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The New York We've Lost

In the Lost City of New York, the subway will be a nickel forever, and if you fall asleep and travel to the end of the line, you will still have your wallet and your life. In the Lost City, you can still go to Dexter Park on Eldert's Lane on the Brooklyn-Queens border and see the amazing players from the Negro Leagues, maybe even Josh Gibson, who once hit a ball out of there that traveled more than 600 feet; you can see the Bushwicks play baseball, hoping for a call from Branch Rickey; you can watch the House of David baseball team and the best of the immigrant soccer teams. We still have the Polo Grounds. We still have Ebbets Field. We still have Willie Mays.

If it's a sultry August evening, you will be able to hurry down to Sheepshead Bay and step up to the Clam Bar at Lundy's. Or you can drive out to Rockaway, get on the rides at Playland, drink cold beer and eat pig's feet at Fennessey's, Gildea's, or Sligo House, McGuire's or the Breakers, and look at the girls outside Curly's Hotel at 116th and the ocean.

If that is too long a journey, you can ride one of the many ferries that cross the Hudson each day to Jersey. You can swim in the rivers without fear of disease, and even swim at night with the seals in the Prospect Park Zoo. You can trust the oysters from Long Island Sound. You can spend an entire Saturday among the used bookshops along Fourth Avenue. You can watch seaplanes flying down the East River, dipping elegantly under the bridges and out to the vast harbor. Listen: You might even hear the Pan Am Clipper leaving from Floyd Bennett for Lisbon.

The Lost City is full of forgotten common and proper nouns: Red Devil paint, Cat's Paw soles and heels, Griffin All-Black might still exist, but I don't see them anymore. Nor do I see beers called Trommers White Label, Ruppert's, and Rheingold, candies called Sky Bars, Houten's, and B-B Bats. And for young men going out on dates, a repulsively flavored package of licorice microchips called Sen-Sen that is guaranteed to keep your breath sweet while kissing. In some lost year, Junior Persico is in Rosie's Royal Tailors next to the 72nd Precinct in Brooklyn, being measured for pants with a three-inch rise, pistol pockets, saddle stitching, a balloon knee, and a thirteen peg. He will walk home looking like an Arabian prince.

Meanwhile, the eternal New York war against the cockroach is being waged with J-O Paste and Flit. The men are smoking Fatimas and Wings. In the candy stores, they are selling loosies (2 cents apiece, two for 3), mel-o-rolls, Nibs, hard car'mels, Bonomo Turkish taffy, long pretzels, Mission Bell grape and Frank's orange soda, twists, egg creams, lime rickeys, and a nice 2-cents plain. Everybody knows what a skate key is and what it means when your wheels get "skellies." A pound of butter is carved from wooden tubs. Here, your only jewelry is a code-o-graph or a whistling ring. And here you always have spaldeens. An endless supply. Pink and fresh and beautiful. Spaldeens: made no longer by the A. G. Spalding Company; street kids now would rather smoke crack than hit a ball three sewers. But we still have them here in the Lost City. Spaldeens: traveling high into the sky of a thousand neighborhoods in the game called stickball. The game is almost never played anymore, except by aging men. In the Lost City of New York, we will play it forever.

In this New York, you can still wander through the stalls of the Washington Market. You can get your hair cut for a quarter at the barber schools on Third Avenue and the Bowery. You can watch the leather-workers ply their trade at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge or watch the old craftsmen roll cigars on Astor Place or see an old Italian shoemaker working in a window with his mouth full of nails. You can bring your kitchen knives down to the truck to be sharpened. You can watch the iceman make his deliveries, stronger than any other man on earth. You can wait for the "rides" to come around in the evening: the Whip and the Loop-the-Loop. You can hang out at the pigeon coop on the roof. You can put your groceries "on the bill." If you get sick, the doctor will come by in an hour. You can sit at the Battery and watch the ocean liners cleave through the harbor, stately and powerful among their court of tugboats, heading for berths on the North River (the reporters have arrived on the launch, with their press cards in their hats, and they are interviewing the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, or propping a movie staron top of a steamer trunk). You can walk out on the white porch of the Claremont Inn on Riverside Drive and 125th Street and watch the cruise boats move north to Bear Mountain. On Sunday nights, you will almost certainly turn on the radio and hear that staccato voice: "Goodevening Mr. and Mrs. NorthandSouthAmerica and alltheshipsatsea. . . . Thisis Walter Winchell and the Jergens Journal—let's go to press. . . . "

Or you can meet that girl in the polo coat who is arriving at Penn Station from college in Vermont or Ohio or Philadelphia. And if you're lucky, if all goes well at Seventeen Barrow Street or the Bijou or the Olde Knick or the Fleur de Lis, if you have enough money and courage, you might succeed in taking her to the old Ritz Carlton and wake up with her in the bright, snowy light of New York. If it isn't that easy, you will postpone everything. You will take her to Condon's. Or to hear Miguelito Valdes sing "Babalu" in the club at the Great Northern Hotel, knowing that upstairs in 1939 William Saroyan wrote The Time of Your Life in five days and maybe the two of you could find the room (in the interests of literature, of course). Maybe you'll get a sandwich at Reuben's or stroll through Times Square and look at the Camel sign with the guy blowing smoke rings into the night or the two huge nude statues flanking the waterfall of the Bond Clothes sign and then slip into Toffenetti's for coffee or head east to Glennon's for a few final beers. Take your time. All of this will be here tomorrow too. Yeah.

I suppose that 30 years from now (as close to us as we are to 1958), when I've been safely tucked into the turf at the Green-Wood, someone will write in these pages about a Lost New York that includes Area and the Mudd Club and Nell's, David's Cookies and Aca Joe and Steve's ice cream. Someone might mourn Lever House or Trump Tower or the current version of Madison Square Garden. Anything is possible. But if so, I hope that at least one old and wizened New Yorker will reach for a pen and try to explain about our lost glories: and mention spaldeens and trolleys and—if he can make it clear, if he has the skill and the memory—even Willie Mays.


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