Time to Fly Away

NEW YORK—At times I used to think the place was real. The New York of films, that is. The reality is an urban agglomeration of millions, most of them with a disinclination to speak English, and then there’s the celluloid city of 42nd StreetAnnie HallDead EndRear Window, and King Kong. This is the dream city I keep writing about, the one that stabs you in the gut because it’s gone, and it gets worse when you accept that it was never there. Like the woman of your dreams who has lost her looks and your best friend tells you they were never there.

And yet, they must have been because I lived them. I mean the opening nights, the cocktail parties, the beautiful women, El Morocco and the Stork Club, the bright avenues and mysterious side streets, the yellow but comfortable Packard taxis, the bejeweled women on Fifth Avenue, the obliging doormen of the Sherry-Netherland dressed as admirals, the blond Irish cops, the penthouses of the rich, whose manners matched their pocketbooks.

Gift Card Holder, Hook... Buy New $15.99 (as of 06:40 EDT - Details) All gone. Broadway tickets back then were two bucks in the gallery and nine bucks up front. A typist made fifty a week, and an aerospace engineer 300 per. Movie houses charged a dollar, and a burger and fries at P.J. Clarke’s—the all-night most popular pub in Manhattan—could be had for ninety cents. And there was Times Square, Holden Caulfield’s playground and even young Taki’s when playing hooky from boarding school. Times Square was paradise for every horny 15-year-old, and then some: peep shows and strip clubs, and hardcore gay places we never knew existed. I remember paying ten cents per dance at Danceteria, making a deal, and then waiting until dawn for her to come out, sometimes with a brute next to her who told me to get lost, other times reluctantly going along, concerned about my age. “You don’t look 18…” Those were the seedy glory nights of Times Square, before the place was cleaned up and totally ruined. Now it’s one long electronic advertisement, even the great Camel cigarette smoker is long gone.

And yet, some of it was real, and not only in the movies. I watch the faded, rain-soaked city I once adored, crisscross its grand thoroughfares, look at the glass intruders where once upon a time my favorite cafés and ballrooms used to be, their warmth existing in a mist-bound memory of youth. At night I look at the Empire State and Chrysler buildings, a beautiful pair, with a different hue every night, the Empire in its boxy suit, the Chrysler in its filigreed dress. Funny that the master of solitude and nostalgia, Edward Hopper, never painted those two. Much too big, I guess.

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