From Columbia University urban studies professor Coleman, two groups of zany stories, one about the experiences of an amiable white middle-class screwup, the other about those of an industrious black homeless woman. Beverly hails from a straitlaced midwestern family that typifies the preWW II values of the region. After passing a chunk of his youth in the company of a dying, eccentric old woman (he and she look at stamps together), he decamps for Antioch College and all hell breaks loose as he slides headfirst into the tempestuous beat bohemia of the '50s. He becomes an avid drunk, discovers sex, takes up with a madcap theatrical company, marries and divorces Otto Preminger's daughter, reinvents Broadway p.r. via a series of outlandish publicity stunts, and ultimately turns his talents toward the civil rights movement. This last enthusiasm takes Beverly down south and into several harrowing encounters with rednecks, and even gets him a kiss on the mouth from an arrogant, inflammatory black attorney. Later, Beverly's wild times catch up with him: He becomes a bad drunk, repents through AA, and undergoes open-heart surgery. Throughout, though, he maintains his genial humor, a sort of Salinger-lite that seems typical of midcentury masculine bon vivant-ism gone awry. Less engaging and witty are the more socially conscious Marigold tales. Following Marigold's quick introduction into the book, this wise woman of the streets (``she was tall and fat and black and topped by a great smokey tangled head of hair'') saves a beloved watering hole from being destroyed by a toppling World Trade Center (the result of an earthquake and a hurricane) and runs for mayor of New York. A first collection of cheery, terse yarns that often exceed expectations--most especially in the first half. In any event, the laughs are always genuine, and the social history of New York over the past 50 years is dead-on.