I spent this past weekend in Manhattan. I stayed with my good friend, stained glass artist Joseph Cavalieri. Joseph was extremely generous to put me up in his place in the East Village, and I had a blast walking in my old neighborhood, going to a fantastic show in Dixon Place and eating.
The purpose of my visit was twofold: the first, to see my friend; the second, to do some visual recognizance of the old neighborhood. You see, I lived on the Lower East Side for almost three years and Julius takes place on East Broadway and Essex Street. So I had to remind myself where certain landmarks are situated, and I’m glad I did. For instance, one of the minor characters notes that he can see The Bialystok Home for the Aged from Corinne’s penthouse loft window on Essex. Uh-uh, not possible. It turns out that the building I thought was the Bialystok is actually the public library. I also discovered that the Eastside Cafe is gone, now it’s a trendy restaurant. Orchard Street, where you could find great deals on clothes, especially leather goods, has gone a la Madison Avenue. Not in the sense of Armani and Prada, but in very hip, downtown designers who are just as expensive as Armani and Prada.
Oh, and if you’re looking knish, you can still find one at Yonah Schimmel’s. Otherwise, you’ll have to settle for a lot of fusion-type of cuisine. So what’s my beef? My main issue is that Lower East Side is losing a lot of it’s flavor. I bet the majority of the people who live there (with the exception of the dwindling Jewish orthodox community) can’t tell the difference between a bagel or a bialy. It’s nice that there are more restaurants to go to, but from my observations it seemed that most of them are pretty derivative. And all the monied folks that live there now all seem to be clones who chatter or text away on their smartphones, who are consumed with fashion and style, and making money.
It’s ironic that the Lower East Side, which was known for its progressive and socialist politics is now a mecca for capitalists. My friend Joseph keeps reminding me that neighborhoods evolve, and some of those changes are positive, but not to the point that an interesting and historic one becomes a shopping mall for the wealthy, or a tourist site for suburbanites.
There’s a small minority of New Yorkers who miss the grit and danger of the city. I’m one of them. I miss a lot of the character. And it seems to be disappearing each day. Businesses that were small and family-owned are displaced to Brooklyn, or God forbid, New Jersey, because rents are too high. The mayor says he wants the best for New York, but he lets landlords get away with raising rents to astronomic levels. It’s a shame because soon enough the city where people went to find opportunity will turn into a gated community for the wealthy.
And still, I want to move back to my old neighborhood, walk the same streets where my old Reds marched and protested, but the reality is that I’ve been priced out, and can’t go back to the ‘hood–even if I were to manage to up my income to my high-earning days as a PR professional, it’s become too rich for my blood. Who would have thought that the tony beach resort I live now is more affordable than the Lower East Side?
Times do change.
So, this post was a major digression from what I intended to write. Especially since I have been incommunicado for almost two weeks. I promise to get back on track and keep it to writing. On that note, I have to read. Book review due for Dan’s Paper next Monday, along with a bunch of articles for HAND/EYE Magazine .