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There are two New Yorks. The first is the one we make ourselves see, a filter snapped onto the lens that is forgotten, a nostalgic, desperate grab at the city we knew. The second is the actual place right now, with sticky plumes of pot smoke, cyclists ready to run over a pedestrian, the fresh thongs of men and women sleeping in cardboard boxes on a Soho sidewalk, the hair-trigger driver ready to spout racist insults. I was there, drinking it all in and it was heartbreaking.
That New York (well, Brooklyn) of tender wise-cracks and gutter-wisdom is gone now. It was a dinosaur, rumbling along far past its due date. There is no surprise in its absence, but it hurts all the same – even if we saw it coming from miles away. “Oh, but you can still get get a pastrami at Katz’s!” You might say. Of course you are right, even though it is hard to wrap your head around a twenty dollar sandwich, no matter how delicious it is. And yes, there may be some crusty and sage characters there on a rainy afternoon. But I think it has become a museum, not a living, breathing extension of the city. It is a sideshow attraction, but the circus left town long long ago.
There is nothing like the righteous anger of a true New Yorker. I have a perfect memory of my father when I was just five, chewing out a bus driver after he sideswiped our big white Ford pickup and knocked off the mirror. There is right and wrong, and there is that habit of rubbing someone’s nose in it – like a puppy that peed on the floor. But I do not see this life-affirming anger any more. I just see hostility. I see terrified, racist faces. I see a homeless man chewing out an innocent woman, using words so foul my cheeks run red as I pass them, coffee in hand.
There is plenty of bad coffee to be found now. It costs at least $5 and more often then not I toss it into the trash before leaving the place. There is nothing as terrible as a bad cup of coffee, and there is nothing as magical as a good one. They are harder and harder to find in the naked, bumbling city. A place I called home, a place I thought I would grow old in, a place with memories on every corner, adventures on rooftops, secret recording sessions in strange basements and everything in-between.
Copyright 2019 Marco North
Marco North is a an American photographer, filmmaker, and writer living in Moscow.