I’ve been living in NYC for well over a year now and I feel pretty at home in my ‘hood - which I’d consider to be the area below 14th Street and above Canal. Having lived in the East Village and now in SoHo, I have the East -> West covered. Once hailing from St. Marks on the verge of the area known as Alphabet City, I would skip through Tompkins Square Park to drink Mimosas at the great brunch spot of Sunburnt Cow on Avenue C.
Author Josh Karlen recently taught me that Avenue C hasn’t always been the eclectic, colorful place it is now in his memoir LOST LUSTRE: A New York Memoir. While I still wouldn’t hang out there alone after dark (I don’t necessarily suggest one do that anywhere, really), when he grew up on this street it was colorful due to the bruises and bleeding that would happen after his repeated beatings and muggins, and eclectic because you could buy any drug you wanted.
Karlen’s recent memoir tells of the NYC your parents used to warn you about: the grimy and dangerous, yet vibrantly alive city of the past.
Composed of separate essays, this book did have many repeating parts (I can’t tell you how many times growing up on Avenue C was referred to in varying degrees of detail) but for lack of a better term, it had a good heart. You cared about the author as a young boy coming of age in a dangerous time, and his talented and aspiring friends. In a vein similar to The Glass Castle, I was shaking my head at the actions (or lack thereof) of the adults in this book. He acknowledges the lack of authority and rules, but it’s mind bogling to think that parents were that unaware, uncaring and/or oblivious.
If you’re interested in social history through the years, music, or have a tie to the Village in Manhattan this memoir may be for you!
Josh Karlen, a native New Yorker, grew up on the Lower East Side and in Greenwich Village. A former journalist, he was a correspondent in the Baltics for United Press International, Radio Free Europe, and other news organizations.
Josh lives in New York City with his wife and two children and is a media relations specialist.