The topic of gentrification has yet again come up. Not in any real conversation I have had … no, I don’t see actual people anymore. It is to online and the kingdom of the 4.0 Estate that these peeps and murmuring comes, complaints from the middle class that they are being pushed out of their poor neighborhoods (AKA “working class neighborhoods” but without class consciousness these psudo-proles would not be considered more than a lumpenproletariat by way of Messrs. Marx and Bakunin) and replaced with trust-fund-kids (AKA Trustafarians) who look upon the middle class kids and wonder what it is to live “among The People,” to only live enjoying the moment, not just working to work but because bills need to be paid. I am convinced the actual “poor people” of these areas don’t even register to the Trustafarians, to them the others are a colour from outer space.
Bethatasitmay, I have benefited from living in such neighborhoods myself and been somewhat the gentrifier, even if I then was pushed out by the blind forces of The Market and a new wave of cooler, more digitally connected natives. I had occasion to return to the Old Nabe, which is funny, since I am actually in the area from time-to-time for various reasons, one of them being the on-ramp to the bridge runs past my old apartment and I, as drivers before me, can in slow traffic look right in to what had been by bedroom. Still, while it has not been ten years since last I strolled those streets it is now going on 20 years since I first walked those street searching the back of the Village Voice (kids ask your parents what a classified ad is) for an apartment that I and two others could manage to afford since in those days, Gothem was freaking expensive.
And we found it. Just in time. The tiles were popping off the floor, the water was leaking in the bathroom, the stove didn’t work, there was grime and cockroach leavings covering the walls, the noise of the BQE highway was deafening and overall the walk to the subway long and unlit, but it was the best three people with no credit history, no employment track record, no letters of recommendation from previous landlords, no assets, and little knowledge of the city could manage. And there were three others there then looking over the apartment. Much cooler people. Young, as us, but they drove to the place in a private car and the idea of owning a private car in the city seemed as distant and privileged as owing vacation property in Vermont. The cool kids didn’t like what they were seeing but wanted to still think it over, or so they said to the broker. We said – to the man we later dubbed Salad Shooter – that we would take it. And just like that, we gentrified our first apartment. We walked over to the agent’s place of business, a cellar apartment over on Bedford and North 7th and paid our fee and gave rent money and got keys and went back and bought 40s and cleaning supplies and got drunk and cleaned and drank some more.
I loved the neighborhood, but I knew little else. While I shared the place with two others, this was my first real place of my own. We were next to a highway, across from a place storing 55 gallon drums, and a long walk to the train past dark buildings and the ever present Projects. The streets were empty at night. Closer to the subway, the old people were about in the day and in spring the Saint shrines and vigils popped up all over the neighborhood. We were never part of these activities, but always amazed that this life, this Olde Brooklyn, still existed. We had not missed out on it. The homeless vet under the bridge, the Italian Social clubs, the strange Krazy Korner Klub, Stmaryofthesnow, the church with the grand school, the church with the grotto yet to be fenced in to keep the vandals away from the statue and candles. Discovering there was an orphanage in the old hospital. Learning the kids called the man selling Chinese food Hi Ku. The old man with the little dog that was mostly tumors. This strange set up of doll houses and toys called Tony’s Village where the sign said that the lights were on from 7PM – 9PM every day and yet it seemed no one had cared for Tony’s Village for quite a long time. They had the gas towers back then. They had crime, toxic waste, and Polish heroin addicts. We walked a lot in those days. I remember the nightingales, or some such bird, called out on a cold and yet exciting spring night, the trees were blooming, those city trees with the white flowers, and I was of course coming home from some youthful nonsense, and I walked with each step pure hope as I passed the old stationary store, the butcher, Stmaryofthesnow. My life had found a home. As imperfect as it was.
Ten thousand useless screaming laughing puking drunken nights later, my life has not found so much a home as become grounded through movement since in time I was priced out of that neighborhood, then another and another. I fled to one location and another hither and yon with suitcases of junk and furniture I had picked out of the trash but treasured nonetheless. Priced out every time since while I managed to get my nose above poverty, did the graduate school thing, the travel the world thing, the work for various institutions with well-know names thing, I didn’t have the Trustifarian thing down and with each pay increase the rent seemed to go up that much more. Nor was I or have I become any younger. And the kids keep coming. They were moving in to the Old Nabe in droves when I left and today are packed in like gerbils in a reptile feeder store. Gone the Saint’s Days. The old people have not been replaced. The old shopes were closed, some torn down and in their place grand tacky glass boxes and chain stores or perhaps some bugler wheat juice bar filled with Digitari Illuminati all to a one cracking away on their laptops the Next Big Thing. It was a changed place. There were more bars, but I didn’t mind way back then taking a bus or a subway a few stops for a dram or five.
As I walked about I was surprised at how many more buildings had fallen since I was last there. Sometime early way back in long long distant ago Year of Our Lord (Common Era) two thousand and fourteen. While life is a constant spin of change, the rate is ever more rapid in certain dear areas of Gothem. The last neighborhood I was in was flooded with trendy eateries and cafes and approved street art. It was wonderful, yet, I knew my time there would be limited. And, it was. The rents went through the roof and the streets were no longer quiet at night. The last party in the building was busted up by as many cops as attendees and I thought as law enforcement rushed upstairs past our unit (I shared with seven other “creative” people), “fir feck’s sake I’m too goddamn old fir this,” or something of that ilk.
Gentrification is a complex issue. While I kicked about and attempted to make a home for myself where I could afford, I am sure I was part of that process, even if in some very, very, small way. Considering the rent I could barely afford was $350 a month. A very small way.
I am again in a new neighborhood. And again, the bars and cafes are’a already creeping in.