Nostalgia must be guarded against — it’s debilitating. People become nostalgic when they feel they’ve lost control of their lives. When they see no way forward, they look backward. Nostalgia is fear of the future, a symptom of resignation.

It’s sad to think that there are people who long for the degradation that existed in the “East Village” in the 1970s/80s. These are primarily (exclusively?) people who moved in when the neighborhood had been all but abandoned. Today, those left pine for the time when few people would venture into the area. They don’t take into consideration that regular, working people left due to the degree of decay that they cherish so much. “Slumming” is not something people born into slums find attractive.

When I was growing up, it was the beginning of the period of crisis that led to the current neo-liberal era. Nostalgia then was for the 1950s: American Graffiti was the rage. I remember my high-school English teacher asking our class why we were so enamored of the 50s. The 50s weren’t so great, he said. It was the time of McCarthy. Of course, it wasn’t our nostalgia; we were just high-school kids. It was the nostalgia of his generation. But it was the time of crisis, and to take people’s minds off of it, an idealized vision of the past was offered up as a distraction. Today, oddly enough, that idealized vision is of the crisis period itself! I guess it shows that the time is less important than the superimposing of childhood memories onto that time.

I had the idea to write this recently while walking with my son, approaching Whole Foods on Houston Street. It occurred to me that this will be his recollection of Houston and Second Avenue, while others go to their graves lamenting the demise of the Mars Bar. Your starting point is where you are today, and your goal is the future, not the idealized past.

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