NEW YORK—Things that I once loved (Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, brownstone terraces on hot summer afternoons, cold beer and fried eggs on 59th and 5th at 5 a.m. after a night of carousing, the Sherry-Netherland) and miss today have grown ever more monumental upon reflection. I suppose it’s normal, missing things you loved when you were young, yet I still can’t get over how the people have changed; for the worse, needless to say.
The city is at its best very early in the morning, the asphalt glistening after the rain, or the water trucks washing the avenues, the streets empty and as still as a movie set. In the old days, on muggy nights people used to sleep on the fire escapes in their underwear. Returning from a nightclub, especially when up in Harlem, I’d see the “wops” and the “micks” sleeping in their shorts and hail them goodnight. You’d get the occasional F-word in response, but it was rare. Now the F-word is a verb, an adjective, an adverb, a noun.
The Italians and the Irish are now gentrified and have moved to the suburbs, and if they saw their children sleeping in their underwear outdoors they’d scream bloody murder. Everyone has air-conditioning nowadays, and the only reason for sleeping al fresco is to get away from the chill. The current runaway best-seller is a gem, Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance, a Scots-Irish Ohio native who grew up poor in the Rust Belt, in an Ohio steel town that has been hemorrhaging jobs since the ’70s. Vance became successful in Silicon Valley after the Marine Corps and service in Iraq. I loved his book, especially the part about pajamas. Poor people don’t wear pajamas, he writes, they wear underwear or sleep naked. Rich people wear pajamas. I concur. I never saw anyone wearing pajamas sleeping on the fire escape when I was young.post was originally published on this site