Things that I once loved — Fifth Avenue & 57th Street, brownstone terraces on hot summer afternoons, cold beer and fried eggs at 5 a.m. after a night of carousing, the Sherry-Netherland — and now miss have grown ever more monumental upon reflection. I suppose that it’s normal to miss things you loved when 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 that occasionally wash the avenues, the streets empty and 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 those we then called the ‘wops’ and the ‘micks’ sleeping in their shorts and bid them goodnight. You’d get the occasional F-word in response, but that was rare. Now the F-word is a verb, an adjective, an adverb and a noun.
The Italians and the Irish are now gentrified and have moved to the suburbs, and if they saw their children sleeping outdoors in their underwear 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 bestseller is a gem, Hillbilly Elegy by Scots-Irish Ohio native J.D. Vance. Vance grew up poor in the Rust Belt, in an Ohio steel town that has been haemorrhaging jobs since the 1970s. He became successful in Silicon Valley after serving in the Marine Corps and in Iraq. I loved it, especially the bit about pajamas. Poor people don’t wear pajamas, he writes; they wear underwear or sleep naked.