Monday, August 27, 2012

A New Yorker is Someone Who Longs For New York


A lot has come and gone in New York since when I last lived here two years ago. H & H Bagels is gone. On the flip side, we have an Experimental Cocktail Club. And last week, we learned that Broadway/Times Square Main stay, Colony Music would close its doors. 

This disappearing act and others are all being documented by Jeremiah Moss on his blog, Jeremiah's Vanishing New York, aka the Book of Lamentations: A Bitterly Nostalgic Look at a City in the Process of Going Extinct. 

It is a melancholy blog that you can't help but feel achey scrolling through-- memory after memory of places lost to New York's escalating rents, corporate buy-outs, and fickle tastes. He says goodbye to all kinds of things I didn't even know we'd lost: the Les Desirs bakeries and the  Partners & Crime Mystery Bookshops. 

Justin Davidson of New York Magazine called Moss, "the defender of all the undistinguished hunks of masonry that lend the streets their rhythm and give people a place to live and earn a living: bodegas, curio stores, a metalworking shop in Soho, diners, and dingy bars."

He's expanded into an additional blog: Dreams of a Vanishing New York, where he posts his dreams and those of other New Yorkers. He started this side project after he noticed he'd be having dreams about the vanishing aspects of New York's character. 

Though, he's also quick to point out that it's not just what's going away, but what's replacing it. I don't know that I agree with him on the High Line, but I see his point. And cities built on tourism are kind of a common thread in my lifetime. 

I always think of the monologue in the wonderful You've Got Mail, on the night when Kathleen Kelly is closing her bookstore

People are always saying that change is a good thing. But all they're really saying is that something you didn't want to happen at all... has happened. My store is closing this week. I own a store, did I ever tell you that? It's a lovely store, and in a week it'll be something really depressing, like a Baby Gap. Soon, it'll be just a memory. In fact, someone, some foolish person, will probably think it's a tribute to this city, the way it keeps changing on you, the way you can never count on it, or something. I know because that's the sort of thing I'm always saying. But the truth is... I'm heartbroken. I feel as if a part of me has died, and my mother has died all over again, and no one can ever make it right. 

Which is all to say, I think this is indicative of an even bigger problem-- in our spheres of employment and occupation and our interests. A massive consolidation of value controlled by "the market." Cannibalizing the specialties to feed the consolidated giants. There's a lot we choose not to concern ourselves with. There's a lot of world out there, but we seem to be sticking to our comfort zones. Even I'm at Starbucks right now because I know what I'm going to get and they have free internet. But it depresses me. 

This is an American Soul question to me. (And a human soul question.) One we're not going to immediately get to the bottom of, for sure. But I think it's important for us to not breeze past it on the way to whatever we're going to do next. I think Jeremiah Ross's blog is that moment before movement. We have to at least sit with it for a while, roll it around in our thoughts and then proceed.  At least then we'll be able to say wherever we end up, it wasn't by accident, because we were too busy to pay attention. Wherever we end up, we'll be able to say we did it deliberately. 


“There is this sense of powerlessness as the city is being radically changed around them and the things they love about it are being taken away,” Mr. Moss said. “There’s this anxiety about being discarded. A lot of the dreams have to do with destruction and the fear of destruction, but there’s also a wish for destruction. I think underneath the anxiety, is the thought that if the thing you fear happens, then you don’t fear it anymore.” 

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