A debut memoir that revisits Boglioli’s 10 years in the crack-cocaine subculture of New York City in the 1980s and ’90s.
The author writes that he’d already begun using crack before his career as a chef—first at the prestigious 21 Club and then at the Ritz Carlton Hotel—came to an end. It was the mid-’80s, and 30-something Boglioli was disillusioned with “the Establishment” and mesmerized by the freedom of life as an outcast: “With crack an entire alternative universe opened for me, mutable, unencumbered by the mores and strictures of society, a savage blossoming of emotions and passions too long held in check.” Sometime during his journey through the city’s streets, assorted flophouses, and church-run shelters, he cleaned up and secured a job as the head chef for another prestigious (unnamed) restaurant. With a steady income, he began drinking heavily, he writes, and within a year, he was back on crack; amazingly, he managed to last two years in his job before being fired. Ultimately, Boglioli spent a decade immersing himself in New York’s seedy underbelly, intermittently holding down a variety of day jobs to supplement his government assistance. As his 50s approached, he realized that he likely wouldn’t survive his lifestyle much longer, so he moved to Vermont for a healthier environment. In this memoir, he paints graphic portraits of the mostly hidden (or ignored) denizens of Manhattan—the drunks, the addicts, the sex workers, and the social service employees who served (and underserved) them. It’s also a long, angry, philosophical manifesto condemning what he sees as the hypocrisy and materialism of the dominant society that flourishes in the midst of it all. This book can be profoundly unsettling, and it’s not for the squeamish. Boglioli’s prose is sometimes eloquent, but it’s also heavily embellished and lengthy, and it’s easy to get lost in its ramblings: “the deserted streets belonged to the night owls and the underground moiety, emerging from their rookeries, from under their rocks, their burned-out buildings, their favellas, going about their devious monkey business, moving swiftly, surreptitious and secretive.” A 20-page glossary will help readers through the more esoteric linguistic choices.
A gritty, sociologically engaging memoir.