I’ve been stuck inside of late. Well, of the past few days. I had a suspicious cough that I thought might turn into a cold or worse, the dreaded covid. It turned out to be a side effect from a medication I take for one of my middle aged person ailments. I’m negative for covid as well, thank the lord.
Well I did kinda think I was a disease vector and I had a bit of extra time, so I decided to cocoon myself at home and watch a bunch of things. One thing I watched was about Andy Warhol, an artist who had a major impact on me.
I guess it’s easy to say you have been inspired by Andy Warhol. I think anyone who has ever attempted to create art has said this. He’s a mass pop artist and in a way, the creator of the world we live in now. I bet that’s a dash of overstatement, but not by much. Warhol obsessively documented his life with films, painting, photography, all manner of things. Now you just open up that lighted rectangle in your hand and boom, your image goes out to a billion of your closest friends.
The other thing that always happens when I watch something about an artist, I want to create something. Yeah, I steal ideas a lot. A LOT. I have a book at home about my beloved Bill Cunningham that I keep at the ready all the time but I barely ever open because I get the biggest photography envy of all time when I do that.
Warhol also stuck in my mind because we crossed over in New York. Sure, he was in his 50s when I was about eight years old but we were around New York at the same time in the 1980s. He was a huge celebrity by then. I was using my allowance to buy Hello Kitty things at Bloomingdales and concerned about keeping my gymnastics leotard neat for my classes at Sokol, but yeah, I mean basically we were the same.
I was watching this documentary on Warhol and one of the participants said that New York was amazing in the 1980s and absolutely it was. It was everything people said it was. As I’ve mentioned up here before, I’m an only child and we didn’t have a lot of money then. We lived this nice contended life, my dad working at his university on York Avenue, us living across the street and my school across the street from that. My parents didn’t have money for a babysitter, so off I went with the adults. There was this insane electricity about the city then. I remember seeing guys in those Adidas jackets with the gold chains and the boom boxes walking around. You’d see these yuppies in these pin striped suits with red handkerchiefs in their breast pockets. The city just pulsated with this insane energy. Something was happening. Some kind of cultural shift was taking place.
You also saw vestiges of the old city. B. Altman was still open as a department store and that was roaring 20s New York, ladies mile New York, Mad Men New York. Finger sandwiches. The time when department stores sold everything, from food to stereos. There are still things in my parents house bought at B. Altman in my parents house, including an intact in the box selection of Christmas ornaments that still has the B. Altman price tag on them and were made in West Germany. Interestingly, B. Altman and West Germany went out of business about a year apart, some 30 years ago. But the ornaments remain.
Checker cabs still ran in the city and it was a thrill to ride in them. It was like riding in a horse drawn carriage. My favorite thing was these weird little stools inside the cab that were meant to fit more people into it. Again, I’m a tiny child in this cab. This would never be allowed now.
Even as a little kid, I remember wanting to see all of this, experience all of it. My parents are kinda proper and formal. I just found this world utterly fascinating but again, being a little kid, running away really would not have been in my best interest. But even then I remember wishing I had a camera to capture it all.
Most of all, I remember wanting to document all of it, like Warhol did. Oh and I forgot to mention. We used to run into him on the street. There were a lot of those famous people around then but Warhol was probably the most famous at the time. He loomed large in the city. He passed away in 1987 at New York Hospital, when we were still living in the city. New York Hospital was right behind where my parents worked. I also remember going to Sotheby’s auction house after he died where they had this huge display of his person effects. There was a ton of stuff but what I remember the most were the unopened cookie jars. There were hundreds of them. He was eccentric. That’s for sure.
We left Manhattan in 1989 to live in this rather mediocre place in this rather mediocre area north of the city, just north, a place better seen in the rear view mirror of your car. I remember when we moved there thinking — what are we even doing here? I mean we’d been at the center of the universe and now we’d moved to this hole, this mediocre hole. I remember thinking — people escape places like this to move to Manhattan. Why had we gone in reverse? We’d go to Manhattan most weekends almost in a way to go home, back to what we really knew. Even now when I’m in New York and I start walking towards the East River, I think “I’m on my way home.” If I see movies that show the Queensborough bridge, or as we call it our family, our bridge, I slow it down to try to find our old building. In my mind, we’re still that family living in that apartment in New York.
After we left in 1989, I felt like the city lost some of its energy. In the 1990s, the city got cleaner, safer but also the energy died down. I mean you could actually go to Times Square because it wasn’t full of porn theaters anymore but the place wasn’t the same. I still see the vestiges of the old city when I’m there, periodically but more and more of them are disappearing. To me now the city is way too corporate with those giant, cold, anonymous condo towers. I do still miss the dollar slices, good bagels and the very efficient yellow cabs but I’m a Bostonian now, clam chowder, extensive sports opinions, lobster and the occasional dropped R. I’ve lived here as long as I lived in Manhattan and in that hole so I’m equally both places now. Up until I moved to Boston though, Manhattan was the place where I had lived the longest in my life and therefore, it was my home. In as much as I actually had one.
Anyway, most of you come here for the photos. I’m done with my Fran Lebowitz/Isak Dinesen type of memoir thing. As I searched for the proper images to illustrate this entry with, I thought — I’ve photographed a lot of people over the years in the city. I think they’d be perfect to illustrate this entry. I mean of course I would love to have a big record of what I saw as a kid in the 1980s, but I guess that just has to live in my head. But as soon as I was old enough, I started documenting the people of the city, August Sander or Bill Cunningham or a general love of sticking my camera in people’s faces. Take your pick. Most of these images have never been seen on this blog, so this is a premiere, of sorts.