"You know what my biggest fear is?
My biggest fear is that I'll never really get to know my Father,
because if I don't, I can't tell my kids what he was like."
Me, four years ago,
in the middle of something stupid.
What feels like a great many years ago, I wrote this. There are as many ways to approach the issue of at what angle, precisely, one should view something so intricate as New York City as there are beating hearts in the surrounding few square miles of real estate that I can feel, breathing, outside my living room window, but that story was one of them. This is another - Just as everybody has their particular ideas about what New York is, there's also an acceptance of storytelling in everybody's particular ideas about what old New York was like. This is a land of fable and stories, and we're a talkative bunch. So here we go.
There's a kind of guy. You'd know them on sight, this particular New York breed, the kind that comes from a very particular kind of, shall we say, genetic combination - the Irish and the Germans. The tall, white-haired at twenty-two, blue eyed, square-jawed, broad shouldered. The Upper East Side aristocracy, most at home in the late 1950's, running ad campaigns or selling to businesses or skipping out for a three whiskey lunch. Guys in topcoats and hats, with briefcases and handkerchiefs. Smokers. The Sepia generation, at home in a Hopper or singing along with Gene Kelly. Peter Jennings. Tom Brokaw. Eugene McCarthy. Kennedy, any of 'em, for fuck's sake. You'll notice that that list contains people from Minnesota, South Dakota and (even) Canada, so let's not take the geography too seriously. It's more of a tone thing.
I was named for one of those men, Jack Hennessy, one of my father's oldest friends. He ran, from what I've been able to piece together over the years, a company that sold tire changers to car shops, one step away from 'the biggest razor blade distributor in the Tri-State Area'. I never met him, but I have some of the clothes that I've stolen from my father over the years, and I know that what I look like in a pinstriped suit and a London Fog is what he looked like after work, and I get a pretty good idea as to what Jack Hennessy looked like, as far as I'm concerned, all the damn time.
My great-grandmother's name was Reese. My grandmother's name was O'Hara. My father's name is Thompson. I'm proud of that, intensely so, because that particular generation of New Yorkers, that one-of-a-kind, sarcastic and cantankerous and mirthful generation is dying one by one and, as time does, the genetics are weakening. I'm darker-haired than my father, and shorter, and green-eyed and near-sighted. (This isn't bad and please don't think I'm some kind of Eugenicist weirdo, but it very much is like watching a genetic extinction.) I laugh like my father and his family, and tell stories, and smoke and drink and make merry with my cousin's kids. I am my father's child.
I am my father's only child. The pressure sometimes is unbearable, and knowing that my particular branch of the cantankerous generation is running on borrowed time makes it so much harder.
All those years ago I said, "My New York will die with me." Fuck that.
My New York will die over my dead body.