Saturday, September 8, 2012

The That That Was

I left my native Boston for New York at the age of 24.

Many of the following years have been spent overseas in Europe, Latin America, and Asia. Whenever I return to the States, friends ask, "Don't you miss anything about the United States?"

"I miss Warmuth's Restaurant and Hi-Hat Lounge in Boston, the Orchida restaurant, Manic Panic, the 2nd Avenue Deli, CBGBs and Gough's Bar in New York, the pub in Victoria Station and Cafe le Pere Tranquille in London."

"All those places are closed." My friends remark with surprise. "Aren't there any open places?" <"The Oyster Bar in Grand Central and Frank's Lounge in Fort Greene." The former has the best selection of shellfish in New York and the latter is my local bar.

"Nothing else?" My friends are au courrant with the latest hotspots for dining and drinking.

I mentally scanned Manhattan and Brooklyn, then shook my head.

"I'm a man of limited vision." I like what I like, then added, "The Reading Room in the Main Library."

"Nothing new."

"I only go to the places I know." Like the Sand Bar in Rockaway Park rather than the BillBurg trendy joints farther down the beach. "But I'm willing to try someplace new."

They suggested several hot spots. Their names registered nothing. I was out of it as usual for someone who spent eight months out of the country last year, but it's hard missing someplace I've never been, so that I'm left to mourn 'that that was' with every closing of a bar, restaurant, theater, store or hotel for the sake of progress, especially my old neighborhood the East Village, which lost its charm, as young professional swarmed into the neighborhood during the 80s and 90s, forcing up longtime businesses to shut their doors.

One small store on the corner of 9th and 2nd Avenue had supplied clothing, cleaning fluids, stationary et al. In 1990 the landlords doubled their lease. The store was replaced by a t-shirt shop. It failed within the year as did every other venture in that spot. I argued with a property investor, Stephen Canelli, that the old store gave an intrinsic value to the area."

"If they couldn't pay the rent, then they didn't belong there." He was a ruthless man when it came time make a profit. History and legend meant nothing to him. He was from Ontario, Canada.

Intrinsic value held value for a developer like Stephen when the added value is to their benefit.

For the rest of us we live with the memories of prune rolls from Warmuths, quarter drafts at the Hi-Hat, Polish pizza at the Orchida, pinball at CBGBs, and dollar drafts at Gough's Bar across from the New York Times. That narrow bar served reporters, pressmen, and sports figures for decades. A portrait of John L. Sullivan graced its wall. The barmen knew the names and drinks of customers. A million beery conversations battered the wooden bar. All of it gone into the black hole for the That That Was.

And I shall entered the vortex one day, for as you get old you forget, but as you get older, you are forgotten, except by those in the That That Was.

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