October 04, 2013

New York

New York

Source: Shutterstock

NEW YORK—The trouble with driving into the city is nostalgia. Manhattan Island looms into view and it always induces the same wonderment it did long ago. Once walking the streets, however, reality sets in with a bang. And it is a bang! Manhattan is one big building site, cement mixers and drills having replaced the soft tunes of Tin Pan Alley as I first heard them when walking to Broadway and 47th Street. Back then it was the haunting voice of Jo Stafford singing “No other love can warm my heart” or Buddy Clark’s mellow tenor voice letting it all hang out in “It’s a big, wide wonderful world we live in…when you’re in love you’re a hero.…” Boy, what tunes, what words, what a city—now there’s nothing but noise and ugly people like Bono posing as artists and lecturing us from a stage.

We used to play a lot of touch football in Central Park every Sunday morning. The hangovers and arthritis have put a stop to it, and the signs of “don’t do this” and “don’t do that” are no help. It seems everything’s verboten by the city except for very ugly people with very long hair to get up on platforms and make unendurable noises with electric instruments and loudspeakers. They call this obscenity a concert in the park.

“Tall and chunky curtains of glass do not for a graceful skyline make.”

Still, the city that never sleeps brings back some wonderful memories of a wonderful life that once upon a time seemed it would never end: the first south winds of spring, women shoppers full of bundles at Christmastime, trick or treat at Halloween, girls sunning themselves in bikinis on rooftops in summer, stolen kisses on 5th Avenue, afternoon assignations at the Plaza, and dancing until closing time at El Morocco. Nostalgia is nothing but a reminiscence of pleasant times, and the sight of a baronial old brewery, the smell of a certain perfume, or the notes of a certain tune triggers it off. The Flatiron Building, Rockefeller Center, the Chrysler Building, and my old rooms which I can spot from a mile away on the 14th floor of the Sherry-Netherland’s facade all have that effect on me. I often wonder why Edward Hopper didn’t paint the Flatiron, but in his 1942 “Nighthawks” perhaps he did. In between modern horrors I sometimes spot the elegant Italianate box of brownstones, still standing after a century and a half of progress. Back then it was brick and brownstone and my favorite, limestone. Now it’s all glass, and the ghastlier and taller, the better.

Gazing southward across Central Park early in the morning where I go to clear my head, my eyes used to be gratified by the sight of Rockefeller Center, Carnegie Hall, even 9 W. 57th Street, the ski-jump building next to Lord & Taylor where my father had his penthouse offices. All that southern view is about to change forever, as the greedy types have won the day and 1,000-plus-foot towers are going up quicker than people such as the Candy Brothers can ruin London views. For 90 million greenbacks some Chinese dirtbag has bought the penthouse of 157 W. 57th Street and has already put it on the market for 120. It’s called flipping it, but I prefer another name not suitable for this magazine.


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