock-solid confidence. Also an interesting guy to talk to.

    Then there was the night when I was at College of the Canyons, the local community college, and some guy had noticed how fast I typed and asked me to type up a paper of his to save him the time. He possessed a pretty full backpack, and when I was done with typing up his paper, he said he’d pay me the next time he saw me in the library, since he didn’t have anything on him at that moment. I was never paid, but I didn’t mind, because the story I had gotten from him was more valuable than money (at that time). He told me of spending a stretch of time in Vegas, wandering I suppose. I don’t remember him talking up where he lived in Vegas, but I remember vividly him telling me that many professors allowed him to sit in on their classes at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus. Back then, I still thought Vegas was a desolate gambling outpost, though not out of dislike. It’s just the impression I had. Years later, when I visited UNLV, I could see why those professors may have allowed that guy to attend their classes for free at those times. The campus is huge, and walking it takes at least a week if you make good time on your first day.

    Anyway, with his backpack and shaggy hair and wildly talkative demeanor (though without an accompanying scent), I figured that the Santa Clarita Valley was just another stop for him. I never saw him after we had reached the bus transfer station across from the local shopping mall, but I still think about him. I’m absolutely certain he’s not in this valley anymore. He can’t be. Not with that backpack and a tale of time spent in Las Vegas. He struck me as the kind to go cross-country. How, I don’t know. But I’ve thought about it through some of my own writings.

    I don’t know if I met this older woman that same night at the transfer station or another night, but the time doesn’t matter. What mattered is that we had struck up a conversation and she had told me she had cleaned the house of a couple for 30 years somewhere in L.A. She took one of the bigger buses to L.A., then came back on one of them, and took one of the regular transit buses home to somewhere in this valley. 30 years and she was reaching the end, because the husband died some time ago and the widow was moving to a nudist colony in Idaho. No joke. So this woman had to look for other work, and I didn’t press further about what the widow had told the woman about the nudist colony move. I was just amazed by it, and in hindsight, I wish I had pressed further. Moreover, I couldn’t believe that someone like this lived here, with such an experience as that, with such a mind too.

    I’ve always been interested in aviation, enough that I’m starting classes online soon from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in pursuit of a career hopefully at an airport. I don’t know exactly what I want to do, but I think I’ll figure it out within the courses I have to take.

    I bring that up because this same woman also told me that she could look up in the sky, spot a plane, and figure out where it was going. She knew exactly which ones were on their way to LAX and other airports. And she lived in Santa Clarita?

    I can sense that I’m becoming long-winded in all this and that the point might be lost, but I haven’t made it yet. This leads me to “Subways are for Sleeping” and one day while at College of the Canyons, the local community college in Valencia, where yet again, I was reading the same copy as many times before. A copy from the Norwalk library in the County of Los Angeles library system, sent to the Valencia branch, my branch. Instead of trying to tackle the math homework that lay open before me in papers and the textbook on a table in the school’s cafeteria (I always liked the booth right against the back wall, furthest away from anyone). I read again about Father Dutch during my lunch in between classes, and knew then how important this book was to me. As mentioned long before, unique personalities are not readily found in this valley, and believe me, I’ve worked with and talked to a great number of people, many at my dad’s middle school. How do these people stand to live each day, being so boring? Hardly snobbish, considering the population of Stevenson Ranch matches the plastic surgery ads and high-priced restaurant ads in the big monthly Santa Clarita Magazine. I’ve been meaning to head over there one of these days to see how the economic situation is with them. I joked with my sister at the start of the trouble that soon, I could likely go over there and find worthwhile garage sales.

    Anyway, the edition of Subways are for Sleeping that the Norwalk Library had is from Harcourt, Brace and Company New York. I’m not sure if the hardcover binding was done by the library at that time. It could have been the pages of the paperback put into new hardback binding, but the pages are remarkably well-preserved. The few due dates stamped on the inside-cover page are from 1976-77. Based on the due date pocket on the inside cover, this may very well have been all the way back from 1956 or ’57. Smells like it too, but my favorite kind of scent, that of the history of reading this book, whomever checked it out.

    I was the last one because after all the times I’d checked out this particular copy, I knew I couldn’t live without it. So about two years ago, I checked it out of my local branch again and I let enough time elapse to get close to the due date and then told one of the people at the front desk that I had unfortunately lost it while in Las Vegas. I had cash with me that day. $40. I was prepared to pay whatever they might want, though I imagined it couldn’t have been more than $40. And it wasn’t.

    The book itself cost 3.75 back in 1957, as shown on the card pocket on the inside cover. By the time I paid for it, it reached $29. Adding $5 for their processing fee, it came out to $34 and that’s what I paid. One of my most cherished book purchases. Between this and the works of Charles Bukowski, I never desire unique personalities in this valley. I know where they are.

    You’re right about this book needing to be updated, but I don’t think there’s anyone today remotely like Edmund G. Love who could seek out these kinds of people and then write about them so well. He had a completely open, inviting mind.

    • Bill Goldstein Says:

      In 1988 I rented an apartment in Atlanta. This book was the only thing that had been left behind. Although a college graduate, I had never read an entire book outside of school. Having nothing to do one evening, I read the book SUBWAYS ARE FOR SLEEPING…..it started a lifetime of 24 years of reading 3 books a week simply because this book was so interesting. I absolutely loved it!

      Take care, Billgoldstein1@aol.com
      Atlanta [now Memphis]

  3. Rory L. Aronsky Says:

    I mentioned in my previous comment that I don’t think there’s anyone today remotely like Edmund G. love…blah, blah, blah.

    What about you? I’ve been reading many of your blog posts and they’re constantly fascinating. I think an updated version would thrive in your words.

  4. RED DAVE Says:

    At one point, “Subways Are for Sleeping” was briefly a Broadway musical.

  5. Bill Crow Says:

    The Hickory House was not a little place. It had a large dining room beside a large oval bar, with a bandstand inside the bar. It had a high ceiling, with lighting fixtures over the tables made from wood-spoke wagon wheels. A huge fire pit at the rear glowed with hickory logs that cooked the steaks. A large refrigerator window into the kitchen area displayed cuts of meat. A pyramid of liquor bottles decorated both ends of the bandstand. Good jazz bands played there for years, including the Marian McPartland Trio, on which I was the bassist.

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