This is the last day of this past year. 2020 was a life game-changer. Priorities were turned upside down, chaos reigned and rained supreme, silver linings peeked through, fires ravaged and the virus savaged. We divided and nearly were conquered by human behavior I simply can’t fathom—mostly, the absence of empathy and kindness. If hindsight is 20/20, I need a new prescription for my glasses.
Meanwhile, I have no idea what I am doing with this writing—this memoir—that was supposed to capture a bitter-sweet not-too-distant past. Ironically, I “officially” ended the writing (countless drafts after starting what was a series of essays a decade ago) in early March of this year. Pre-covid awareness. So, in that sense, this documents what once was, in an unanticipated way. I wrote about many things that now seem almost quaint in my missing them. Post-covid, the places and people and feelings that once existed and will likely never return have been documented and lamented in many a New York Times and New Yorker article over the last eight months. I’ve already put my two cents in. Just multiply it by infinity.
So, I will randomly choose an excerpt of something that I will miss about New York City and my life in the early 1970s.
Nine months of living off-off Broadway had me waxing nostalgic for neon lights, missing the jutting marquees that trumpeted what magic went on, just inside. One day in early autumn I returned to Times Square to get my theater fix, peering at cast photos for new shows that had opened since I last snuck in at intermission and squatted discreetly on the steps of the rear mezzanine for the second act. Jaywalking the cross streets between Broadway and Eighth Avenue had me in a comfortable groove.
The granddaddy of them all—naughty, bawdy, gaudy 42nd Street—I knew to avoid. There was not one iota of a good reason for me to be there, I learned after my daring first foray down that long block. Peep shows, porn palaces, massage parlors, hustlers, junkie prostitutes, con men, and all other forms of lowlife brazenly hawked their wares and flaunted their presence in the glare refracted from the Great White Way. This kind of cockroach didn’t scatter when the lights came on. This was their stage, every night.
Loitering was encouraged, necessary for a scam.
“All you hafta do is tell me where the queen is.”
A version of the classic shell game, Three-card Monte was set up at a moment’s notice and instant throngs gathered around, the rising excitement blending the shill with both out-of-town rubes and city know-it-alls who thought they could beat the odds. New York’s Finest occasionally broke up the G-rated entertainment almost apologetically; this was just filler-fluff on their beat until something bigger trumped in, featuring screaming sirens and drawn guns. In this neighborhood, that didn’t take long.
I was getting accustomed to mayhem. There was something tantalizing about being so close to the action, to being caught in the klieg light—an invisible non-participant—while absorbing it all through every sensory organ in my body. — Hell’s Kitchen and Couture Dreams
copyright Sharon Watts