Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Go home, Taylor Swift: I'm walkin' here!

Growing up in NYC in the 70s and 80s meant being told to be careful.

"Be careful of Bryant Park - the junkies all hang out there."
"Be careful to hold on tight, if you ride between subway cars."
"Be careful around Times Square - that place is bad news."
"Be careful not to stand near the edge of the platform."
"Be careful with that wallet in your back pocket."
"Be careful who you buy a hot dog from - that guy with the cart on 9th street picks his nose."

We were careful about so many things. We were afraid of almost nothing. The Boogey Man didn't have shit on muggers, rapists, subway rats, roaches, Coney Island on a hot, summer day, the East River looking more solid than liquid or all of Alphabet City. We were the kids who grew up reading about Son of Sam in The New York Post, every day, and following his exploits the way kids in Kansas followed The Hardy Boys. Son of Fucking Sam captured our attention, but he didn't keep people off the streets. Because no white boy with almond-shaped eyes and Dirty Harry's gun was going to shut down the most ass-kicking, hardcore, take-no-shit city the world has ever known.

We were careful, but we were never scared.

I'm not a kid, anymore, though, and what I see in New York scares me. I'm scared of a SOHO that looks like Mall of America. I'm scared of a Starbucks and Jamba Juice on every corner, and of my beloved bodegas disappearing. I'm scared of Pier 46, and the Ikea Ferry, and of Red Hook no longer having any edge. I'm scared of hipsters with ironic beards taking over Williamsburg and Greenpoint. I'm scared of Greek diners in Astoria closing down, the clerk at a Brooklyn deli not having any idea what Manhattan Special is, and of the scarcity of cuchifrito. I'm scared of a plate of fried plantains costing 8 bucks at a vegan restaurant.

I'm scared of the Disneyfication of Times Square.

MY New York isn't Mickey Mouse, dammit. My New York is Daffy fucking Duck, Miguel Pinero, Ratso Rizzo, Patti Smith, Roger Grimsby, Bella Abzug, Walt Frazier. My New York was that crazy, androgynous woman displaying the meatgrinder cover from Hustler magazine, and terrorizing passers by with her loud, aggressive orders to "SIGN THE PETITION!"  Even that crazy bitch is gone. Who would have guessed I'd end up missing her?

I bet David Berkowitz is scared shitless of gluten-free vegan pizza.


Lisa Schamess said...

This is painful, true, and so good. And so necessary. And so sad and scary making.

Also, though: HOLY SHIT. The "Sign the Peti-shun" woman also held down the corner at Dupont Circle many, many times in the 1980s and 1990s. She really got around. Haven't thought about her (or had her fling invective at me) for years.

Stacie Dalrymple said...

I lived near NYC for 4 years until I moved to Boston this summer. I only know the new version. Thanks for the glimpse into the past. I'm sorry :( I love your writing.

Vanessa D. said...

I've never been to NYC - past or present - but I am afraid of gluten-free vegan pizza.

Asha Rajan said...

You paint a vivid picture of the NYC you knew, and the many disconcerting changes. Wonderful and hilarious descriptions of the sanitisation of your city, and I've always loved Daffy fucking Duck!

Jacqueline Bryant Campbell said...

I like the distinction between careful and afraid. We lived in New Jersey during Son of Sam summer, and I remember careful vs. scared. Disneyfication is truly scary, and so many people just don't know the difference.

Anonymous said...

This post has my favorite title this week.