I had a Superkewl loft in Brooklyn once. On the cusp of gentrification, a college friend and I (his mother supplied the documented income) secured a loft in what was then Greenpoint, Brooklyn (like most of Brooklyn it later became Williamsburg). Back in those days it was a long un-cafe-ed walk to the train past homes of typical un-artistic people and even a few patches of Poor People doing poor people stuff that middle class people like to take photos of such as sitting outside with Saint statues on vigil, or marching with Saint statues, or drunkenly fighting screaming in a vulgar form of Latin untouched by Franco-Occitan influences.
The loft I had was great. It had an unobstructed view of all of Manhattan from at least 88th Street right down to the then Twin Towers. It had once been a chicken fat rendering plant or something and below us was a welding shop and next to that and behind us, on the tar beach roof we actually weren’t supposed to use, was a wood shop. I never thought I would amount to anything in my life. But, I managed to become a hipster at least in some respects (I have never had any interest in bands, records, and fashion). And at that age, and on the income I had from working as a WhateverthelessIdid, this accomplishment seemed pretty damn good.
We did trade off on a lot of things to live there. The space was not made for human habitation. And the neighborhood stunk. Not like, “dude that stinks,” the slacker expression from the early 90’s, but there were several actual foul odors competing for our attention. Across the street was a food packaging warehouse where the dirty white trucks would run in and out and the fork lifts would beep, beep, beep, all morning and the Chinesesque men would smoke, cough, spit and yell at one another or the office girls with their clipboards and sad attempts to look office hot for a deep blue color crowd to interested in smoking, yelling, and spitting. There was always the smell of forgotten vegetables or bleach. Or both. Behind that mess was a wrecking yard. The oil smell was not as strong as one may think from car engines being broken open. To the south the Projects loomed with their brick facades and eternal construction scaffolding to prevent said facade falling on a baby since NYCHA refuses repairs and is deeply corrupt… but that is another story. These were actually really nice, for Projects, but their trash containers were on the street facing us. To the north a vague place were they washed out 55 gallon drums before the EPA closed them down and the spot became a Superfund site. This smelled like cancer and thyroid problems.
An elderly woman lived in an explicable stand alone private home in all of this. The sort of farmhouse that my have been there long before Brooklyn was Brooklyn. This one house was the only place that did not give off a smell.
Then, life happened. We grew up, we got married, we started to be adults and one could not just live on a plywood “loft bed” one used a dresser one found in the trash to get up and down from. My place was great. A little too far to use it to entrap lovers since it was a 20 minute walk from the train, and too rustic to use for regular events since it was far into Brooklyn (by those day’s standards) and too rough and rustic to impress anyone looking to network. I guess those aspects kept me out of the clinic more than a lot of my other better positioned friends.
At the time we were “closing down the loft” a friend was getting involved in his loft with his friends. He and some high school friends were building a loft out in Outterwick (not yet rechristened Williamsburg) in an old knitting factory. I laughed, why the f-hell are you living in Outterwick? It was another 10-15 minutes or more out on the subway from where I was, a certain line known in Gotham that reaches deep into Brooklyn and is the single pipeline pumping hipsters to and fro the center of the universe, Union Square(tm) and breaks down or otherwise isn’t working:
1. when you need to get to work
2. whatever art weekend they are having
3. that one party where you finally put in some planning, made a menu, invited people, and wore pants.
I already was at the edge of nowhere. I couldn’t imagine what screaming wilderness lay farther East down that hipster pipeline into the void of Outterwick. But, he went on to create a great space and use it for art events, parties, and whatever other mayhem they got up to.
Indeed Farther East was still Real Brooklyn as my soon-to-be-former neighborhood fell to the higher hipsters, the posers, the Daddies/Mommies Money crowd, the Bankers, the Euroweenies, the Balokunish Crowd and Tautau Berger and whatever subgroup, micro culture, or cult of sluts could afford $3500 a month for a shitty partition of what they called “lofts” but were actually nothing more than studios with high ceilings in buildings intended for disposable Eastern European workers and had all the health and safety features to match. Why would my friends want to live out there, so far out there? Maybe I was just done with that whole “I’m living in a loft” part of my life and can finally move into a normal apartment with heat and hot water and live with a spouse or a significant other and no longer have to mark things in the fridge or carry my toiletries to the bathroom because that bitch two doors down, what’s her name like Drew or something, likes to thieve my conditioner. I gave my friend some materials as well as the speakers from our sound system, these huge monsters I actually had gotten from my parent who bought them in the 1980s at Sears.
