Bright Lights, Big City

Written by admin on . Posted in On Topic OTDT, Opinion and Column.

“There’s no life above 14th Street,” a former colleague was known to say. She is not the only lower Manhattanite I’ve heard utter those words. Perhaps they think it has a certain cool downtown cachet, but all I ever think is, How limiting.
This also applies to those who don’t leave the Upper East Side or venture past the five-block radius of their Midtown office building when meeting friends after work for dinner. I know an Upper West Sider who shuttles between home and job on the B-line. If a movie theater, store or restaurant doesn’t coincide with a stop along the way, it’ll never receive her patronage.
After leaving the Bronx, I lived in Midtown’s Tudor City, the West Village off 10th Street, the Upper West Side on Broadway and have had three different addresses on the Upper East Side. I know from whence I speak that there is life all over our borough.
So why deprive yourself? Laziness might factor in. “I have to go all the way across the park?” as though the trip requires three-day’s provisions. Manhattan isn’t really that big; you could walk just about anywhere if you had to. Maybe it’s that people think they’re being disloyal to the ’hood if they go out to eat in Chelsea or shopping in the Meat Packing District. The reality is that if you only stay in one area, the most exciting city in the world can seem like quite a bore.
Perhaps people would stop being so territorial if they knew more about Manhattan as a whole. If you already believe you do, maybe it’s time for a refresher course. The Museum of the City of New York at Fifth Avenue and East 103rd Street can help with its cinematic offering Timescapes: A Multimedia Portrait of New York.
This 25-minute film, narrated by Stanley Tucci, traces the growth of New York City from a settlement of a few hundred Europeans, Africans and Native Americans to its present status as one of the world’s great metropolises. The filmmakers use animated maps and archival photographs, prints and paintings from the museum’s collections.
One viewing will have you reaching for the local listings in New York-
centric papers and magazines so you can go exploring.
If you’d rather have more of-the-moment suggestions, there’s a new website,, which offers free personal tips and personalized answers to questions about Manhattan. You can email or tweet the site’s proprietor and gal about town, Kathleen Reynolds, for where to go and what to do with regard to something in particular, as well as for ideas about what’s happening where. She will send you her selections in real time, via Twitter or email.
There’s also the “enjoy the journey” way to get to know New York City. For some (almost) no money fun, you could just take a bus ride. Way back when I first started to call Manhattan my home, I used to refer to them as my “Bus Rides to Nowhere.” It’s how I discovered Soho, as well as Broadway above West 86th Street and, more recently, Harlem, about which I devoted an entire column last April. You not only become acquainted with a new neighborhood, but all the locales in between your first stop and the last. When you get off the bus, all you have to do is walk around and get the feel of the place and the people—New Yorkers, just like you—who live there.
You might not want to move in, but you could discover there’s much more to life in New York City. 

Lorraine Duffy Merkl’s debut novel, Fat Chick, from The Vineyard Press, is available at and

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Written by None - Do not Delete on . Posted in Books, Posts.


YOU PICK UP a book. It’s about a snotty-ass preppy guy on a downward
spiral, which means he has to talk to people like you, people with shaved heads or frosted hair, because
they are all he can meet at 6 a.m., the tail-end of a night on cocaine, which he cleverly and repeatedly
refers to as “Bolivian Marching Powder.” Oh yeah, and his sentences are really long.

When Bright Lights, Big City came out 20 years ago, in 1984, it
was distinctive for being written entirely in the second person:

“You check the fridge; no beer. A finger of vodka in the bottle on the sink.
Maybe you will go out and get a six pack. Or wander over to the Lion’s Head… It’s not impossible
there to meet a woman avec hair, sans tattoo.”

The book struck a huge chord with readers, and McInerney was an overnight
celebrity. I read it quickly in the 80s, a time when there were a few other books out where the “downward
spiral” of the protagonists meant they met people like my friends and me. I called this trend the
“middle-class rationalization of self,” and at the end of the books, the lead character would come
to her senses and marry that guy, get a good magazine job and stay the heck out of nightclubs.

When I read one of McInerney’s other books, Ransom, I was struck
by his prowess; not bad, I thought. Bright Lights was not a fluke, or merely a book by a proficient
writer who stumbled on a gimmick and a previously unchronicled zeitgeist. When I reread the book,
I noticed a lot of zingers my younger self wasn’t bright enough to see the first time around. His descriptions
of everyday NYC life are both transcendent and horrific.

It’s also an addiction book that lets you feel the burn, written before
people confused recovery with entertainment. McInerney captures the numb greed of the compulsion
to shove crap up your nose 24/7 so well that it’s not really a funny book. There’s some good gags, but
it’s too visceral to be light. The narrator’s a mess, but not really sympathetic, which I like, being
a big fan of the antihero. There’s something balls-out about spewing judgments and invective every
other paragraph, in a time when we’ve all become mealy-mouthed, and persona is increasingly confused
with craft.

It’s also very much a book about class, and I’m glad to say that this does
seem dated. I remember the early 80s, when even my Dominican pimp hairdresser friend was aspiring
to a preppy look. In Bright Lights, the fact-checking boss has adopted a new persona since
attending Vassar, trying to fake a New England identity. The narrator’s wife comes from a piss-poor
background and adopts his own family in an attempt to catapult social classes. McInerney has a keen
eye for nuances in speech and manner—when his narrator’s striver of a wife, who’s dumped
him for a male escort, greets him with a “Ciao Bello,” it just about sums it up. He might be a mess, but
she’s just not the right sort.