In November 2003, new editions of the bible, Luc Sante's "Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1991), included an afterword, which was also published in The New York Review of Books on Nov. 6, 2003. (I have an old copy of the book, and was unaware of the essay. By the way, the essay also appears in the booklet that accompanies the Stranger Than Paradise Criterion Collection.)
Here are a few of the many compelling passages from My Lost City:
I drifted down from the Upper West Side to the Lower East Side in 1978. Most of my friends made the transition around the same time. You could have an apartment all to yourself for less than $150 a month. In addition, the place was happening. It was happening, that is, in two or at most three dingy bars that doubled as clubs, a bookstore or record store or two, and a bunch of individual apartments and individual imaginations. All of us were in that stage of youth when your star may not yet have risen, but your moment is the only one on the clock. We had the temerity to laugh at the hippies, shamefully backdated by half a decade. In our arrogance we were barely conscious of the much deeper past that lay all around. We didn't ask ourselves why the name carved above the door of the public library on Second Avenue was in German, or why busts of nineteenth-century composers could be seen on a second-story lintel on Fourth Street. Our neighborhood was so chockablock with ruins we didn't question the existence of vast bulks of shuttered theaters, or wonder when they had been new. Our apartments were furnished exclusively through scavenging, but we didn't find it notable that nearly all our living rooms featured sewing-machine tables with cast-iron bases.
[For more amazing photos by Marlis Momber like the one above, please visit her Web site.]