Pete Hamill: The Invisible City

Pete Hamill passed away on August 5. Like many New Yorkers, I had read his columns and articles for years in the Daily News, New York Post, Newsday, New York Magazine and the Village Voice, seen him at live events and on TV, and even in my friend Heather Quinlan’s terrific film If These Knishes Could Talk. But I’d never read one of his two dozen books. This one, written in 1980, was on my in-laws’ bookshelf and it’s a slim volume, so to mark his passing I’ve immersed myself in it the last couple of nights. And what vicarious pleasure it is to accompany the author on his mostly nocturnal ramblings. The Invisible City is a collection of delicate sketches: impressionistic, moody moments living somewhere in the limbo between fiction and non-fiction. I don’t think I’ve ever spent a single second reading flash fiction but I imagine this is what it is like. Encounters between people. Small events with big implications. Sadness. Regret. The guy was only 45 when he wrote these pieces but you’d think he was 75. He’s nostalgic. He loves music from before his time. But mostly it’s slices of New York, often set in bars and diners, where people are emotional, down-and-out, vulnerable. Old loves. Old service buddies. Missed opportunities. Ironies. A lot of it seems to be set in my old neighborhood of Park Slope, Brooklyn, where I believe Hamill was from. Plenty takes place in Manhattan. And naturally all set between the 1940s and the 1970s. Now those were some years in New York.  I especially loved the RANGE of characters. He seems to cover just about every major New York ethnic group (with a special emphasis on his own, the Irish, perhaps). I can’t help but associate the experience with the amazing, transformational Democratic convention we’ve been experiencing the last couple of nights, a virtual celebration of every flavor of person, all laid out equal like a deck of playing cards. I think Hamill would have approved of the diversity — but he would have missed the smoke-filmed rooms.