Public eye: Steve Balkin

New York street interviews: Stories from the sidewalk as told by real New Yorkers about their lives in the city that never sleeps.

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Photograph: Allison Michael Orenstein


Madison Ave between 81st and 82nd Sts

What are you up to? I'm packing up what was once called the most interesting store on Madison Avenue—the Burlington Antique Toy Shop. It was open for 33 years and now I'm retiring.

Did Amazon do you in? Not Amazon, but eBay. The electronic highway, the new world. Some young ladies from the School of Visual Arts are making a documentary with my thoughts about it.

Which are? The only way you accomplish anything is to stick with it for a long time, and I'm concerned about this new avalanche of information. This new world seems to click on, click off. Those little...I don't know what they're called. iPods or something?

I know those. Bad for the thumbs. Sometimes you have to take information and let it marinate for a while so it becomes a part of you. You can't do that if you glance and then click to the next thing, give that three seconds and then click again.

How true. So, did you make toys? No, I make paintings and photographs. I was very fortunate to be in New York when I got out of college. The guys I rubbed elbows with went on to be big names, like Andy Warhol. There's a big book out of his screen tests that I'm in.

How glam. It was, but you can't let it go to your head. I was who I was, and just because I had dinner with...

Who else? Well, I can't tell you dirt. But there's one guy I went to see on Broadway a couple days ago—Robin Williams—who is one of the nicest people there is.

He seems fun. You should get him to do an imitation of you. Oh, are you kidding? We've had very bizarre phone conversations over the years. Went something like this: [in an accent] "Hello, ees zees Robin? Hi! Zees ees Friedrich. I vas just vondering vhat ve are doink today..." We'd have complete conversations with five different voices.

Well, between the SVA doc and all that gallivanting, I guess your friend Andy would say you've gotten your 15 minutes. I'm not sure. I think I've used about four minutes and two seconds of it. I still have ten or eleven minutes to go.

More from Steve

"There's your chronological age and then there's your spiritual age. On good days, my spiritual age is 43."

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