My plan here is to write about how New York City disappears out from under your feet.
So I wanted to include a picture of Apocalypse Lounge, a bar in Alphabet City I began to frequent right after college. It's long since closed now, probably in 2006 or 2007, though I can't even remember exactly when.
A nice, clear picture of the front window, just to give you a sense of the place. That's all I wanted.
Google Images let me down. I couldn't find anything other than tight shots of musicians screaming into microphones or mashing guitars. I tracked down some people who used to hang out there, but they didn't have anything handy. Our time at Apocalypse was before the era of the selfie.
Given the topic, I shouldn't be surprised, but still, it's depressing. Here's another victim of New York City's vicious real estate market, and there's not even anything left to memorialize it.
There were a lot of things that made Apocalypse special. It was a dive. Not dive-chic, but a real dive. The sign hung over the door like the blade of a guillotine. It was uncomplicated, serving only beer and wine, no hard liquor or food. The chairs wobbled and most of them didn't match.
Newcomers would walk in and then right back out, faces twisted in fear like they might catch something. The haphazard aesthetic was a stark rejection of shiny-pretty-trendy Manhattan hot spots.
Ten years ago — this month, I think — it was where I hosted my first reading and awkwardly whispered my way through "Diffusion," the first short story I ever wrote, before a crowd of seven or eight friends.
One New Year's Eve, the place was packed out the door, and the television didn't work, and there wasn't a radio, and this was before the ubiquity of smartphones. Revelers were led in three separate countdowns to the ball drop, and I'm sure none of them were accurate.
Then there was the secret room in the basement, behind the bookshelf in the bathroom, but that's the opening of a different story, full of things I should not admit to in public.
But the thing that made Apocalypse really special was that, even though our names weren't on the lease and we had no stake in the business, it felt like it belonged to us.
It was that place where I could walk in and find somebody I knew. Think of the bar in Cheers. Now think of that bar's financially challenged art-student brother. The one the rest of the family doesn't like to acknowledge. That was Apocalypse, and it felt like home.
Now, it's gone. In its place, at 189 East 3rd Street, is a Moroccan restaurant where you can get a pan-seared red snapper with ginger saffron broth for $21. I was going to include a picture of that restaurant, too, but truthfully, I don't have the heart to go down there and take one.
Growing up in New York City, you live in the middle of being on borrowed time. Everything feels like that. This city will be around forever; everything inside it is temporary.
When you find a place where you feel like you belong, you hold on to it with a level of desperation that breeds contempt. Because when it's gone, all that's left is hatred and frustration at whatever took its place.
There are so many fresh wounds on the local psyche. CBGB, the famed punk venue, shut down in 2006 and became a boutique. Astroland in Coney Island was closed in 2008 to make way for shinier rides owned by an international amusement company.
Mars Bar, a storied dive in the East Village that served as a historical snapshot of the Bad Old Days, was closed in 2011. Sitting on its grave is a fancy apartment building with a bank on the ground floor. 5 Pointz, a public mural space for legal graffiti artwork, was torn down in 2014 for condominiums.
But that's the plight of living here. We are constantly losing the things that we know in favor of whatever can afford to take their place. Unfortunately, the things that can afford to take those places are usually banks or chain coffee stores or boxy gray apartment buildings, free of any sense of style or soul.
The thing is, this city treating you badly is a right of passage. Or, as Colson Whitehead put it in his short story collection, The Colossus of New York:
No matter how long you have been here, you are a New Yorker the first time you say, "That used to be Munsey's," or "That used to be the Tic Toc Lounge"... when what was there before is more real and solid than what is here now.
There's this term that I fell in love with, years ago — New Yorked, used as a verb. A friend used it to describe the snow. Beautiful as it's falling. A little while later, transformed to gray slush by trash and car exhaust and foot traffic.
The snow has been New Yorked.
Those cheap bodega umbrellas, snapped by a slight wind five minutes after you buy them? New Yorked.
CBGB, Mars Bar, Astroland, 5 Pointz, Apocalypse: New Yorked.
That's the nature of this place. Accepting that, no matter how much it frustrates you, is the line between surviving it and giving up on it. Because this kind of thing has been going on forever.
The original Penn Station was an architectural marvel, demolished in 1963 and replaced with the hideous, depressing cavern that today saps the life and energy from all who pass through it. That loss was such an embarrassment the city had to establish the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Back even further, in E. B. White's 1949 love letter to the city, Here Is New York, he notes in the introduction that the text is already dated; The Lafayette Hotel, mentioned briefly in the book, was gone. But he declined to make an amendment to the text. He continued:
To bring New York down to date, a man would have to be published with the speed of light — and not even Harper is that quick. I feel that it is the reader's, not the author's, duty to bring New York down to date; and I trust it will prove less a duty than a pleasure.
Change is codified into this city's DNA. Only the strong survive, and part of being strong means not falling victim to sentiment for places that didn't make it through the battle with you.
Eventually, you have to accept the loss and move on to a new bar. Don't let yourself get New Yorked.
Still, it'd be nice if there were pictures.