The Trouble With Nostalgia: Douglas Light’s Days of ‘East Fifth Bliss’

photo-27Kathryn Doyle Douglas Light outside of the building
that inspired “East Fifth Bliss”

With “The Trouble With Bliss” opening tomorrow, The Local took a stroll down memory lane with Douglas Light, whose novel “East Fifth Bliss” is the basis of the film starring Michael C. Hall, Lucy Liu and Peter Fonda.

An Indiana native, Mr. Light, 43, moved to the East Village in 1995 and lived for a year at 60 East Third Street while working as a waiter at what is now Bondst. Some mornings, he awoke to the sound of a Hell’s Angel cracking a bullwhip in the middle of Third Street. “I guess it would help him get over his hangover somehow,” Mr. Light remembered.

In 1996 he moved to the fourth floor of 343 East Fifth Street, the building that inspired “East Fifth Bliss,” which takes place over the course of one long weekend. “Originally it was about the building, looking into the lives of the people in all the different apartments,” he said. “Then Morris emerged as a kind of lead character and the story became about him.”

Morris Bliss, played by Michael C. Hall, is a 35-year-old who has shared an apartment with his father ever since his mother died when he was 13.

Mr. Light met the director of the film, Michael Knowles, at Velvet Cigars on Seventh Street. The fellow cigar enthusiast read the novel and quickly suggested they make a movie out of it. It took four months to adapt the novel into a screenplay.


Much of the film was shot on Seventh Street, particularly at Blue and Gold Tavern. “I used to go to this old Polish bar – it’s not there anymore, but it was called Homestead,” said Mr. Light, gesturing toward the corner of East Fifth Street and First Avenue. In the movie, Blue and Gold serves as a replacement for Homestead.

Mr. Light lived on Fifth Street until 2004. He remembered going swimming with his wife at Hamilton Fish Park on Houston Street and coming back for “the best bacon egg and cheese” at Downtown Egg and Bakery II on First Avenue. He socialized with writer and raconteur Quentin Crisp, who lived nearby. “I saw him in the street. If you asked him over to dinner, and he was free, he would come by,” he said.

There was also conviviality at 20/20 Grocery and Deli, on the corner of Second Avenue and Third Street, where Yem Yem Falafel is now. “It was run by I don’t know how many different brothers, they were brothers from Afghanistan, but there seemed to be a new one every three months,” said Mr. Light. “And you would go in there, and whoever was behind the counter would call you ‘Mr. Charlies.’ He called everyone that.”

The character ‘Mr. Charlies,’ played by Glenn Kubota, is an homage to the novelist’s memories of 20/20.

Mr. Light is in the process of moving out of his Washington Heights home and finding a place downtown again.

Looking up at the shuttered Mission Café at 82 Second Avenue, where he once enjoyed Sunday breakfasts alongside composer Philip Glass and other East Village luminaries, Mr. Light said, “Nostalgia is not so much pining for the way things once were but pining for the way you once were. And you can’t ever return to that.”

Douglas Light will be at the Village East Cinema opening for a q-and-a on the March 23 and 24 and will read at 1 p.m. on the March 25 at Swift Hibernian Lounge on Fourth Street. Admission is $15.