Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My City is Gone: Or What Amelia Earhart sees when she visits NYC for the very last time.

I saw the Pretenders at Madison Square Garden. Chrissie Hynde sang "My City is Gone." She was referring to her hometown in Ohio and I was living in New York. I, the inveterate New Yorker. What that meant for me was a certain attitude. I stared straight ahead, unblinking and dared strangers to confront me. They usually didn't. I wandered through neighborhoods where no woman should go, but always looked behind me, always was aware of who was on the street, front, rear, to the side. I taught in the South Bronx and made it home and back safely. I spent my middle school years going on an untypical reverse commute, from eighty sixth on the west side up to Harlem, mine the only white face in that subway car. I listened at night, lying bed in my parent's apartment, while arguments flared from the block behind us. Eighty fifth street was home to tenements filled with prostitutes. Shots rang out almost every night. I learned to ignore all of it. The only safe course was to keep a hard outer shell.

My city is gone, but it was still there when Amelia returns. In 1980 New York was raw, original, dangerous and gritty. New York was a place where you were always aware "shit can happen." Good. And bad. It was the place where I felt that anything was possible. It was the place I lived when I was that young. So I brought Amelia there, back there. I wanted her to feel that once again, to feel what she must have felt when she was young herself. Because she too knew that she could do anything.

I miss the Thalia and the New Yorker bookstore. I miss that notions shop and all the culturally affiliated businesses that would burst onto the scene at once. Indian clothing stores. Greek fruit stands. Hunan restaurants. It was a place where you could happen upon something that fascinated you. I always wondered what those chocolate covered ants and grasshoppers tasted like, but my stomach rebelled when I thought of trying them. Still, they made quite an impressive window display. Mine was a city of extremes; hope, fear, anxiety, passion, intensity, possibility, beauty, squalor.

That city is gone, but thankfully not forgotten. And in this book I get to remember it and honor it.


  1. Where does she go and what does she do in NYC? Does she revisit all her old haunts (yes, pun intended:))? I suppose one place she'd want to check out is Greenwich Village, where she lived for awhile. How much had GV changed as of 1980? (I'm not familiar with NYC.)

  2. It had changed quite a bit from when she was there. She roams the city actually. . . but I would say it has changed more in the last twenty years than in the sixty before. At least Manhattan has changed, full of people with money and many more apartment towers. Also cleaner, much less gritty, much safer. Greenwich Village thankfully has a housing stock that can't really be torn down, so there's a familiarity to it. I think for her there would be. . . she does go up in the World Trade Center, how could I not put that one in.

  3. And perhaps from atop the building she whimsically imagines King Kong climbing up the World Trade Center with Fay Wray in one hand? ;)

  4. Ah Fay Wray, she did know how to scream fetchingly.

  5. I enjoyed reading this apt description of New York in the past- it definitely is a potent and accurate description that brings back memories for me.