I had planned to write about something else entirely today, until I read Stuart’s post. I recently moved to Boston from NYC and if I talked about how much that emotion that change brought– how much I love New York and I how I know I’ll be back because I really truly belong there–there wouldn’t be enough bandwidth on the Internet to sustain my tangential ranting.
I traveled back to the city last weekend on the BoltBus for a series of loved ones birthday celebrations, and on the way I watched Paris, Je T’aime, the movie where 14 directors contributed short films, each about a different arrondisment in Paris. I love Paris, too, it’s one of my favorite places on earth, and I thought the movie was lovely.
Perhaps it was my recent displacement, my tendency towards nostalgia or the fact that the final vignette in the film was coming to an end just as the magnificent NYC skyline was coming into view, but the movie made me want to jump out of the bus, and race through the city streets hugging and kissing strangers, swinging from lampposts and eating a thousand food cart hot dogs!
So in the spirit of absurdly premature nostalgia I wanted to share a few of my own stories of the city, neighborhood by neighborhood each week. They are simple flashes of memory but I hope that in some small way they can make you understand a little of what I feel.
Upper East Side
When I was first born I lived with my parents on 81st and 1st, a short block from the hospital where my mom and dad worked. My mom grew up in Brooklyn and my dad in south Baltimore and they felt strongly that I should have the things they didn’t, namely a backyard. The fear of the repercussions of raising a child in an urban environment (this was in 1980) and the prohibitive cost of living near a good school district propelled them over the river to Bergen County, New Jersey. Only about 20 minutes drive from Manhattan the distance allowed us to easily come into the city to meet my dad for dinner or a show, or to spend the day with him at work in the research wing of HSS/New York Hospital which for some reason my little sister and I adored. My sister would bang away on a broken typewriter and write a bunch of gibberish on post-it notes while I would stare out at the city and wonder where Harriet the Spy lived.
At lunch time my dad would take us for burgers and fries at Ottamanelli and Bros., and then to buy my sister and I a book at the best children’s bookstore in all the world, Eeyore’s which sadly is now closed. Afterward we would head over for ice cream and candy at Peppermint Park, a wonderful old fashioned sit-down ice cream parlor and candy shop which as a child was my own personal Xanadu. The paroxysms of delight that would ripple through me upon entering have been duplicated all too rarely since then, and it is doubtful to me that this generation’s children experience anything similar upon entering the ultramodern-plastic-neo-space-station-sugar zone that is Dylan’s Candy Bar. Once I slammed into Tom Wolfe in his all-white suit outside the restaurant while holding an ice cream cone, an incident which dazzled my father
Peppermint Park has, lamentably, been closed for years as I discovered awkwardly in 2003. In an attempt to seem youthful and impetuous on a date, I suggested getting ice cream at the spot only to get there and find it was gone. Party Foul! I looked like a massive tool, much like Usher must have felt when (as reported about a year ago in a tabloid magazine) in an effort to show his girl how “street” he was, he entered the 14th Street Subway Station and politely asked the MTA employee in the booth for two subway tokens.
As an adult I spend virtually all of my time below 14th St or in Brooklyn, and unless I am visiting a museum or something I never, ever venture above Grand Central. Going to the Upper East Side though, reminds me of being young despite all the tremendously negative associations I have with the neighborhood. It was my place of being before all of the Girls filled with Gossip arrived, along with the douchebag finance guys with their gelled hair, popped collars and Jack Johnson albums, and their “Marketing and Communications Major” girlfriends with their tube tops, Tory Burch slippers and logo-ed handbags.
As a child, I only knew the parts of the city my parents brought me to. Driving over the bridge and crossing the West Side Highway we passed neighborhoods filled with boarded up houses, where men staggered into the street brandishing a squeegee and a squeeze bottle. Things were dirty gray and grim but a few short blocks later things changed drastically. For some reason that dark, depressed landscape did not register as New York. My naivite is staggering and embarassing but also true: to me at the time New York was only ever the Upper East Side, all pretty restaurants, doormen apartment buildings, smiling hot dog cart vendors, dogs who resembled their owners, the East River and on the other end bordering it all, the leafy, mythic, far-off greenness of Central Park.