We went to a New Year’s party last night. I know it’s a night early but who’s counting?
I came from work and met Claire on Sixth Ave near Waverly. And, waiting for her (because the F train was actually quick and to the point for once), I wandered down the block past a magazine stand I swear I remember in that location since the 70’s or even late 60’s (the awning over the place tends to support that memory).
This is a famous Berenice Abbott photo of a newsstand from the Depression, when a third of the country was out of work and even those earning some kind of living had very little money for frivolous reading. The magazine stand I remember wasn’t quite as thickly populated as this one but I still remember hundreds of publications on display, such dense variety you couldn’t see the entire cover of more than a handful.
Them days are gone, as they say…
Here’s what I saw last night. About ten newspapers, some of them mere classified ad sheets, some Chinese and Russian language, a few rows filled with candy and some soft drink displays–and no magazines. Zero. All those banal and beautiful thoughts and passionate causes and idiotic space filling, gone.
I know we read differently now. Most everything is free (for the moment) and online and instantly searchable and that definitely has its advantages. But I felt very aware, all of a sudden, of how different the experience was of buying magazines at the stand, making a public decision like declaring an allegiance in a public square. And it feels like a connection to the way people got through the Depression with a sense of solidarity that we certainly haven’t been able to muster in a financial crisis that is tiny by comparison.
They made those declarations every day at the newsstand, going to see a movie with friends at the theater, listening to radio shows on the three available networks and discussing them the next day at work. Did that contribute to a level of solidarity and understanding? Certainly the music and film of the day had a sense that we were all in this together, as opposed to the solitary-loner, beat-the-other-guy-to-the-punch nonsense paraded these days by Trump, Cadillac ads and every politician but Bernie Sanders, that wonderful relic.
We don’t really believe in progress anymore and we have plenty of reasons not to. But even where we seem to be moving forward, it seems important to take a few minutes here and there to consider what’s being lost…or what we never had.