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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ciao! Manhattan

Ciao! Manhattan is the name of a 1972 avant-garde film starring Edie Sedgewick as Susan Superstar and its title appropriately conveys my sentiments as I pack and prepare to move, after 18 years in my cramped, little apartment in Greenwich Village, to a much larger floor-through in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I put up with the lack of room lo these many years because of the convenience of location and because the Gay Pride march passed right in front, so it was always a perfect spot to watch, have friends over, have food and drinks on hand, and have the use of a toilet for everyone's convenience. But now the time has come to say goodbye and move on.

12 Fifth Avenue is located off 8th Street, just one block away from the Washington Arch in Washington Square Park. If I stood in the middle of the road outside my building, this would be the view:
But now my motto of "location, location, location" seems played out, and it's time to embrace "space, space, space," as I have outgrown 12 Fifth not only in terms of material things that have overwhelmed the square footage, but subjectively on emotional and psychological levels.
I'm a Jersey boy. And, growing up 20 miles from Manhattan, it was always the place that I wanted to move to. I started coming into "The City," as we called it (synonymous with Manhattan) as a child, when my mother would take me to places like the American Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium (mainly because I was so into dinosaurs and outer space, it was only natural). My grandmother enjoyed taking me, on occasion, to Radio City Music Hall, where the show consisted of a major motion picture release on the big screen and a live extravaganza by The Rockettes. We always took the bus in, and I always got a thrill the moment I set foot in the Port Authority bus terminal. Hell, I even got a thrill boarding the bus, knowing it was en route to New York City.

School field trips introduced me to places like The Cloisters and Grant's Tomb. Culturally, intellectually and just for pure fun, Manhattan was where it was at! As a pre-teen, reading about Bob Dylan, Judy Collins and other folkies; and the beat poets like Paterson, NJ's own Allen Ginsberg,
and Jack Kerouac, all of whom emerged from the beatnik culture, enticed me. (Side note: Allen's father, poet Louis Ginsberg, was one of my Mom's high-school English teachers.) I pictured myself in the Village, leading a Bohemian artist's life. It was a romantic and callow dream, but one I felt I'd one day pursue.

In high school, it was Broadway and off-Broadway shows I was then exposed to, and a new aspect of the dream took hold: the Theater!

"New Jersey is death, The City is life," my friend Vinny used to say. And I shared his opinion that life in our small city in Jersey was stifling us but, in Greenwich Village, we could live the unfettered, creative Bohemian life; the good life! One of us did. It was me.

After college at the University of Colorado (where I was active writing for The Colorado Daily, the campus and Boulder community free paper), I moved to New York, performed in cabaret, screened my underground super-8 movies starring friends, had some articles on pop music and film, and some poetry, published. I even returned to NJ to read my poems in the Paterson Public Library as first runner-up for the William Carlos Williams Poetry Award. Mom was in attendance.

In the movie, Saturday Night Fever, John Travolta (another Jersey boy) and Karen Lynn Gorney's characters long to leave their working-class Brooklyn lives and flee to Manhattan where they can make it big-time. (In fact, "Saturday Night Fever" largely takes place, and was filmed, in Bay Ridge.) This reinforced the idea that living in Brooklyn would just be like living in NJ; I'd just be one of those unfulfilled bridge-and-tunnel people. It reiterated Vinny's mantra that "New Jersey is death, The City is life," and, by association, Brooklyn or any borough outside Manhattan would mean a living death, too.

By the way, the disco in that film with the famously lit-up dance floor was shot on-location at what was then Odyssey disco, later to change its name to Spectrum when it reincarnated itself as a popular gay club. I had many fun nights at Spectrum in the 1990s and saw great club acts, like The Village People, Hazell Dean and Carol Jiani, as I danced on that iconic floor. Spectrum/Odyssey is located in Bay Ridge. (Spectrum still exists, this time round with an urban-reggae-gangsta orientation.)

Anyhow, times change. Soaring rentals for Manhattan residences have forced many struggling artists out to other boroughs. Since the 1980s, Greenwich Village has become increasingly more yuppie-fied, less Bohemian, less seductive. Struggling artists have made the exodus beyond the parameters of the island-city of Manhattan. And my teenage dreams about The City have become outmoded, so it's time to put them on the shelf.

Now, Bay Ridge may not exactly be a new Bohemia but I've also long outgrown the Bohemian-lifestyle ideals of my youth. My quality of life will improve and I'm at a point in time where that's important to me. So, it's time to say farewell to the old and hello to the new, fresh and exciting. Buon giorno, Bay Ridge and Ciao bello, Manhattan!


  1. good bye 5th avenue, hello bay ridge.
    can't wait to check it out!

  2. Will miss the Pride parade but wait till you see what I got in exchange.