Friday, July 12, 2013

Gaby at the Chelsea

If you grew up in NYC in the 1980s and 1990s, like yours truly, you may remember the child actress Gaby Hoffmann. She was in some big movies, like "Fields of Dreams" and "Sleepless in Seattle" and several others. Gaby also grew up in the infamous Chelsea Hotel as a child of downtown artistic royalty.

Now she's grown up, 31 years old, and re-starting her acting career. Gaby was recently on the show "Louie" and will be on "Girls" next season, and is also starring in some independent movies.

But this article about her from the NY Times Magazine isn't about child actors or celebrity or any of that stuff. It's about what it was like to grow up in NYC during the last two decades of the 20th century -- and what it's like to be an adult in NYC in the first two decades of the 21st. 

Obviously, I can relate. 

No, I wasn't a child star (although I was a child ballet dancer but that's another story) but Gaby makes some observations about what it was like in NYC then as compared to now. Namely, you didn't have to be rich to live here and thrive. My parents weren't hip downtown artists but they were quirky uptown literary types -- and very middle class. Even though she's several years younger than me, Gaby apparently feels that this is a very different city from the one we grew up in. Her friend, the actress Claire Danes, makes this observation: "Growing up in downtown New York City in the ’80s, we were ensconced in art and progressive thinking,” she says. “Our parents all experimented with raising us in a fairly loose, unorthodox way. A huge emphasis was placed on creativity, and our artistic efforts were never dismissed as childish. There was a sense that we — kids and grown-ups — all had the potential to make something of value. Our drawings were not simply destined for the refrigerator. We never felt patronized.” 

I can relate. Whenever I drew a picture as a kid and gave it to my mom, instead of saying "I love it!" she'd say "It's beautiful honey. Now tell me more about it."

The author of this article sums up what's happened to NYC since the childhood of Gaby, yours truly, and all of us who grew up Then and are living here Now: "There’s a Whole Foods on 14th Street. The Palladium is an N.Y.U. dorm called the Palladium. Times Square is so bright and shiny that you can practically see it from space. Nobody has pubic hair anymore. And the Chelsea Hotel, a onetime stalwart symbol of all that was great and dirty and scrappy in this city, has been sold, and Gaby Hoffmann can do no more than squint through the dirty windows and scaffolding to see what used to be her home."

Sometimes I feel like I'm squinting at the whole city, trying to see the place where I grew up. There are more glass buildings than ever here but they reflect on a place that no longer exists.

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