By Cecil Hoge
I miss the city not because I loved the 3rd Avenue L
Although I remember it well.
I miss the city
Not because I admired
It’s brown caked beams and the railroad tracks above.
Not because I was not scared of the dark strangers that hid in its shadows,
Not because those iron pillars did not throw darkness and cold.
I miss the city
Not because I was born there, although I was.
Not because I rode a tricycle on its concrete and stone streets,
Not because I bashed a gash in my chin running down a hill,
Although all those things are true.
I miss the city,
Not because I raced Flexible Flyers into cold steel spires,
Although I did.
Not because I banged my head and went home with a lump.
And I would again if I could,
Even if the snow was not as deep as it should, which many times it wasn’t,
On the hill by Gracie Mansion,
It was a short and fast ride to that black iron fence.
I miss the city not because it was my place of birth,
Not because it was the House of Mirth,
Not because time passes,
Not because we fade to gases,
Not because all those things are also True,
Not because there are not things I rue,
Not because I wish I could freeze all its parts together and remix them in some glass bowl of hopes and dreams.
I miss city because I love taxis,
I miss the city because
I loved to walk it’s streets.
I miss city because at night you can hear it’s mechanical hum and clatter.
I miss the city not because
I remember the sound of taxis bumping over pot holes and steel plates, of buses honking, of subways screeching and snorting, of sirens coming and going, of fire hydrants blasting water across streets on hot summer days.
I miss the city because
I remember the sound of horse hooves on cold cobblestones…Clip, Clomp, Clip, Clopp
Not because remember the reflection of rain on black city streets at night under under bright city lights.
I miss the city because I think of those people I adored, those people I met, those people I liked and disliked.
I miss the city when we laughed and roared.
In bars, in restaurants, in clubs, on city streets, in Madison Square Garden.
I miss the city when I think of my uncle standing by his fireplace, drink in one hand, telling me about the marines and the social order of life, how some people deserved to be rich, some people deserved to be poor.
And even though I did not agree with him, I miss him standing there with his proud, arrogant family smile on his red face, his chest out, his back straight.
I miss seeing the Chinese bowl on the large piano along with pictures of their beautiful family in silver frames, three stunning girls, a beautiful wife, a handsome son and my uncle, the proud father.
I still have that Chinese bowl.
It came back to me, after my uncle’s death, the last vestige of my grandfather’s wealth.
He had a shipyard in Brooklyn, the largest the United States before World War I. That was then, this is now.
I miss the city because there I was born,
I miss the city not because I have not walked some of the other cities,
Those of Illinois, those of California, those of the Northwest, those of the South, Those of Europe,
Those of Asia, or of the island where Christopher Columbus landed,
Although I have and then some.
I miss New York City
Not because it has the tallest buildings in the world,
It does not.
Not because the streets are clean and shiny,
They are not.
I miss the city not because I was chased by Irish gangs throwing stones and rocks and sticks and bricks.
I miss the city not because I saw two street kids bet they could survive running under a moving car and saw them each run in front of a moving car, lay down on the street in front of those cars and saw the cars pass over them and saw them get up and shake hands on their bully bet.
That was then, this is now.
I miss the city not because I saw it snow for three days in row, not because there was 47 inches on the ground,
Not because the wind did howl and sweep and curl its way around buildings and corners, over alleys and through windows and past avenues and parks and over rivers.
Although the snow and wind did all that and more.
I miss the city not because it has Central Park and Bryant Park and Battery Park and Bedford Sty and Brooklyn and Queens and The West Side and Chinatown and Korean Vegetable Stores and Broadway and Ferries and Helicopters and newstands and rich people and whores and bores and dissolute youths and vain people and theater people and artists and singers and poets and jazzmen and hanger-ons and frauds and hipsters and banksters and robbers and barrons and rent controlled apartments and desperate chamber maids and St. Patricks, although all these things are and were and will be in New York City.
I miss the city not because you can walk from one building to another and not be on the street, not because The World Trade Center was a city to itself, not because it got knocked down, not because it got built up, not because it ever was the same, not because it ever will be the same, not because it was ever the same as it was 12 seconds before or ever will be the same 12 seconds after.
I miss the city because it was the place where I came from,
Because it had spaces where I lived, on 92nd street, in Doctor’s Hospital where I was born, in Bellevue where my mother visited, on 1215 Fifth where we lived, on 63rd where lived, on 72nd where we lived,
On Wall Street and Park Avenue where I worked.
Oh yeah, I miss the city,
For what it was, for what it will be, for what I never saw or for what I saw and heard and experienced and what will come that I will never hear or see or experience.
I wish I was there in the old days of New Amsterdam when the local folks traded the isle of Manhattan for some beads, blankets and shells.
Of course anyone who saw something that happened and read about it in the papers may come to realize what we see is subjective and what’s printed or reported about what someone else saw is also subjective.
So I don’t know what happened then or before I came to be born or even when I lived and worked there.
And I don’t know what will happen.
But I do know the city I miss is between the East and Hudson Rivers and the current in those rivers can be fast or slow on the same day and the water comes from or goes into the sea.
I do know the isle of Manhattan had 150 feet of ice over it some 15,000 years ago and that we are in warm patch between ice ages.
And I do know when the warm patch passes and the cold patch comes again the ice will come grind whatever happens to remain of our ziggarets and churches and parks and museums and streets down to sand and rock.
I do know people have lived on the isle of Manhattan for 10,000 years or more before we Europeans came.
And I do know there were a lot of other people living and fishing and loving and gathering and picking shells and eating oysters and hunting deer and making knives and axes and arrowheads and paint pots.
But that’s not why I miss New York City.
I miss the city because it was where I grew up, because it’s where my parents lived and worked, where I lived and worked and played.
I miss the Squadron A Armory on 94th street, where my mother rode horses, where I watched polo games and drank beers with girlfriends of old.
I can smell the stables, the dirt floor of the indoor field.
I remember when there still some tanks and police horses inside the old armory.
It is gone now like the old Penn Station, like the old Astor Hotel, like the old World Trade Center.
I miss wandering Central Park on a Sunday afternoon, the smell of marijuana floating in breeze, the sound of steel drums being banged, the rifts of guitars and harmonicas and banjos, the sound of bells tinkling on a warm and sunny winter day, the girls and guys with long hair, colorful clothes and glazed and laughing eyes.
Now they have $3000 bicycles and are jogging or walking for fitness.
I miss the big parties in tuxes and tails, I miss the dingy clubs in basements and cellars, I miss the discotheques, the jukeboxs, the bocce ball players in that Italian restaurant on 64th.
You know the place,
It might even still be there.