A foreign country

I was out of town for a few days last week, at a conference in the city where I went to university, prompting some elegiac reminiscence.

Several years have passed since last I was there, and, unsurprisingly, the place has changed a bit. The hotel where my meeting took place was in the district where I used to live, which has gentrified considerably in the time I have been away.

I know that everyone claims that they lived in an edgy part of town when they were in college, but I really did. Even at the time I found it less charmingly picaresque, more scarily lowlife, and I couldn’t imagine residing in such a locale these days. Hookers and dealers on the corners, regular stabbings, an occasional axe-murder, it was never dull I guess. Each day threw up new and interesting questions. Is that body lying on the waste ground across from my house an actual corpse, or just a passed-out junkie? What the hell was all that screaming about last night? Why, despite all the mayhem, do you never see any cops around here? (Except of course when you’re holding, when they seem to be fucking everywhere).

Anyway, it’s all much nicer now. High-end apartments, boutique hotels, classy gift shops and faux-bohemian cafes have taken the place of the crumbling tenements, soup kitchens and thrift stores. Our conference venue occupied a site where once stood the city’s largest homeless shelter. I spotted a few members of the homeless community hanging around in the side alley, looking wistful, as if they were pining for their old haunt. The strange thing was that they all looked much too young to have personal experience of the place; maybe it was some sort of wino ancestral memory.

My friends who still live in the city tell me that all the violence has moved out to the suburbs these days, and if anything it is a bit more intense. Their stories of drive-by shootings make my tales of the bad old days seem a little quaint.

As the years pass I do look back with increasing fondness on my student days, which I guess is an unmistakable sign that I am getting old. I do try to stay focused on the future, and most of the time I succeed, but not many days go by when I don’t think about how nice it would be to be 23 again.

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