A friend of mine once told me about the “typical dream of a New Yorker,” as he described it, wherein a homeowner pushes aside some coats and sweaters in the upstairs closet… only to reveal a door, and, behind that, another room, and, beyond that, perhaps even a whole new wing secretly attached to the back of the house…
Always fantasizing about having more space in Manhattan.
And so I was thinking today that you could go around Manhattan with a microphone, asking people who have had that dream to describe it, recording all this, live, for the radio – or you ask people who have never had that dream simply to ad lib about what it might be like to discover another room, and you ask them to think about what kind of room they would most like to discover, tucked away inside a closet somewhere in their apartment.
What additions to space do the people of New York secretly long for?
Of course, you’d probably need to record about 5000 people to get a dozen or so good stories – but then you’d edit it all down and listen to the unbelievable variations: people who find secret attics, or secret basements, secret closets inside closets, or even secret children’s bedrooms, secret bathrooms, hidden roof gardens, even a brand new 4-car garage plus screened-in porch out back. One guy finds a sauna, and a cheese cave, and then a bicycle-repair shop…
What does it all mean?
And if you once dreamed about finding a secret UPS loading dock attached to your back door… would Freud approve?
So you get all these stories together and you make a radio piece out of it. A month or two later, it’s broadcast during rush hour, on a Friday night, as you want to give people something to think about over the weekend.
But soon commuters are pulling over to the side of the road and staring, shocked, at the radio – because you’ve given no introduction, and no one out there has any idea what this is.
Some guy found a boathouse attached to his apartment in Manhattan…?, one driver thinks.
And the stories keep coming.
There’s a skyscraper with a whole hidden floor…? someone thinks, momentarily amazed – before driving into the car in front of her.
A woman on the Upper East Side found what?
Or: All along he had a basketball court behind the bedroom wall?
The NJ turnpike gets backed up for miles and the Brooklyn Bridge is at a stand-still.
It’s mass hysteria.
Where are all these secret rooms…? People want to know. And why don’t I have one…? Manhattanites are knocking on walls, taking measurements. drafting letters to the rent control board.
But then the credits roll, and the radio station cuts to commercial, and everyone realizes that those were all just stories. Dreams.
There are no secret rooms – they think.
So they pull back onto the highways – and you go down in radio history.
Within two weeks you’ve signed a six-figure deal with Henry Holt to turn it into a book, and Paul Auster volunteers to write the forward.
You call it: The Undiscovered Bedrooms of Manhattan.
It gets accidentally shelved with Erotica.
People cry as they read it.
A sequel is planned, interviewing residents of London and Beijing.
(With thanks to Robert Krulwich, who puts up with emails from me full of ideas like this…).