Helena Fitzgerald: Here is New York

Fitzgerald ponders being lucky in New York City @ The Rumpus.
I called my mother that Sunday, when the reports of the hurricane started coming in, splashing hysteria across twitter. I said, “Maybe it’s going to be like the blackout when you were here in 1977.” She laughed at me. “Go outside and stand in the middle of the hurricane when it hits. That’s what New York was like in the 1970s. Not during a disaster. Not during the blackout. Like, on a Tuesday afternoon.”
My mother spent her twenties and thirties in New York City during the volatile time before the 1990s. Before Bloomberg, before Giuliani. Before the most recent waves of gentrification sent glass towers for the wealthy up through the Lower East Side and along the waterfront in Williamsburg. Before the new, clean Times Square. Before safe subways and before walking home, alone, drunk, through any part of Manhattan late at night felt just fine. She lived there back when fear was still the price the city exacted for allowing you to call it home. It was the city that President Ford told to “Drop Dead,” the city in which Patti Smith was young and broke, long before she declared New York “over,” and urged everyone to pack up and move to Detroit.

This was a New York that was in truth probably not so wonderful to inhabit. Had I in fact lived there myself, I might have longed for the safety, the cleanliness, the taken-for-granted security that I experience each day I live in my cleaned-up and painted-over city. But I grew up with both my parents’ tales of the bad old days as family mythology, and since I can remember I’ve glorified, perhaps dangerously so, the old, gritty, “real” New York that shaped both my parents, and that I missed by being born too late.
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