High Life

Muggy Nights

April 15, 2017

I walk everywhere around Manhattan, and when I see rows of lovely townhouses and low-rise multifamily dwellings, nostalgia hits like gangbusters: a snatched kiss back during Thanksgiving 1962 with a married lady, a song on the radio in a convertible outside a young girl’s house with her roommates looking down at us. Even Robert Moses’ ravages cannot take those memories away. But gosh, to use an old-fashioned expression, how things have changed. Gossip columns only write about real deplorables now, celebrity scum from reality shows and rappers. In a 1947 film, Mother Wore Tights, the delectable Betty Grable’s daughter, the exquisite Mona Freeman, is a student at a prestigious boarding school in the Northeast. When her parents, who are actors, are booked in a show in the town where her school is located, Mona is dying of embarrassment. There is a happy ending, of course, but back in the good old days one didn’t mix with actors if one could help it. Don’t put your daughter on the stage, advised Sir Noël (Coward), obviously with tongue in cheek. Now being the daughter of a preferably strung-out, ugly rock star means instant celebrity for the daughter and immediate acceptance to any school. Better yet, just watch any old black-and-white movie, gangster films included. A woman walks in and everyone stands up and sort of bows or kisses her hand. If one did that today in a nightclub, rappers would take umbrage and think you’re taking the mickey.

Nah, give me the old neighborhood anytime, lined with the local pharmacy that in its heyday had a soda bar and served ice cream floats, the pawnshop, the butcher, the local laundry, and yes, I’m talking about New York’s Manhattan, not some small town in Ohio. And don’t forget those great fire escapes in dark red brick buildings that Edward Hopper loved so much, and the people sleeping in their underwear on them during hot nights. And may it get even hotter for you, Robert Moses, down where you are in hell. You have only 10 billion years to go, you rotten bum.

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