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Photograph: Allison Michael Orenstein

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.

By Kate Lowenstein

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."

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