Anything sold as a “collectible” usually isn’t, or shouldn’t be. I’m sure there are people who have closets full of “Collectible tins” from various companies, each with faux-retro illustrations of Ye Olde Bygone Days. Gas stations are always the worst; for some reason gas station nostalgia is always a horrid mix of Thomas Kinkade and wildlife art, they’re always set in some small hamlet, and they make 1923 look like it has been 1923 for twenty years. The stuff that illustrates stations from mid-century is a little better, but it overdoes the whole malt-shop / chrome / fifties-kitsch clichés. No one ever seems to bring out the original packaging and leave it be.

Until, perhaps, this:

Anniversary edition collectible tins! Buy the one that reminds you of Mom.

The short local nightmare is over: bought a car. A Mazda 3. Peppy little minx. I was surprised to find that it hit 6000 RPMs before shifting out of second, and more surprised to find that it didn’t shift out of first at all. Turns out it had a little feature that allows you to pretend you’re driving a stick – you can shift as you please without clutching, or let the car do the shifting. Either way it moves with more zip than the Cirrus ever exhibited. That thing cornered like a wildebeest, too. I won’t miss it.

Since we bought used – it’s an 04 – the paperwork was straightforward. It’s nice to see a bill that doesn’t lard up the low-low sticker price with extras – undercoating, underundercoating, strut wax, keyless entry ashtrays, custom glove compartment liner, destination fees, en route fees, departure fees, engine bolts (“We do recommend that you go with this package, since it bolts the engine securely to the vehicle itself, and discourages theft”) and special custom tire treads that leave behind a visual representation of your DNA. You don’t have to deal with any of that. Nor is there even the possibility of getting those rims that look like you’re moving when you’re standing still – the modern “adult” version of handlebar streamers. Price, tax (coff, wince, cross legs) and sign . . . here. Done.

I’m next, but not until I sell a few more books.

Took Gnat to swim class; read “Ghosts of 42nd Street,” by Anthony Bianco. (Go through the Amazon links below, search for the author; I'm too tired to build a custom link.) So far so good. It’s a history of the Deuce, and earned my instant confidence in the first chapter with this remark: “Hammerstein was not a modern celebrity, which is to say that his fame was solidly grounded in accomplishment.” I fell a warm glow when I read that: whatever follows, I trust this fellow. There aren’t enough photographs, but I have enough Times Square stuff of my own to fill in the details. What photos the book includes follow a pattern I note in all my New York historical volumes: the early pictures always show grave men in evening wear, followed by rakish fellows in looser suits, followed by candid photos of postwar New York in which men dressed shabbily – T-shirts and sneers, it seems. It was as if a great bolt of crassness struck the heart of the city around 1952 and knocked the color and style out of everything. Apres James Dean, le deluge: the pictures show a careworn city with sooty facades and dull modern towers, and if there’s a dignitary involved, he isn’t: he has a cartoon bowtie and lapels as wide as the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. Then the activists invariably enter the story, and the men are hairy muttonchopped Hoffman clones with those furious smiles and selfish eyes. By now the dignitaries - the movers & shakers & financiers - are leathery lizards with avaricious grins. They had been preceded of course by men whose desire for money and position equaled their own mighty drives, but for God’s sake look at their suits! You trust 4 square blocks of architecture to a man dressed in nine shades of brown? The story always ends with someone who looks more polished and tailored than anyone in the last 60 years, standing before a restored structure built in 1912. And this is called “progress.”

Really, it is. Progress, I mean. I’m still quasi-demi-ambivalent about the new Times Square, but it beats the miserable old Deuce of the “Taxi Driver” era. Its decline was inevitable, but its revival was not. I’m grateful.

Why read about it? Who cares? Because you can’t understand America without understanding the history of New York. You can try, but it’s like writing a book without using the word “the.”

Which reminds me: “The” Donald has proposed his own version of the Twin Towers to replace that gutless and insubstantial “Freedom Tower.” Good. I haven’t seen it. But I’d trust the short-fingered vulgarian to come up with something that PUTS THE YO IN NEW YORK, and I say this as someone who bled bile when I saw that 90-story 2001 monolith he put up by the United Nation building. Why? Because there’s only one of them. As we saw with the original WTC, any banal design can be improved if you build two towers instead of one. In any case, I’d go with Trump. But I digress.

Question: where did people go for entertainment before Times Square? The theater / shopping / hoity-toity-living districts of Manhattan constantly changed as the best people flowed north. Visit the Flatiron district today, and you see the shells of the great department stores where the ladies thronged nine decades past. (How they got past one another with their enormous bustles, one can only guess. Whale grease, perhaps.) Well, the theater district was Broadway, but it was below 42nd street, stretching down to 14th. They called it The Rialto. The name refers to a bridge in Venice, but in America it became a shorthand term for theatrical dazzle - just as Times Square would become a few decades hence. Small town theaters called themselves the Rialto, as if they were embassies of some fabulous mythical country. The term meant “theaters” long after the Rialto itself had been eclipsed, just as kids in the sixties watched movies in theaters named after Roxy. But the idea remains, in Tuscon. Even in Hobbit country.

Understand America? You can’t understand the world without understanding the history of New York. It’s not the only city one should study, of course. I mean, there’s Berlin. (“And on this site in 1932, chalk-faced Communists premiered a musical devoted to exposing the horrors of the international rubber trade.”) But I like the island Manhattan. Order me a Berlin, but make it an Irving.

Perm link: here.

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