I called the thin crack above my bed, “the crack.” In November it started to turn black. Black mold perhaps? When the boys upstairs broke open a keg all sorts of cracks started to drip. And then turn black. I was sitting in bed staring at the crack and wondering just how much physics did I know. Did I know anything about structural integrity, or was that a science far outside my comprehension? Was that a science?
The room was ice cold. I gave up on the space heater. I just would run the damn thing and stand over it to get dressed. I learned that buildings do get cold, but they never quite freeze. I was out, far out in Brooklyn. I had made so many financial, love, and personal mistakes, but I knew this place and it felt like home. I made fun of my friend a decade before for moving out here and building a loft. And now I was here. In his former loft. There were those old Sears speakers from my parent, from my old loft. The party had moved on and I was like that dude sleeping on the couch. It was his and his friend’s time to move on, get married, settle down, have nice fucking families and stop “doing the loft thing.” And here I was. “Doing the loft thing.” On the vanguard of (beyond) middle age and nowhere close to being that person I worked so hard to once become.
I had been invited in to the space by a friend, the last of the original leaseholders, who had to move for work for a year or two and needed someone to maintain the situation for his return. It was a great deal and it got me out this horrible situation in East Harlem. It seemed a good idea and the neighborhood had changed drastically since I was first there when the loft was first built out way back in those days when there was nothing but the wilds of Outterwick.
For one thing there was a Superkewl cafe. There was more than one restaurant. There was a fancy food store (Fancymart) and a not fancy food store (Ghettomart). There were hip kids and Superkewl People and things were trending on Twitter, Facebook, Kissagram and I knew, and my friend knew, and Gawker knew, and Gothemist knew, and L Magazine knew that it was a matter of time before the axe would fall, before we would be kicked out of our loft-style industrial building and the place would be carved up and refitted and refined and cleaned up and painted and turned into luxury condos either we nor anyone we knew could afford. So, we knew we had to enjoy it for what it was, for as long as we could.
That old frightening area of Outtherewick had been cleaned up, or at least cleaned up enough for the third wave of settlers to move into the neighborhood. It wasn’t just the turf-breakers or the bands needing practice space. Funded art collectives came in, art weekends started happening, art events stopped serving beer in paper cups and started searving the same bad wine as in Manhattan. All manner of art artiness changed the face of the area and clogged the arteries. It was a fun to be there at that time. Again I used the loft for as much as we could. Sometimes for good, like our model sketching night or open dinner night, but sometimes for evil like when we rented the space out to a party promoter who wrecked the entire place or renting out the front room to visiting tourists who didn’t know better or had some travel plans and secretly intended to live with us forever.
Otherwick was becoming an action packed neighborhood on weekends. It used to be that Monday to Thursday the locals stayed local and then on weekends everyone took off into “the city. No more. Bars were opening up every week and locals stayed local. People I knew started to move there and say, “People are starting to move here.” People came out there for the weekend from “the city.” I got to know a few residents – even if my schedule was limited due to work, work, and more work outside of the area. While I was not there with the Founders of this loft, or their friends, new people came in and the space was always fun. We never connected as the old days, but this was a strange setting not entirely of my own creating since I had inherited the situation and was but maintaining it until my friend returned. At the height of this loft there were 9-10 roommates depending on the night. And then, as it was writ large by the Kewl Crowd now out on the street, the space came to an end. Building inspectors, rent hikes, water trouble, tenant issues, landlord issues, I don’t remember what put the nail in the coffin. Life there ended and I returned to the streets of New York and to apartment life elsewhere.
Having been back to Bushwick (no longer Outterwick) in the area but a few times it is not amazing how it has changed. There are far more cafes, bars, and Superkewl people. The building I lived in with so many roommates, my second go at “loft life” currently sits vacant. I guess if I wanted to do it again, all over again, I would be able to find a loft farther East in the now Screaming wilds of Brownsville. However, for the time being…. I don’t mind getting dressed without having to straddle a space-heater to get dressed nor take my toiletries to and from the bathroom for fear someone would use up all my conditioner…
Editor’s Note: The writer may have covered some of this material in previous blogs. Some of the images are actually of Williamsburg.