Help Me Understand

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52 Responses

  1. Avatar dhex says:

    that is his thing. if it was old and now gone, he explains it, contextualizes it, and even eulogizes it a bit. it’s what he does. it’s not as consistently good as forgotten ny, but they serve different purposes.

    stuff like this is just cool:

    people have experiences in all sorts of things. even porno shops, or dance shops. or even the opera. all sorts of things. emotion is a great thing sometimes, even if i regard nostalgia with the same guarded caution one should show a chainsaw or a loaded gun.Report

    • people have experiences in all sorts of things. even porno shops, or dance shops. or even the opera. all sorts of things. emotion is a great thing sometimes, even if i regard nostalgia with the same guarded caution one should show a chainsaw or a loaded gun.

      A lot of truth to that. For example, I’m not a fan of shopping malls at all, but the one in the Denver area near where I grew up (called “Cinderella City”….now closed down for more than 20 years) still conjures up warm memories. It was just a mall, with the standard collection of anchor stores and smaller shops that sold worthless, overpriced crap, and a food court that sold junk food. But there’s something about it being gone that seems said. Time’s winged chariot and all that.Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I don’t know if that’s really what Jeremiah is saying, that New York would be better-served by remaining static. I think he’s saying, “This is what New York was.”

    If you ever came down to visit my part of California, you might get steered to have breakfast at a local omelet shop called Crazy Otto’s. The original Crazy Otto’s was, in fact, crazy. It was right next to the railroad tracks, in a couple of abandoned and re-fitted rail cars of questionable provenance. Way back in the day, Otto ran the place himself and no one ever told him you could make an omelet with less than six eggs and it was mandatory to serve each omelet with about thirty-seven pounds of potatoes. 2,500 calories on a plate, easy; Otto figured everyone he was selling to was either a miner or a farmer and they’d be working through all the energy in that massive amount of food.

    Then the train would roll by, and the entire car would shake from side to side and scare the hell out of you because it was way worse than an earthquake, and Otto would spin a big wheel on the side and when the train finished going by he’d stop it and shine a light on someone whose table’s number had just come up on the wheel and that person’s omelet was free. Otto’s kids kept the place running after Otto died.

    They expanded the train tracks to accommodate the Metrolink. Otto’s train cars had to go. The business agreed to a relocation in an ordinary building about two miles away. The omelets are still bigger than your head. It’s still a successful business. When Schwarzenegger was running for re-election as Governator, he did a fundraiser there, turning omelets the Otto’s way. And at least at one time, it held the record for world’s biggest omelet, taking up about a quarter of an acre of space by the time they were done rolling it off the grill. But it’s not the same anymore. It’s not bad now, but it’s not what it was when it was out by the tracks and you seriously wondered if the whole thing was going to tip over and start a grease fire and Otto opened the place up for business at midnight because he knew people wanted breakfast then.Report

  3. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Why nostalgia for Roseland? Or anything?Report

  4. So why nostalgia for a porno store and/or a leotard store?

    Given what the OP actually discusses, that’s not really the best question. One might as well ask “so why nostalgia for a concert venue?” or “do you agree that nostalgia as represented by Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York is indeed reactionary (when it focuses on non-‘understandable’ losses)?”

    To the question about a concert venue and “a porno store and/or leotard store,” I guess it depends on the meanings local people apply to such locations. And what such stores remind them of. People get nostalgic for weird things, even bad things (not to claim that a porn store or leotard store are bad). I sometimes look at some of the most difficult times of my own life with a bit of wistful nostalgia. Even though I realize on one level how bad and challenging those times were, there’s still a way in which I often miss them. But as the song says, “the good old days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”

    To the question of, “is this reactionary?,” I don’t know. I suppose if someone says, “the old stores are disappearing, therefore we must enact policies to prevent gentrification,” then yes, I’d say it’s reactionary. In that case the nostalgia is being used to favor reactionary purposes. So yes, if nostalgia promotes such reactionary measures as anti-gentrification regulations, then I suppose it is indeed reactionary.Report

