Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Back to Nostalgia

What do you do when you've read an article that has shaken you to your core, you've responded with an impassioned Letter to the Editor then come back to your senses? You write a blog rebuttal to your own comments. Crazy, right? But that's what I've done.

The idea for a series re: growing up in New York began after I read two essays about life in 70s New York then re-read my letter to Commentary magazine. In it I quote Myron Magnet about today's New York and Upper West Side:

"Today's peace and prosperity mustn't be taken for granted...know what a heroic effort of philanthropy and policing it took to reclaim what less than two decades ago was a dusty, sterile, graffitti-marred wasteland."

I end the letter claiming that after being reminded of all things negative about my old neighborhood and all things wonderful about it's renewal I'm willing to join John Podhoretz, author of one of the essays, in saying "to hell with nostalgia."

Well, the sentimental Upper West Sider is back. Yes, the old days here were difficult and dangerous but there is much to celebrate about those days that the essays overlooked. The blog post below is the first step in a recovery from unhealthy, unnecessary anti-nostalgia.

Read. Enjoy. Comment. Revel in the new Upper West Side but don't let anyone tell you it wasn't an amzing place even back in the "bad old days."


  1. Brava!

    I'm kind of fed up with the whole 'old New York nostalgia' myself. When I was kid you didn't go to any street that had more than three digits or simply a single letter in its name. Times Square was where - walking with my grandmother one day on our way to a much-anticipated Circle Line tour at the age of 11 - I got offered pot, heroin and a fake ID all within two blocks. But you are right in that there was a lot of beauty among the decay.

    We got to play in the street (something that would never go down today) and walk in the parks and find 'archeology' (you know - those concrete bench stumps where the wood had long since been torn away by vandals or the iron stumps of light posts in the parks).

    Life was scary, but it was an adventure - as long as you were careful.

  2. Growing up in Brooklyn, I kept a diary starting in 1969, when I turned 18, and so when I read it -- I've self-published (mostly for my own pleasure) four volumes (with titles like "Summer in Brooklyn") and am finishing two more, taking me through the 1970s and 1980, when I did finally leave the city (only to return, as I could as a Florida college teacher, to the Upper West Side every summer until 1990).

    Obviously my contemporary diary entries can't be nostalgic, and I guess it's only in retrospect that I realize how bad things might have been -- but for me, New York City was an absolutely exciting and vibrant place in the 1970s, a great time and place to be in one's twenties.

    I started hanging out a lot on the Upper West Side, mostly in the far west 80s, in 1977 when my best friend moved into a new building that had been converted from an SRO "welfare hotel." I remember it, and record it, as a wonderful place. By the 1980s living there in the summers seemed like being in paradise, despite Broadway sometimes seeming like an open-air mental ward.

    As for crime, I was never (successfully, anyway; I was a fast runner) mugged until I was living in suburban Arizona in 2001 (in front of my own door)!


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