So Lost City is an interesting blog, an attempt at documenting all of the old bits of New York that are rapidly vanishing and being converted into Subway restaurants and doggie day cares and five dollar cupcake shops in the Bloomberg wet dream of gentrification and sterilization. But I should say was, because the proprietor of this nostalgic blog has decided to close shop.
In a sense, I feel bad about this; I mean, I never found out about this blog until I heard about its closing, so I didn’t get to waste tons of time scouring its pages, looking for things I remembered that got bulldozed or scraped out to build yet another Bank of America branch. One of the first things I found on his pages is that Chumley’s, the underground, speakeasy-like bar hidden in the village, once a haunt of literary types and just around the corner from William S. Burroughs’ place, has since shut down because of a chimney collapse, and has been forever stalled in that “under construction” phase that means death. Anyway, I do love me some nostalgia, especially having to do with places I lived, so it’s sad to see a site like this go away.
But, here’s the deal: I know how hard it is to run a gig like this. I worked on The Necrokonicon for a good four years before I finally scraped it into a paper book and shut down the original site. It’s a thankless job, one that can generate some decent traffic, but that requires constant revisions, to the point where your full-time occupation becomes the maintenance of this profitless venture you could never hope to monetize. You get constant emails from people bitching about how you got an opinion of yours “wrong”, and how you got facts backwards when explaining an urban legend that wasn’t true in the first place. You find dead ends researching restaurants that have long since closed, in cities that don’t keep records of the past, with residents that have no long-term memory anymore. Every little update becomes a political struggle, and you wonder if it would be easier to just write Twilight fan fiction and call it a day. There’s some reward when you find a person that gives you some information that’s useful, or when you stir up the thread of nostalgia in someone who appreciates it. But it’s also a bitch, and there’s never an end in sight, because you’re talking about a city that always changes. So I understand the decision to call it a day.
What I don’t get is all of the negative bullshit being stirred in the link above that goes to theawl.com. I started poking around this site a bit, and it’s sort of a hip New York-centric pop culture thing. So it doesn’t surprise me that much that all of the commenters go off on this guy and proclaim the general uselessness of his work. I mean, it’s hard to really explain the undertone of the comments without a complicated Venn diagram, but in general, there’s a lot of venom. I’m not sure – do these people actually appreciate when a place like Zen Palate goes under and gets replaced by a TGI Friday? I thought urban decay and throwback architecture is hipster cool, but there are people who actually seem excited about mallifying Times Square and building huge glass condos that will look asinine in five years.
I don’t know – arguing about urban planning with someone who self-identifies as a New Yorker is almost as futile as arguing religion with someone who runs a church. These are the people who claim the city never sleeps, even though I could never, ever find a 24-hour pharmacy within ten miles of my apartment, and yet Elkhart, Indiana, population 40,000 has at least a dozen. I mean, there is a certain validity in the fact that you can’t keep New York into the exact thing it was the second you got there, because everything constantly changes. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to try to remember these things. Because we have no attention span and now with the death of all paper media and the twitter-ification of all things reference-oriented, you will find it absolutely impossible to look up something that happened five years ago without facing a sea of 404s. All news has become blogs, and all blogs have a shelf life of even less than a Thai-Mexican fusion restaurant with a $14,000 a month rent in SoHo. So I find it commendable when someone does try to make a reference of the past like this. Because all of you are going to wake up tomorrow, a dozen years from now, and only have the vaguest of memories of that Shea-whatever-it-was-called place where the Mets maybe used to play, and every single maybe-relevant phrase you enter into google is going to redirect you to a CitiBank advertisement.