  5. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I was thinking about nostalgia the other day while watching the re-airing of the “Be Like Mike” Gatorade ads, which played heavily during my youth. Now, despite the fact that I now know Michael Jordan to be a world class asshole AND that Gatorade is barely more than sugar water and doesn’t even taste that good, the ad tapped into something and made me think, “Yea, I want to be like Mike! I want to drink Gatorade!” And not because 31-year-old Kazzy is particularly susceptible to advertising. But because humans seem particularly susceptible to nostalgia. We have emotional connections to things from our past and visceral responses when reminded of them.Report

  6. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Sometimes a business becomes more than business. By its nature or longevity it can also become a community center, a place of fond and not so fond memories or stories, and an institution where generations of people remember patronizing.

    Last November, Dance Manhattan closed and this caused a lot of sadness in the partner dance community in New York even for people that did not regualrly patronize Dance Manhattan. Dance studios are often more than places where people go to learn how to dance. They become the social centers for people into partner dancing. Many dance studios have longues or even get liquor licenses because of the social nature of the business. Dance Manhattan was especially beloved because it was on of the older studios and deeply involved in the revival of partner dancing that took place during the 1980s and 1990s. Dance Manhattan was really more than a business, it was a sort of home for lots of people. A place where they had lots of happy and memorable moments in their life take place.

    Making things worse, Dance Manhattan did not close because business was sturggling. It was well-patronized every month. Dance Manhattan closed because of the logic of the market. It was time to renew the lease but it happened that Google really wanted Dance Manhattan’s space for its New York offices. Naturally, Google got what it wanted because they could offer the landlord much more in rent. Dance Manhattan’s owners tried to look for a new place but could not. The geographic realities of NYC dictates that dance studios have to be in Manhattan because that way people from the five boroughs, Long Island, NJ, and Westchester can easily get to the studio. Unable to find a place with enough space at an affordable rent, Dance Manhattan had to close.

    This struck Dance Manhattan’s clients as unfair. They were losing something that they really loved and patronized through no fault of their own. It was almost like losing not only their home but their hometown. This is what drives nostalgia for businesses, the sense of loss of place that provided you some of your happiest moments and your community.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      “What was once good is now gone.” That’s the essence of nostalgia, right there.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      I get that and get it for places like the Roseland Ballroom, Dance Manhattan, various theatres and performing spaces, book stores, etc.

      But as you noted before, I don’t get it to the extent of Jeremiah wanting everything to be frozen in Amber and there are lots of times people wale for businesses when they weren’t even part of the community.

      This was very well-written though.Report

  7. Avatar j r says:

    There is something inherently reactionary to me about Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York. It seems to be saying that everything should be trapped in amber and nothing should change.

    There are two things that I want to say and they are a bit contradictory.

    The first is that not every human emotion maps to a political disposition. And even more importantly, trying to access people’s emotional reactions through political ideology is often a hamfisted endeavor.

    The second is that, yes, there is a bit of reaction going on, but it’s best to think about this in two ways. The blog is sub-titled: A.K.A. THE BOOK OF LAMENTATIONS: A BITTERLY NOSTALGIC LOOK AT A CITY IN THE PROCESS OF GOING EXTINCT. There are two questions to ask. One is: why be nostalgic? And the other is: why does the nostalgia lead to bitterness? If you are going to really think about this issue, it’s best to consider those questions separately.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      I agree with you on both points and recognized the allusion (barely concealed) to Jeremiah.

      Right after 9/11, Colson Whitehead had an essay in the New York Times about how NYC (or possibly any city) is trapped in amber from the moment you first move there as a young adult (I wonder what it is like for people who grow up in the city. My dad did and he can still tell you what businesses were in what locations in the 1950s and 60s.)

      I get this. NYC and Brooklyn in my mind will always be how they looked from 2005-2008 during my grad school years. I’ve been back and the changes can be staggering for me sometimes (especially in Lee’s neighborhood which got super-developed) but I don’t exactly mourn anything. At least not yet. I do get fiercerly homesick.

