A few years ago, I started a series of posts on New York City called “Real New York” which I abandoned. Unfortunately, much of what made The City unique has been lost. I think this series would be better called Lost New York.
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When you leave New York, you ain't goin' nowhere.
[Note: Since writing this the other day, I discovered another New York institution, the Carnegie Deli, will be closing.]
It’s unfortunate, but many people who reside here, live here wishing they lived somewhere else. What’s even more tragic is that most of those people actually never leave, they die here…
I. Love. New. York.
I live here by choice. No, I don’t give a fuck that the rents and homes are cheaper where you live, they’re cheaper where you live because, let’s face it: who the fuck wants to live there?
And let’s be sure: I live in the real New York. What is the real New York? Let's start this off by noting that when I refer to “New York” I mean most of the four boroughs (sorry, Staten Island -- or as New Yorkers refer to it: Stranded Island -- doesn’t count. Secede, motherfuckers, please). My sister, for example, lives in the nether regions of the Bronx, practically in New Rochelle. That too is not real New York.
Where was I… oh yeah… it’s all real, actually (with the exceptions listed above). But the crucial question here is: where does one get the genuine stink of authenticity, where does one sense the essentialness of The City. Of course, the answer depends on who you are. I remember as a young boy buying a Yankee bleacher seat for about 50 cents and then spilling out into the outfield after the last out was recorded and being chased down by irate ushers. That was real for me.
But just as real would be the former New York state women’s prison, Bayview Correctional Facility, on Manhattan's west side that sat right across from the decidedly unreal attempt at suburbia known as the Chelsea Piers. That building has now been transformed into The Women’s Building, offering services to women, some of whom may have been incarcerated there. That’s a good change.
Or maybe it’s the Union Square bird lady I wrote about once. Perhaps the real New York is the attractive alcoholic woman, obviously going downhill fast, who stands by the entrance to my subway stop some mornings asking for spare change -- and who flirts with me, “Damn, you look hawt today, papi!” whenever I give her a dollar. Sometimes weeks roll by and she’s nowhere to be seen and I wonder. Then one morning, she’s there again, asking for change, that undeniable intelligence in her eyes, her fading beauty still there, a tattered paperback peering out of her plastic bag that serves as her purse.
There’s a lot of reality here in New York and I love it -- the unimaginably ugly superimposed over the sublime. It’s, literally, The Center of the Known Universe.
Sometimes the real New York is a restaurant. You can become a food snob in New York very easily. And I’m not talking about the overpriced, must-be-seen-in-wait-hours-for-a-table-trendsetter flavor of the month you read about in Time Out. No real New Yorker really would be caught waiting that long for a meal, I assure you. In New York, there are literally thousands of unknown eateries that serve some of the most authentic, delicious food on the planet. Some of these places serve what are practically home cooked meals at cut-rate prices. These are the mom-and-pop places that are (unfortunately) becoming harder to find. There are no long lines at these establishments and the yokel at your office doesn’t know about them.
Then there are the places that are smack dab in the middle of the city but still maintain “best-kept secret” status. There’s such a place called Primeburgers right across the street from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Not a high-class joint, but not a dive either. Rather it’s a real old-time Manhattan luncheonette. The waiters are older guys who wear neckties and white jackets with their names embroidered in script. Hamburgers have been served here since 1938. It was last remodeled in 1965.
You enter to a long counter on the left, single seats with what was apparently considered futuristic swing-trays on the left, a few crowded tables in the back. BLT (bacon, lettuce, and tomato) and tuna fish sandwiches, layer cake a la mode, egg cream (a New York original that has neither eggs nor cream in it). The menu isn’t expensive. The basic burgers there, genuine, not the frozen pre-fab variety, are about five dollars. You heard right: $5.00 in midtown Manhattan.
I used to go there to eat a tuna fish on toasted rye and egg cream, but mostly to indulge one of my favorite real New York pastimes: eaves dropping. Very few people do this, I think, but you hear some of the most fascinating snatches of conversation here in The Center of the Known Universe. Once, many years ago, I overheard someone in the Village talking about how the American public was ripe for a play about impoverished people struggling to survive. I can’t say for sure, but shortly after, the popular musical, Rent, made its debut Off Broadway. I swear! LOL
Primeburgers is favored by gray-haired businessmen, some who likely fared well and the world forgot twenty-thirty years ago. These are men of habit, not only do they eat at the same time each day but generally eat the same thing, and thereby the reason why, when seeing them, the waiters grunt intimately at them, mouthing again the order that never changes, “Ham chee, Swiss’n’rye, Co-no-ice.”
Check out this short video:
This is the lost New York.
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization...