I now find myself spending more and more time closing my eyes in an effort to remember things the way they used to be.
Last weekend, I drove through my hometown of Mount Vernon, New York on my way to going to dinner with a good friend, who might be one of the only White men still living there. I wish I could have closed my eyes as I motored through town, but, indeed, that indeed would have constituted a moving violation in the eyes of the DMV.
From what I could see, it is now official. Mount Vernon, as an inhabitable city, is now dead.
The pillaging, of course, began years ago when the mob ran the city and there were more garbage disposal companies than there were schools. Even when I was a kid, there was a racial divide in the city that rivaled the North and South of the Civil War. The New Haven Railroad tracks that ran through the city constructed what was indeed a boundary between the predominantly White north side and the predominantly Black south side. And, while both sides mixed in the shopping areas or the schools, there was never a comfortable feeling doing so. And it always seemed like City Hall (shown above) worked overtime to keep it so.
While my family lived on the south side (very much near Denzel Washington), we were always closer to the Bronx than to the core of Mount Vernon. If this was my family's upgrade to the affluent suburbs, it sure didn't last long. As a kid, I spent most of my time in a school that was 60% Black. I knew the words to Motown songs ahead of the Beatles. And, certainly, high school, with a even wider racial divide, was no bargain. I literally held my bladder for three years because a white kid didn't dare use a bathroom for fear of getting your bookbag stolen or worse.
But, still, there were good times in Mount Vernon. I thought of those days as I drove last Saturday through Gramatan Avenue which is now littered with junk stores and a myriad of Caribbean restaurants. Berlin in 1946 had more charm. There is a burned out stench that permeates every inch of what used to be very special. The memories flowed back at every traffic light I stopped at.
The RKO Proctor's theater where my mom took me for a double feature every Friday after school.
The opulent Loew's movie palace which was the first victim of civic decay. It was destroyed for a parking garage that only rodents drive into.
Artuso's Italian Pastry shop which you could smell for blocks.
The Bee Hive coffee shop where my mom always took me before the Friday double feature. Always a BLT and a malted for me.
Ackerman's Pharmacy where I always had to pick up my grandmother's White Cloverine salve, which they had to special order for her. She used this goop as a cure-all for everything!
The record store where I bought my "Bye Bye Birdie" soundtrack album. The one that had Ann-Margret wearing nothing but a red sweater on the cover.
Bromley's Fashions. A dress shop that had my mother on the earliest version of speed dial. I hated going there with her because she tried on EVERYTHING.
Shipman's Toy Store. They always stocked the latest edition of Colorforms.
Genung's. A small town department store. Yes, my mom had an account there as well. But, they had kids' clothing, too, so a weekly visit there wasn't as torturous as Bromley's.
Kaplan's. An old-fashioned butcher shop.
Green's. A five and ten where you could shop and eat at the same time. I got my talking Herman Munster action figure there. Okay, it was really a doll, not an action figure.
Albert's Hosiery. Stockings, stockings, and more stockings. Not only did my mother lose herself in there as well, but I always felt a little sleazy being there. Years later, the same feeling would come back when a girlfriend once dragged me into Victoria's Secret.
Intown Newspapers. A massive store that had any comic book I wanted. And I wanted them all. From Archie to Superman.
It's all gone now. Replaced by storefronts that cater to no one. I guess some of the downfall is economic in nature. The city pretty much has a low income look and feel. The high school is now pretty much an armed camp that makes Sing Sing look like Club Med. Anyone who wants to give their child a good education certainly overshoots Mount Vernon for places like Eastchester and Pelham. Mount Vernon itself remains as a carcass that has been picked so clean that the vulture have even moved on.
The racial divide is at least gone. Indeed, even the African-Americans have largely moved out, only to be replaced by Haitians, West Indians, or anybody that has slipped through our swiss cheese borders over the past twenty years. And, in the irony of all ironies, the final civic acts of rape and molestation have been conducted not by the "evil" White politicos, but by a consortium of Black crooks who shuffled their way into City Hall via some rigged politcal party mechanism. The result has been Webster's official illustration for the definition of "Black on Black crime." The first executioner was Mayor Blackwood, and there is no pun intended. Blackwood was this reverse racist, who curried the favors of African-American businessmen, while running the longtime storeowners out into the night. Without term limits, this jerk was in office longer than a Pope.
The final fatal injection was administered by the current Mayor, some faux preacher named Ernie Davis, who has as much business running a city as Kermit the Frog. Davis has also held onto this job for a decade or more, despite the fact that the city's heart is at its faintest. Finally, he may get kicked out of office for...surprise, surprise, some inappropriate and slightly illegal business contracts. Now, he'll be dispatched to whatever alley he crawled out and reduced to selling Bibles door-to-door. I'm sure this will prompt talk of the revitalization of this once great city. But, it will be like spraying Bactine on a malignant tumor. Mount Vernon is dead. Despite what my grandmother would say, even White Clovering Salve couldn't fix this.
But, as long as I can close my eyes, Mount Vernon lives for one more day.
Dinner last night: The salad bar again from Gelson's.