Looking into one of the many such establishments on the Bowery:
I don't think I'll ever be able to reconcile the changes I've seen in this city.
I'm glad the restaurant supply stores still have their monopoly over the Bowery just north and south of Houston Street. I guess that's the one thing about that neighborhood that hasn't yet changed. I wonder what Jane Jacobs would have said about the closing of CBGBs. I wonder what she would have thought of what's become of the East Village, the Lower East Side, and forget about Brooklyn. That's another story altogether. But I never hung out in Brooklyn. I didn't grow up going to my father's factory in Brooklyn and walking around the neighborhood. His factory was on Eldridge between Canal and Hester. It was a family business, started by my grandfather, and made parts for watches. Whenever I'd go there as a kid, I'd go out with my grandfather, and sometimes my grandmother too, who would take a bus down from the Bronx. We'd have lunch at the Garden Cafeteria, which closed in 1983, and replaced by an eatery featuring ducks hanging in the window.
I remember my father being very unhappy at this turn of events, even though his lunches were made daily by my grandmother. The neighborhood was changing. The Jews that worked and lived in the Lower East Side had already been making an exodus, while the Chinese spread ever beyond the traditional confines of "Chinatown." I guess CBs closing was a taste of my own medicine. Or a taste of what my father and grandfather experienced in some small way.
When I walk around the East Village, I can't remember the way it was. I can't see it in my mind. I just know that there were a lot less people on the streets at night. A lot less lights. There were only a few places we went, and inbetween them was nothingness. Just pulled-down grates that we didn't think about when we walked by, businesses that were open by day and long closed by the time we meandered about looking for something to occupy our time.
Now those empty spaces are filled with etched windows, lace curtains, and white people. Young white people. Where the hell did they come from. Where were they when it was dark? I mean, I know the current young white people were children back then, but where were their equivalents? Where were the young white go-getters going when the East Village wasn't some hip destination as deemed by the tourist guides?
There are places I used to go to that I don't even remember where they exactly were anymore. The Lismar Lounge? I think it's some kind of fancy wine joint now. Downtown Beirut? I used to go there. I couldn't find my way to where it was today with a gun at my back. Max Fish used to be a punk rock joint, but that got popular with the masses over 10 years ago. Mona's, somewhat the same thing, but nowhere near the popularity of Max Fish. The Cherry Tavern was a skinhead joint. Today the only people in there with no hair have male pattern baldness. Mars? I'll stick my head in there every so often. I suppose it's really the last of holdout of yesteryear, though I wonder how long it can last, considering the fancy wine bar now on the very same block.
One of my fondest memories of being in the city, or maybe just being alive involves the Mars Bar, though not directly.
It was a warm summer's night — perfect weather for being outside without the want of a jacket or being baked in the day's heat radiating from the streets. I must have been 24 or 25 at the time. Me, George, and our friend Sandy were outside of Mars drinking (myself with a Coke, most likely), and sitting on some complete stranger's pickup truck talking about god knows what, but we all felt good. Laughing. Smiling. I remember thinking I wanted that moment to last forever. I wanted to stay that age for the rest of my life. It was everything I could have asked for from the universe.
Perhaps my sentimentality is getting the better of me. This is quite possible. I think it's too easy for me to slip into, "once upon a time," mode. But I'm not one of those people who will say, "The city was better back then when it was a shithole." I wouldn't go that far. I like living in a city that's much safer than the one I moved into. Yet I keep asking myself, how do you improve a city without destroying a neighborhood? Or is that plain impossible?
I wonder, if 18 years from now some 39 year old will look at the East Village, and say, "I can't believe how much it's changed! Back when I moved here in 2010, it was hardcore, and we kept it real!"
I shudder at the very notion.
But I have a choice. I can bemoan the changes that took away the basis for my memories, or I can live in the now. The present, though if you get down to it, there is no such thing as the "present" since time is always moving forward, but I don't want to get into some whole metaphysical thing right now. But you know what I mean. I'm talking about concentrating on being the best me, doing what I can to live a fulfilling life and moving forward, regardless if all my old landmarks have become fashion stores and cupcake boutiques.
Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war...