Old Men Dying and the New New York

Ed Koch is dead. He died of congestive heart failure on Friday at the age of 88. I know this, but not personally. I read it in the New York Times, along with the story of the lifelong New Yorker’s life. I wasn’t even in New York, but the morning that Ed Koch was dead I knew it.

Tommy, the bartender, is dead too. He died a few weekends ago, from cancer. He was old, but not quite as old as Ed Koch. I know this because everyone in the bar is talking about it.

The bar is Jimmy’s Corner, which is where Jimmy and I sit at 4 p.m. on a Tuesday. Jimmy’s has been here in New York a long time, and still looks like what it is – an old, slummy vestige of old Times Square. Jimmy, accordingly, has also been in New York a long time and still looks like the heavyweight boxer he once was. Today, the emphasis is on the heavy, a defeated Jimmy looking more Liston than Ali. He sits on his barstool, slumped over the counter, its plastic coating protecting yellowed pictures of Jimmy with friends.

Tommy is in there, somewhere, no doubt, but I can’t find his face because I don’t know what he looks like. All I know of Tommy comes from those at Jimmy's: the regulars, Mike the bartender, and Jimmy. They say Tommy was a good man. He had been battling cancer for a long time. He served drinks at Jimmy’s and he drank drinks at Jimmy’s. Another old man, a regular, tells me that everyone loved Tommy, and when they’d walk in, they’d ask Mike the bartender “Where’s Tommy?” Mike the bartender grins, barely, his ashy mustache turning up a little at the ends.

Tommy is dead and Ed Koch is dead but Cat Marnell is alive. I know this because the internet says so. She is a beauty blogger, and another New Yorker who has lately walked the line between life and death. So far, she only falls off the trapeze when there’s a gaping net to catch her. It’s good she’s not dead, because she is young, my age, 30. If she died, we’d have to call it tragic.

People think Cat Marnell may die, and soon, because she quit her job. She quit by telling the New York Post, “Look, I couldn’t spend another summer meeting deadlines behind a computer at night when I could be on the rooftop of Le Bain looking for shooting stars and smoking angel dust with my friends.”

In order to understand this statement, you have to know that Cat Marnell is a writer whose drug and downtown habit forced her to work at night because she couldn’t get to work before early afternoon. You have to know that Le Bain is a fashionable club in New York with a debaucherous rooftop bar containing a hot tub. And you have to know that seeing shooting stars in New York, in Manhattan, ranges from somewhat improbable to downright laughable as an idea.

But that doesn’t mean Cat Marnell is laughable. On the contrary, she is just a new New York girl who wants to live in an old New York world. “I really resent sometimes living in this time period; there’s no decadence anymore,” she recently told the Guardian. This idea is so common among New Yorkers of a certain age that it's unintentionally cliche – it’s not even worth the words to describe what Williamsburg has become. New New Yorkers are mourning old New York, so they recreate it, even if they never knew it, especially if they never knew it.

And now, with Tommy being dead and Ed Koch being dead, without their holding down barstools and holding down the streets, it seems the cement that holds down New York could just as easily float away.