Living close to New York it was not unusual to hear the typical New York conversation. This conversation, or one like it, took place in and about every major urban center in the United States. It dealt with change. And it dealt with change that wasn’t so good.
The great urban myth is that before World War II American cities were like small towns. You didn’t have to lock your doors. If you did anything wrong the people in the neighborhood would tell your parents and you would get whipped as soon as you got home. And you never would know who was the tattle tale.
Everybody took care of everybody. The Irish took care of the Irish. The Italians took care of the Italians. And the kids behaved or they would get into trouble.
After World War 2, the GI bill came along and increasingly Caucasians moved into the suburbs. When the new suburbanites came into the city or talked with people who still lived in the city, the talk was always about changes. Or more specifically “how the city has changed”.
Throughout the 60’s one heard the classic New York conversation.
“Mary, been back to Morris Heights lately?
“Oh, it’s changed. You wouldn’t believe how it’s changed. I almost cried the last time I was there. I told my sister, get out of this neighborhood. It’s changed!”
“Boy how East Tremont has changed. I used to love to shop at Goldstein’s. Can you believe old man Goldstein was robbed at gunpoint? Now, thanks be to God, he lives in Florida.”
“Tony was well into his sixties. Every Wednesday he used to go to New York on the bus to see his old friends. I told him; don’t go to New York no more. It’s changed. One day he went to New York and he didn’t come back.’
“I decided to visit my friends in the old neighborhood. Boy did I get a surprise. My best girlfriend is in jail and the other girl I used to hang out with: She became a drug addict and they found her body in a garbage can. Boy, New York has changed!”
If there was any message I got as a young person it was be careful when I went to New York. Kids in the city carry knives. My father knew he could never keep me away from New York. But at least I could get the hell out of there after dark.