Dark, cold, and misty in January of this year, 1981. Bloomingdale’s did better than expected in the Christmas sales and heaven knows it was filled with a mystical spirit for the whole month of December and Fifth Avenue shone with a great light and all was well with the buying and selling of clothes. The army of clothes paraded in the streets and there was impressive national power in the boots, especially that pair of tan leather trimmed in lizard and costing $600. What luck to find them caressing a shinbone since they were certain to cost more next year.
Splendid sportif raccoon coats pacing the avenues, sniffing, fearless night beauties, with small, happy faces peering out of the ruff at the neck, faces with dabs of purplish red on the cheekbones. On the streets you understand that the greatness of winter is to wear woolen shawls, big as a shepherd’s cloak, little knit caps, fur-lined gloves, plaid skirts with two dozen pleats, suede pants, and leather vest—and in the evening, velvet.
But the brilliance of this warm display is suddenly snubbed by the impatient appearance of resort clothes, light little things slipped into the windows in the stealth of night, ready for the 2nd of January as if a hot wind had blown them up from the storage basement. Bathing suits and shorts, cotton dresses with spaghetti straps; sunburns and surfboards, tennis rackets and green turf for golf, black waiters and seafood. On Madison Avenue, roses and bougainvillea and the lowly hibiscus; blue swimming pools, strawberries and cream. Overnight, what sun-splattered health in the January slush.
So much for the landscape and the defiant calendar of merchandise. A step on the way to the New York Public Library, the castle of stone and Vermont marble backed by its stone-bench park of infamous assignations. No reason to doubt the Library, “Modern Renaissance more or less in the style of Louis XVI,” has survived the night and its treasures, its flakey books, parcels of such peculiarity, will move back and forth from stack to hand like the tide going in and out.
Forty-second Street does not appear this morning to have enjoyed a particularly good Christmas season. Instead it has the thick and thuggish air of having endured the predicted slump of the times. And it is not on its way to the Caribbean. No need for that since there is something hot and tropical about shoddy, dusty, fatigued little business places in which the winter air seems rich with summer flies.
They say Forty-second Street will be reclaimed and that means many familiar, unpromising things will be deflected. Not unlike the way the state highway department decides upon a new road, makes its plans, and the plans cut through the middle of an old widow’s house, tottering there in her own yard, with the rotting barn, its roof beautifully smashed in like a felt hat, and the cracked oval windows of the hayloft. All of it …