Monday, May 8, 2017

A crosstown walk.

Sometimes when I walk through the city, I feel instead that I am taking a walk through a graveyard. I think of myself as Pip Chirrip in David Lean’s version of Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” in the opening scene when he’s running through the fog on the moors, past lonely gallows and crouching behind weeds and tombstones.

I walk and I see things not as they are, but as they were. That’s not living in the past—that’s recognizing, only, that something was here before the present, as Broadway was an Indian trail before it was a Dutch road, than an English one, then an American polyglot. Maybe after the chimes at midnight, after the last ding-dong of doom, it will go back to pre-history and once again be the home of wolves and bears and the wild half-naked living on nuts and berries.

The voices, and people, and things of the past come back to me. They don’t harm me, these ghosts, or even scare me. But they present themselves to me—as if to beg me not to forget the New York that used to be before it became the New York of today.

They ask me to remember the little bags of peanuts on sale from machines nestled inside the girders on the subway platform at 51st Street. They ask me to remember the big old barns of bookstores like Coliseum Books outside of where the great old ugly Coliseum sat on West 59th Street at Columbus Circle—you could smell the urine of the bums from four blocks away, mixed with the smell of Central Park South’s horse-drawn carriages and the odors of a million boiled hotdogs and a thousand burning pretzels from ten-thousand vendors, that crowded the old Coliseum waiting for the ptomaine-resistant to grabbafrank. Or, even more long-gone, the old Salters bookstore across from Columbia between 115th to 116th where you practically needed a PhD. just browse the joint and only a denizen of the place—the staff worked there for decades—could point you to a Arendt or Chomsky.

The ghosts remind me of when I was a young aspiring copywriter, running through midtown with my portfolio, running up third avenue from Scali at 50th Street, to Benton and Bowles at 54th, to Needham Harper and Steers at 55th, back down to Ally at 49th, and Grey at 47th, and then over to other places that have gone belly up, like the world I grew up in has died and dessicated in today’s too strong sun.

I walk crosstown past Lex, where Dancer Fitzgerald and Sample were, past Madison, with Della Femina, Lord Geller, Compton, DDB, Y&R. Past snooty Fifth Avenue, which housed Ogilvy & Mather in red  brick on the corner, aloof and imperious. Then 6th Avenue with Calet Hirsch and Spector—before they went downtown—and BBDO and Marschalk—before they were renamed and merged into oblivion—
and dozens more I don’t remember.

They were part of my world, these agencies. And cheap places where you could sit at the bar in the dank dark of a lunch hour and get a glass of sweet beer for 50-cents and read the New York Post for the afternoon sports scores—this was before Murdoch bought it and it turned fascist.

This was my New York and it’s all gone now. It’s all oligarched and chain-stored and big-monied out of existence.

And it’s only me and my ghosts who know any different.

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