In 1960, a new college graduate, I migrate from my hometown in Pennsylvania to New York, a flaxen-haired twenty-something ready to start “real” life in the city of her dreams. I find an apartment on the Lower East Side, a job as the salad girl in the cafeteria in the Time Life building, and modern dance classes I crave to pursue my desired career.
Within weeks city life lifts me into its cacophonous orbit. I experience its centripetal force as visceral, often intoxicating: every shade of human skin represented, along with varieties of English where not only words I know sound strange, but they pour forth in bizarre accents and weird rhythms. [...]