      My own San Francisco neighborhood has changed a lot since I moved here in 2008 but large parts are still the same.

      Kazzy and Lee are right. We seem hardwired for nostalgia and it probably produces bitterness because we don’t want it to be nostalgic, we want it to be actual. Trapped in amber.Report

  8. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Reading Vanishing New York a bit more, it strikes me that the people prone to eulogize a store selling leotards are likely to be the same people in favor of rent control and NIMBYism. Jeremiah Moss has a particular vision of New York in mind as the real New York City. Its the mid-20th century New York, when the city was grubby, rents low, and the city was filled with old timers and people hustling to get by. Its the New York equivalent of the San Franciscans that want the San Francisco of the hippies, bohemians, misfits, and working class veterans to live on forever.

    Some of the institutions that Jeremiah Moss mourns and eulogizes really deserve it. They are places with histories because they lasted a long time. Other places mentioned do not have a history worth mourning over.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      They are places with histories because they lasted a long time. Other places mentioned do not have a history worth mourning over.

      I agree with the other stuff in your comment, but this is where I dissent. The whole idea of whether something is worth mourning over is a personal matter. There is no objective principle that says we ought to mourn X and not mourn Y. Nostalgia is personal.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        I dunno man, I told y’all that recently I tangled elsewhere with some yoots that were waxing rhapsodic about crime-ridden, filthy, Taxi-Driver-era NYC, which was, objectively speaking, a complete and total hellhole. 😉

        (To be fair, they were too young [technically, I am too] to even really be truly nostalgic, having only experienced that milieu secondhand via media; plus, obviously some great art came out of that era/location. But still.)Report

      • Avatar kenB says:

        The whole idea of whether something is worth mourning over is a personal matter.

        Yes, it’s a personal matter, but I think the question is the extent to which the rest of us are entitled to judge someone based on the target of their nostalgia. E.g. someone expressing nostalgia for the pre-Civil Rights south might not get the shoulder-shrugging “different strokes” sort of reaction from us that Jeremiah is.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        I’m personally not opposed to the idea of historical preservation or nostalgia. Some things do deserve to be saved from the realities of the market if possible. However, we can’t save everything. In order to determine what gets preserved and what does not, there needs to be some objective qualities rather than purely subjective ones.

        I also think that Jeremiah’s argument would be a lot stronger if he was a bit more selective in what he eulogized rather than mourning for ever corner store. His best posts are on the stores and restaurants that were open for decades or even a century or more. These are places that resonate with historical value and actual nostalgia. The little small stores that opened for slightly more or less than a generation during New York’s girtty decades do hold subjective nostalgia but not enough to use preservation to fight off market forces.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        Like I said in the above comment, it’s best to break this into two parts. There’s the initial feeling of nostalgia and mourning. And then there’s the bitterness that follows it. Engaging with the bitterness and forcing people to make a cogent argument as to why anyone else should care about one person’s nostalgia is a useful exercise. Critiquing people’s nostalgic feelings, not so much.

        The latter becomes something akin to arguing over which ice cream flavor is best.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Say what you will about the Death Wish era of New York City, Death Wish was a pretty awesome movie.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Nothing’s worth mourning over. Sorry.
        I will feel free to make fun of humans being illogical creatures displacing their fear of death onto inanimate objects.

        Because It’s Funny!Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        “someone expressing nostalgia for the pre-Civil Rights south might not get the shoulder-shrugging “different strokes” sort of reaction from us that Jeremiah is.”

        Any nostalgia is going to have to deal with reprehensible attitudes, though, because people of The Past were just so much dumber and meaner than we were.

        I mean, anyone expressing nostalgia for the 1990s is going to have to explain why they’re so in love with the era that gave us Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and still used same-sex marriage as the punchline to jokes.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        you know, you just can’t tell a good closet joke anymore…
        People get MAD.Report

      • Avatar rexknobus says:

        @jim-heffman I have gigantic nostalgia for the early 70s.

