Thursday, June 4, 2009

Pity the Sky with Nothing but Stars

From the Dreaming-of-Lost-Worlds Department, my current reading list:

The big highlight of this romp through the peeps and scumatoriums of old Times Square, by former Screw writer Josh Alan Friedman, has got to be the tale of Plato's Retreat owner Larry Levinson's big bet that he could ejaculate 15 times in a single day (at age 45 no less). Tales of Times Square (Delacorte, 1986) is hilarious throughout, and shows that the big clean-up didn't begin with Herr Giuliani, but goes back to the 70's, to the start of the 42nd Street Redevelopment Corp, and the establishment of NYPD's Office of Midtown Enforcement.

Luc Sante's Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1991) is essentially a history of vice on the Bowery, covering its heyday from the mid-19th Century to World War I, and the passing of the Volstead Act, which ushered in the prohibition era, the Bowery's first big kiss of death. As a history, the book's subjective enough to make it lively, and offers plenty of further reading, if one is inclined to delve more deeply into the subject. And Low Life does what Spengler said history’s supposed to: it adds depth to present reality. Obviously the dives, blind tigers, knockout drops, and hot corn girls are all part of a long gone ancient history. Still, to read Low Life only accentuates how bizarrely out-of-place those new, ultra-modern glass high-rises are on Cooper Square⎯trendy minimalist restaurants on Rivington Street? In the Essex Market? Yo, not so long ago the Essex Market was good for a brush with any number of lures and snares (Dors 'n' Fours anyone?). Low Life sorta lets you hear the whispers of ghosts, if you go for that sort of thing. And who knows? If you play your cards right, maybe even today you could still get sucked into the wrong Chinatown doorway and get your organs harvested.

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