The Magic of New York: Ya Always Loin Somethin’ New

by Michael Potemra

In his fascinating new book, The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City, CUNY and CCNY sociology professor William B. Helmreich describes what he learned in his epic four-year-long effort to walk almost every block in the metropolis. He reports that a Washington Heights resident told him the following:

Running from Overlook Terrace up to Fort Washington Avenue is a long stone staircase – 132 steps to be precise – called the “Kissinger Steps,” because Henry’s parents lived in a building near the top of the staircase. Henry used to take these steps as he went to George Washington High School over on Amsterdam Avenue.

I have, for over twelve years now, lived less than a block away from these exact steps, and have by now mounted and descended them many tens of thousands of times — and yet, this is the first I have ever heard of their connection to Henry Kissinger. Perhaps this proves there is no such thing as a genius loci: Despite having breathed for over a decade now the heady atmosphere that formed the young Henry, I am no more kindly disposed toward his détente policy toward the Soviets and the Red Chinese than I was back when I was a fire-breathing far-right-wing lad, in the 1970s . . . (Perhaps I am being unfair, and should reconsider. After all, the Soviet Union was gone before I turned 30, and it couldn’t all have been Reagan’s doing: Maybe Nixon, Kissinger, and Ford softened them up for the final blow from the Gipper?)

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