I remember this city when it was something new and strange to me. That was when the air was filled with the stench of dragons, and every windstorm was the ferocious beat of their mighty wings. Those were my bohemian days, living in the one-room apartment on the edge of Chinatown. There were rumours of underground opium dens and the footfalls of murderers passing by in the middle of the night. I would leave my window open on hot summer evenings while I listened to the radio. There was always the smell of piss and barbecued duck and rotten vegetables filling the heavy air.
I remember this city when it felt something like my own. I was running alone on the beach after midnight in second-hand sneakers from the Sally Ann. I was freer than the modern world generally allows. The moon was a great paper lantern leaking sparks onto the lush tarry blackness of waves.
Then one day everything changed. I was sitting in a café, drinking greasy-tasting Turkish coffee. Suddenly, the real estate developers and their storm troopers began falling from the sky. They landed on every street, and began to round up the undesirable elements. Wearing pinstriped haz-mat suits, they rounded up the poor and the weird, the overweight and the ironic. They rounded up the depressed and the unkempt. They rounded up the slutty and the vague. They rounded up the absurdist playwrights and the owners of the pawnshop trumpets. They built prison camps for the creative and the strange.
Overnight, every public space became a branded environment. Overnight, our lives became new and improved. We live our days, now, under camera surveillance. We smile for the cameras. We keep one eye on the cameras. We live without joy or anger. We hum along with pre-selected music to suit our time-of-day mood. We buy our clothes from the punk department of major retailers. We shuffle along in lines to bow before baristas. We wait our turn for five-dollar lattes and two-hundred-dollar blue jeans. We have corporate emblems engraved in our flesh, and vacant smiles planted on our faces. We no longer believe in ghosts. We have our teeth professionally whitened.
If some of us dream of a wilder thing or two, if some of us dream of a dirty, lost, ancient city, we are careful to keep these dangerous things to ourselves.