Public eye: Michael Rosenthal, 73
New York street interviews: Stories from the sidewalk as told by real New Yorkers about their lives in the city that never sleeps.
Tue Apr 19 2011
Photograph: Allison Michael Orenstein
Madison Ave at 86th St
Has anyone ever told you that you have great posture? Well, no! Is that true?
It is. What do you do? I retired last June from Columbia. From 1972 to '89 I was the associate dean of the college. And then from '89 I was a professor of English.
Bored yet? No, not yet. I'm putting together a proposal for a book.
What's the motivation for writing books? It's a nice bit of immortality. No one will read it, but here it is. [Laughs] It's in a library, it's listed on Amazon, you can Kindle it...
As opposed to using it for kindling? [Laughs] Exactly. Although that's probably its long-term fate.
So did your students change much over all those years of teaching? I don't think they've changed enormously. When I started, it was an all-male school. It went coed in '83, but Columbia has always appealed to a tough-minded, idiosyncratic student.
You mean in recent years they didn't turn into e-mail--checking, tweeting robots? [Laughs] You said it, I didn't.
What's life like outside of the ivory tower? It's great. I was born in New York—91st Street and Central Park West—so I'm a New Yorker through and through.
So you've moved all of, what, 20 blocks in a lifetime? Let's see. I began at 91st Street and I moved to 111th, then 74th, 139th and now I'm on Claremont Avenue, where I will be forever. My wife tries to pretend that she's a New Yorker—even though she came from Boston, she shares my passion for New York.
Do you lord it over her that she's not a real New Yorker? No, I just correct her when she tries to pretend. You know, honesty above all. [Laughs]
No number of decades living here makes someone a New Yorker, then? No. Either you begin in New York or nothing. And I believe that Manhattan is the real thing. People born in the Bronx, Brooklyn or Staten Island, I look at with some skepticism.
You are going to get in serious trouble for saying that. I know, but let's be frank.
More from Michael
"My wife and I are going to the Vienna Secession show at the Neue Galerie today."