I Meet The New and Improved Big Apple

When I lived in NYC in the late 1980's, the city was a wild and filthy witch holding a crack-laced Big Apple in her hand. The governor had recently cut the budget by setting crazies free from pricey hospitals to roam the streets of Manhattan like zombies. Studio 54 was closed but the citizens were still coked up so we danced into the inferior Palladium and out of Save the Robots at the shock of dawn like zombies.

I’d walk up five flights of stairs to visit a friend but think about it first. How much rent do you pay? was the casual equivalent of your dad's back home opener What road did you take?  Illegal sublets were either whispered or boasted about. We drank Rolling Rock on top of tables covering bathtubs that sat plumb in the middle of the kitchen.
No one lived in Brooklyn and no one imagined anyone ever would. My Upper West Side apartment was above a Chinese restaurant serving food I couldn’t afford; but I wasn't ever hungry for it because even my sweaters smelled of their duck.

The small island of Manhattan was crowded; but we all just waited for the Pied Piper Hamptons to fife out the moneyed on the weekends. Those two thinned-out days sipping Manhattan-Lite were refreshing to those staying behind. We were able to read the Times fully opened and breathe without hitting someone in the back of the neck on the exhale. 

Central Park closed at sundown. That was fine; it was no showplace.

Then, in about a decade, New York went from being a trashy tramp to a blinged-out socialite in one giant charity ball step. Committees formed and restored the park. Corporate lions bought actual lions and plopped them into gilded cages in the decrepit zoo. Water flooded the Wollman Rink and Jackie O herself froze it with an icy stare from her living room window. Disney skated in, bought Times Square, scrubbed it clean and painted it like a tarted up princess on her birthday. Hedge funds came along and sprang up to line the long, manicured Avenues as virtual topiaries.

large pond in a park wth toy boats floating in it

Now doormen live in buildings with doormen. The homeless are less visible. Co-op occupants are whisked up in sparkly elevators as if a beauty kicking her shapely leg, sending her glass slipper flying off and away into the air.

My beloved Gray's Papaya probably now has a Michelin Star and a prix fixe menu. That fantastic Italian you pick up at block-long Eataly might be so fresh he needs a green card.

In the 80s, I scraped up ten dollars for a standing room only place in the back of the theater to witness Jennifer Holliday stop the show in Dreamgirls. Last month I paid $450 to sit close enough to get the sweat of some foul-mouthed Mormon boy flung at me.

I was afraid to ride the subways when I lived there; but I do now because the city feels safer. I descend down the impossibly long escalators into the very belly of the beast like Kate Hepburn riding Suddenly Last Summer's elevator into her living room. I discreetly grip the handrail as if the disturbed air from those passing by on my left could flick me off. Unfamiliar with the system, I wander around down in the underground maze aware that if the street is lifted away, I’d be revealed as a lab rat bumping into walls and taking wrong turns.

New York subway conductor sticking his head out of a train window

Once my train arrives, I marvel at the clean, bright interior. The graffiti that made Keith Haring rich, famous and dead, is gone. A kid offers me his seat and I sink into it as the realization slaps me on the ass that I’ve become an age where seats are offered. A pretty young mother boards and I grandly surrender my seat with an implied bow.

You can’t pass from one moving subway car to another now, so that legless torso of a man in tattered military fatigues that used to drag himself along the floor on a skateboard loudly damning some war and screaming even louder for change to be dropped in the cup he held under his chin, isn’t around. The only undesirable person I see is a young woman with a cheap ring on every finger. She fidgets with her bracelets and I avoid her searching glances, afraid she’ll want to tell me the stories behind each piece of jewelry. I know the memories of loves she misses because I have had pretty much the same ones. So have you.

I check the map on the car’s wall and stand when I see my stop approaching. The exit can be on my left or right, and I invariably pick the wrong side. I recover as if I meant to spin around in the car to avoid a hex. I pop out and into a crowd of thick, opposing ethnicities, allowing some invisible giant hand to whisk me into the crowd like a new egg in a bowl of batter.

The former mean streets are choked by fancy baby strollers, and some are being pushed by their actual mothers. I sniff the air and pick up notes of "I don't want to live here again, but it's nice to know I could".

This city went though rough times -- bad guys tried to blow her up and global warming tried to blow her away, but have you ever seen a woman right after a facelift? Not pretty; but wait a bit, lift the bandages, let the swelling go down and you have a refreshed stunner.

Moving to New York when I was in my twenties was thrilling and intimidating. I‘m usually fairly excited to meet new people and challenges – even if they're a city. I stick my hand out: Hi, Greg White. What I hate, anytime, is reintroducing myself to anyone, trying to express my disdainful you've met me before you idiot with actor's eyes narrowed in judgement. But with this spiffy new New York -- getting reacquainted is a pleasure.

Jazz Fest 2013 on NY's Governor's Island,perfromers dancng on an outdoor stage

Don't fuck with Lady Liberty, she's been working out.

2 comments:

  1. So much for NYC. Now what do you really think about Paula Deen?
    xo jc

    ReplyDelete
  2. Love it!!! We have to go back to the Roaring 20's party next year and we'll be prepared this time. I'm already searching for vintage shoes.

    ReplyDelete

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