It’s hard to mention the street where I live, where I all but live, without referencing the gates of hell. The gates of hell, near the Times building … No, you’re on the wrong corner. Make a left.
If I didn’t work and go to school here, I’d pass through underground, only emerging begrudgingly if necessity demanded my presence at a play or restaurant-as-midway-point between my apartment and my friend’s place in Harlem. But I still find Times Square fascinating.
There’s what little of it I remember growing up. Then there’s what my father recalls of it growing up. Both images haunt the theme park I currently push through, using my elbows on bad days.
My features professor assigned us “Times Regained” by Adam Gopnik. (The New Yorker, March 22nd, 2004.) Hopefully this excerpt falls under fair use, because if someone were to sue me now, my only option would be to street-corner it. (A service to the revival of 70s Times Square, I guess.)
No other part of New York has had such a melodramatic, mood-ring sensitivity to the changes in the city’s history, with an image for every decade. There was the turn-of-the-century Times Square, with its roof gardens and showgirls; the raffish twenties Times Square of Ziegfeld and Youmans tunes; the thirties Times Square of 42nd Street, all chorus lines and moxie; the forties, Out on the Town Times Square, full of sailors kissing girls; the wizened black-and-white fifties Times Square of Sweet Smell of Success, steaming hot dogs and grungy beats; and then the sixties and seventies Times Square of Midnight Cowboy and Taxi Driver, where everything fell apart and Hell wafted through the manhole. No other place in town has been quite so high and quite so low.
Those who pointed at the old Times Square as an instance of everything Capitalism can do wrong now point to the new Times Square as an instance of everything that Capitalism can do worse. Where once Times Square was hot, it is now cold, where once varied, now uniform, where once alive, now dead. Which just proves, as with the old maxim about belief, that people who refuse to be sentimental about the normal things don’t end up being sentimental about nothing; they end up being sentimental about anything, shedding tears about muggings and the shards of crack vials gleaming like diamonds in the gutter.