        Just got out of the service in Dec ’70 (alive and whole, yay!) BUT — Nixon! Vietnam! Gas Crisis! Inflation! Bummer!

        Nah, that’s not the nostalgia. The nostalgia is — I love Tiny Belle! First real kiss! 8,000 mile road trip in a red VW bug! College!

        How can I explain my love for that poor, benighted era? Easy. By any absolute standard, my life is much, much better today than it ever has been. But, man, that red bug, my blue bandanna, the lady in the passenger seat. Being 21 and having a ball. Cool. Total nostalgia.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        I do see people expressing nostalgia for JNCO jeans and Buzzfeed is filled with listicles of people remembering their 90s childhoods fondly. There are probably some Generation Xers out there who remember their college and early post college years fondly and the early days of summer music festivals like Lollapalooza


        I think there is a difference between your nostalgia and all the old Times Square stuff. New York Magazines likes to ask celebs “Old Times Square or New Times Square” and the answer is always old because of the “character” even if it was mainly filled with pimps, porno stores, strip clubs, and drugged-out prostitutes. My thought on this question is “Why does it have to be either/or. Can’t it be neither?”Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        isn’t it obvious? Because they aren’t interviewing architects, or designers, or urban planners — all of whom would simply start doodling something awesome simply because “Ideas Occur to these Folks”.

        Now, if not old times square and new times square, answer your own question. What do you want? Bonus points if you include the phrase “suck my balls” [this is a reference, no points actually awarded.]Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        I’m not a fan of the new Times Square but is vastly more preferable than the old Times Square if only for the fact that it is safer.Report

      • Avatar rexknobus says:


        I actually don’t get your specific reference re: “suck my balls.” but if I knew where you lived, I would come get you, drag you over here, and make you clean the milk off of my screen.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        okay, already, I’ll write a review of Ugly Americans…Report

      • Avatar rexknobus says:

        @kim O.k. Google completed. Youtube watched. More milk wasted. Thanks proffered.

        Manbird out.

        (Seriously. Ill-informed intonations get me into such trouble sometimes!)Report

    • Avatar rexknobus says:

      “worth mourning over”

      A significant amount of nostalgia is for the stuff we had/knew as children or young adults. To some extent we are missing being 18 (or 21 or whatever) more than we are actually missing the great omelette itself. A person worth millions can easily look back to the struggles in their youth with great pleasure, and even tout the struggles as wonderful, but I feel that what they’re really missing is being young, the choices yet unmade, the future still ahead, the experiences fresh and new. We all have that to “mourn over,” whether we do much of it or not.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        This I get. I do have fond memories of going around NYC and looking at apartments by myself during the summer of 2006.Report

  9. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Ray Davies built a fairly successful career largely on nostalgia.


    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Good stuff. They don’t make nostalgia like that anymore.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be?Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Kids these days, they just can’t do nostalgia the way it’s supposed to be done, the way that we did it in our day! Boy did we know how to nostalge, let me tell ya.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        “You kids today with your noise music. You should be listening to Skrillex like we did back in my day. He knew how to drop bass!”

        “Oh, grandpa! You and your stories about downloading itunes.”Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        In 2015 you can get nostalgia in any corner drugstore but in 1985 it was a little hard to come by.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        In my day, we got nostalgia the way it was meant to be gotten – by listening to old people tell us how things used to be so much better – not from some Buzzfeed listicle.

        And we liked it!Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        “When I was a kid we got uphill nostalgia comin and goin. Why, sometimes my whole family would be packed into one tiny nostalge. Seven of us, in a single anecdote! When times were hard my pa would nostalge under an overpass. Thin, gruely nostalgia was often the only thing we had to keep us warm at night or our bellies full.”Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      I love that song.Report

      • Avatar rexknobus says:

        The opening stanza of “Come Dancing” is a miniature marvel of story-telling technique. It easily ranks up there with the romantic opening lines of Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” and Carole King’s psyche-60s opener to “Wasn’t Born to Follow.” Gotta admire word-smithery like that.

