In this week’s New York Magazine, editors resisted the temptation to have Will Leitch recall his early days in Mattoon, IL, instead polling a diverse array of prominent NYC natives (Barbara Walters, Richard Price, Larry David, Gene Simmons, Mario Cuomo, former Congressman Anthony Weiner, amongst others) for their childhood memories of the city’s prior eras. Last seen in this space taking on Lena Dunham, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (above) remember his family’s transition upon moving from Harlem to Inwood’s Dyckman projects.
The northern side of Dyckman Street was Irish, and the southern side was Jewish. I would walk from where I lived in the Dyckman projects up to P.S. 52—my mom decided that I could walk to school alone, but I had to walk right through the Irish section of the neighborhood. Later on, as an adult, I found out that she used to follow me, from a half-block behind, to make sure that nothing happened.
Childhood in the city is pretty different now. There’s not a whole lot of ethnic neighborhoods anymore. They’ve taken all the people in New York and put them in a blender, and they land in chunks and puddles in various parts of the city. It’s a city of workaholics, where the successful really live well. You see that, and you want to join their ranks. I remember I saw a man get out of a Rolls-Royce—the man was Caucasian, and his driver was black. I said to the driver, “I’m gonna have a car like that one day.”