Only in New York.

Actually, all cities have their unusual, entertaining characters, but New York seems to have more than its fair share.Ask Mark Singer. He's devoted a lot of years to tracking these strange ones down and then writing very good pieces about them for the Talk of the Town section of The New Yorker magazine. A lot of these brief pieces - Singer considers them his best and they certainly are very good - have been gathered into "Mr. Personality," along with half a dozen longer profiles of various interesting types, such as humorist Goodman Ace, deftly limned in very fine prose.

As for the short items, there's a dandy one about a couple who invented a dog washing machine because "dogs are wonderful to hug and kiss, but they often discourage you by seeming to need a bath." Their machine "resembles a squat, front-loading automatic clothes washer. However, it actually loads from the rear, and instead of a glass window in front there is a baffled opening for the dog to stick his head through while the rest of him is being bathed."

Then there's the locksmith shop that keeps a live rooster in the window. The rooster isn't there to attract business, says the shop owner; rather, the window is its home. Regardless, it sure does attract attention.