This weekend (besides catching William Gibson speak about Zero History) I’m going to pick up Low Life : Lures and Snares by Luc Sante. It’s a cultural history told in four different directions about Manhattan’s underclass circa 1840-1919. This is the gritty, old historic lure of the Bowery and Lower East Side.  I stumbled across a Believer Magazine Interview (2004) which lends some interesting insights into Sante’s feeling about contemporary-day New York and notably given pre-911.

BLVR: How can New York regain its personality? Or are we getting the city we deserve right now?

LS: The city we have now is the one we deserve, the coagulation of money. I’m very pissed off because I love cities and yearn for them, and I can’t live in them now—and not just because I can’t afford to. My ideal city is more like the city (New York and Paris come to mind, but it sort of applies to all) that existed up to and including the 1930s, when different classes lived all together in the same neighborhoods, and most businesses of any sort were mom-and-pop, and people and things had a local identity. The sort of city where—I’ve just been reading Richard Cobb on 1930s Paris—a burglar, a banker, a taxi-driver, an academician, a modiste, and a pushcart vendor might all fetch up together in a corner banquette at the end of the night. That won’t happen again unless we have some major, catastrophic shakeup, like war (at home) or depression, and do we want either of those?

BLVR: What’s the best street con you’ve ever fallen for?

LS: I’ve never actually been taken, except voluntarily. Besides giving money to people with really wild stories, I also once coughed up at least $15 or $20 to a couple of old-timers who were running a bona fide banco set-up. It was around 1988 or ‘89, when I was working on Low Life. I was breezing through SoHo, which at the time was filled with vast empty storefronts that had lately lost their art galleries and while awaiting the arrival of the corporate vermin had been fitted out as multivendor bazaars in which people sold T-shirts, junk jewelry, and personalized coffee mugs. To my astonishment, there in one of those souks were these two rascals—seventy-five if they were a day—running an operation of a sort that had last been seen in the neighborhood in the 1920s. It was like going fishing and catching a coelacanth, if you had just that day read the Britannica entry on it…

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