        Though he did fine, over all, Ray Davies may be the undersung talent of the British Invasion.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Long ago life was clean
        Sex was bad and obscene
        And the rich were so mean
        Stately homes for the Lords
        Croquet lawns, village greens
        Victoria was my queen

        Try saying more than that in fewer than thirty words, even without making twelve perfect anapests.Report

  10. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I have this theory that I can’t quite articulate yet, but it’s been rolling around in my head that a whole lot of young people are turning towards a sort of cultural traditionalism now as a reaction to neoliberalism and consumer capitalism but we just don’t see it because they’re socially liberal. It seems like, if you’re going to oppose things like creative destruction, maybe you would be trying to preserve everything worth keeping about the past. But I see a LOT of young liberals finding their own way to stand athwart history and yell “Back up!”Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Two questions rolling around in my head:

      1) Was a mild optimistic futurism replaced by rose-tinted nostalgia by the young at any other points in history? When? (Was it, like, right before a bad war or a big depression?)

      2) How often has a mild optimistic futurism really held sway in various cultures in history? Did Roman children daydream about living under an Caesar two Caesars hence? Did Chinese Children daydream about living under the grandchildren of the current emperor? Are we living in a blip right before we regress to the mean?Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Sure! I remember in the shittiest part of the 70s there being a ton of nostalgia for both the 50s and the 20s for some reason. Also, I don’t know if you can draw the comparison to today, but the epic mode in literature tends to be nostalgic. There were a ton that were written to remind a people of how good they used to be before they were born.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        American Graffiti, Happy Days, Grease… I remember those. I suppose I had them categorized as nostalgia for grownups, though. (Old people remembering back when they were cool, if you will.)

        I was hanging out with the kids who daydreamed about sci-fi rather than the greasers, though.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      To roll off of what you both said, the Nostalgia industry has a long and distinguished tradition in American culture for over 40 years now.

      And then you have regions of the country where famously “the Past isn’t dead. It isn’t even the Past”. Which is somewhat unfair to other regions to the country where that is also true, but didn’t have a fertile literary mind to articulate it.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Yeah, Happy Days came to mind too. American Graffiti, Grease- all that stuff was big in the worst part of the 70s.

        What I’m fascinated with is creative anachronism- people trying to live in the past. I went over to a young woman’s apartment the other night and she’s very cool, smart, “progressive” all that and her apartment is done entirely in the style of the 30s or 40s. Everything is antique, old radio, no television, etc. I’d think it was a quirk if it wasn’t for meeting a bunch of hip young people who live like my grandparents in one way or another.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. says:

        Haha! Must be generational! Or collective unconscious.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        A bit part of American Graffiti is the War in VN just about to drop into every ones lives and consciousness. So that sort of nostalgia seems to make some sense; remember that great time before this horrid, bitter war was a part of our lives. It was less about how great the early 60’s were then, remember that time before we saw pix of napalmed kids. Happy Days was full 50’s nostalgia of the Epcot Center variety.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        I’m going to hypothesize that we didn’t see significant widespread cultural change within a given generation’s lifetime before industrialization – unless that generation was overrun by another culture’s army. So the concept of ‘nostalgia’ in the sense of copying the culture and living patterns of one’s grandparents was a moot point – it’s what everyone did. (again, as long as they didn’t get enslaved/assimilated in the interim).

        Then for most the history of Industrialism (in the Western world), hipsters were almost invariably forward looking (e.g. Voltaire, Jefferson, Marx). Well, except for architecture, where half the styles had the word ‘revival’ in the name, and even those that didn’t often played around with being castles of some sort.

        Then the carnage of World War 1 caused a sea change in the notion of Future Triumphant for both cultural leaders and the general populace. In that it created mainstream skepticism of it for the first time in history of Industrialization. (mainstream, as there were always Luddites who can be explained in pure vulgate Marxist terms). And that tension between optimism and skepticism ebbed and flowed in the Western world for the next 100 years.

        If the millennials are saying “the previous generations stole our future!”, well, Gen X has been there, done that, bought the plaid shirt. And Hemingway did it before anyone in Gen X was born.Report