Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Some thoughts on New York, Jean Renoir and more.

This morning, as I do so many morning, I was ruminating (perhaps my therapist would say 'perseverating') about New York and the many changes I have lived through, since I was born seven miles from mid-town way back in the black-and-white fifties.

Lately, don't ask me why, I've been somewhat fixated on the crispy sugar donuts that came individually wrapped and with a cuppa for 77-cents at the undulating formica counter of the Chock Full O' Nuts coffee shop at 116th and Broadway.

Somehow, spreading out the hot-type Times on the counter and absentmindedly sipping away at the bottomless Joe and nibbling at the sweet and greasy donut was the height of civilization.

Many years ago, the great French director, Jean Renoir said something that's always stayed with me. (Renoir directed half a dozen of my favorite movies, including "Boudu Saved from Drowning,' and 'Rules of the Game,' which is regarded by many amongst the cognoscenti as the greatest movie ever made.) 

Renoir said, "All great civilizations have been based on loitering." 

How I wish the timesheet police who run our lives and the arbiters of everything would understand that downtime--thinking time--is necessary for us to be creative. 

That Chock Full O' Nuts was, for me at 17 and skinny and scared and overwhelmed in New York was the perfect place for loitering. It was there I plotted my novels, where I wrote my theses, where I studied my amo amas amat while trying to make eye contact over there in the corner by the knocked-down pepper shaker with that blonde in the argyle sweater.

This morning walking the long way to work--getting out of my car about two miles from my assigned work space, I walked and loitered and like I said, ruminated my way to work.

Crossing 9th Avenue I ran into the guy you see photographed here and I noticed two things about him. One, he was smoking a cigarette while carrying another butt unlit out of the side of his mouth looking nasty and dangerous like George Raft in an old Warner Brothers 'shoot 'em up.'

Second, I noticed the hat he was wearing. A great editorial, if you ask me, about the impending Trumptastrophe and the anesthetized world we seem to be living in.

No, I'm not nostalgic for the days when New York averaged nearly seven murders a day. I like not walking down the street at night with my keys interwoven between my knuckles like a set of improv brass knuckles.

Still and all, I miss the old place sometimes. And sometimes I feel like rewriting Graham Greene's or Carol Reed's opening lines to the American version of "The Third Man."

"I never knew the old Vienna before the war with its Strauss music, its glamour and easy charm."

Well, I did know the old New York. 

Muggers, drunks, and poverty aside. 

I sometimes miss the entropy of the old place.

And I miss the loitering.

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