Are New Yorkers Still Insane?
Jonathan Ames is a writer, boxer, storyteller and, most recently, the creator of the HBO series, "Bored to Death." His books include "The Extra Man" and "Wake Up Sir" and the collection of essays, "The Double Life is Twice as Good." Ames is a frequent performer at the storytelling group, The Moth and has appeared in boxing tournaments as "The Herring Wonder." A graduate of Princeton and Columbia Universities, he lives in Brooklyn.
Question: Is New York becoming more tame?
Jonathan Ames: I don’t think New York has become less wild because people are still insane and they’re still living here. There’s not necessarily a whole neighborhood that’s completely mad the way Times Square is. But if one’s definition of wild is peep shows, you have peep shows kind of off on the edges of Brooklyn, off the BQE, or I mean, Manhattan itself definitely was a lot more wild when I was a kid coming into the city and through the early 90’s. It used to be scary to cross Avenue B. You really thought you might be mugged at any time, and Avenue C was like, “Oh my god.” Now Avenue C, you know, restaurants everywhere. Also, there were so many neighborhoods were there were many street walkers. Like in the ‘20’s around Park Avenue that you used to see prostitutes. Or down off of 9th Avenue, or obviously near the Lincoln Tunnel. And I don’t think you see any of that any more. Or the meat packing district used to be filled with transsexual prostitutes, and now its fancy restaurants and shops. So, Manhattan itself is definitely much more upscale. But behind closed doors there’s still plenty bad behavior going on.
Question: Why does your new show skip Williamsburg?
Jonathan Ames: I have nothing against Williamsburg. We didn’t film there this past season. I think Williamsburg is a neighborhood that I remember hanging out there a bit when I was living in Brooklyn in ’95, sort of right before it kind of exploded. I would sometimes take the L-Train to the Bedford stop, and I was living over on the border of Bed Stuy and Clinton Hill, right by the Navy Yard. And I had a car, a beat up car, and I would sometime drive over to Williamsburg, park my car and take the L-Train when I had to go into Manhattan. So, I liked the neighborhood. I mean, I haven’t been as drawn to it the last few years it got built up so much that it wasn’t the neighborhood that I was too curious about. I guess I wanted to show more obscure parts of Brooklyn, at least in this first season. But I’m aware that we haven’t gone there at all, and it is very lively and people outside New York might not know it, so I was thinking of trying to set at least one scene there in our second season.
Question: What are your thoughts on Green Point?
Jonathan Ames: Yeah, I liked Green Point. Like many neighborhoods in the early stages of gentrification, you’re kind of walking along, its barren or abandoned buildings, or just kind of charming, old, working-class neighborhoods. And then, being very bourgeois, “Oh look, and organic restaurant.” It’s charming and wooden, and attractive, young, hip people are sitting there. I want to sit there. So, Green Point is interesting.
I also like the neighborhoods that aren’t being gentrified and they are purely beautiful, whether they’re beautiful-ugly, or just beautiful-beautiful. I’m mostly drawn to neighborhoods on the water. That’s why we filmed on Brighton Beach, even the Guanos Canal that little bit of water or going down in the Dumbo area, near the water. I love how New York is very much a city of rivers and the ocean.
Recorded on: November 4, 2009
Of course they are. And, as Jonathan Ames explains, they’re also still finding the time to visit peep shows.
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