When I moved to Brooklyn oh-so-long-ago, it was a rough and dirty City of Churches on the other side of a river few Manhattanites dared or had reason to cross – other than going to the Hamptons on the Jitney. While I had missed the Race Wars, the Fire Storms, the Wholeottashit of the Bad Old Days, Brooklyn was still a mixture of long-time residents and those who could ill afford to live in Gotham proper due to Raceclassgener issues. The time period I speak of was during the final rusty glow of the mayoralship of Giuliani and for those lucky enough to not be on the wrong side of so many things, a good time to be young and broke and live in the city. Even if you had to live in a neighborhood where you were not welcome in the local bars. The stores sold expired food or diapers and baby formula and stationary, none of which you needed. And the walk from the subway you took to work and play in Gotham proper was long and in lonely darkness. When you did get home it was a filthy warehouse you told people was a loft – but in reality, it was just an illegal place to crash you shared with eleven other people all of whom became friends not because you liked one another but because no one of your real friends wanted to go “all the way to Brooklyn” to visit your sad, broke, young, ass.
The city, and Brooklyn have changed drastically since then. These changes have and are currently documented well beyond the abilities of this writer and far better blogs. You can look at http://vanishingnewyork.blogspot.com/ or to a certain extent http://harlembespoke.blogspot.com/ and then there is the Brownstoner website which has itself been gentrified and seems more a tool of real estate moguls.
Of this Brooklyn, we today hear of this music venue closing down or that dive bar repairing the bathroom or how things have become bespoke and thriving when it all was like whaaa and raaaa and poverty and ugh and whoa man and waaaaay out back when we were young a scant decade or three Five Year Plans ago. Today Brooklyn is all about trendy and kewl and people who live there now “don’t go into the city much.” The dog-walking farmers market-obsessed baby-infested Park Slope. The [mostly fake pouser] artists of Greenpoint-Williamsburg and their stainless steel appliances. The Trustifarians singer-songwriter hackneyed jackanapes of Bushwick churning out wall art and bad Dub. The still-wealthy Brooklyn Heights or Promenade or whatever being as wealthy and clubby as ever just now with more tourists in the streets. The nouveau riche haute couture dotcomers in their fetching two of a kind sneakers and ragged one-of-a-kind band teeshirts of DUMBO (Douchebag Ubermensch Making Bullshit Online), and other areas now filled with more attractive and younger less broke people than you were when you were their age.
Then there is another Brooklyn.
A distant and cold Brooklyn. This is the Brooklyn where the hipsters fear to tread.
The streets have no names out there, and those that do are forgettable. Car commercials are not filmed out here. Neither is Law & Order. Nor Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Or Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Or Law & Order: Trial By Jury. Unlike the now-trendy areas of what most of us know as Brooklyn, out there in that quiet other rest of Brooklyn a film shoot would still draw a crowd of spectators rather than be just one more annoying thing you have to step around on your way to brunch. Out there, each part of the grid is sectioned into equally forgettable blocks. While there are areas with grand detached homes, for the most part, everything seems built at the same time, by the same company, and out of the same or similar materials.
There have been changes there too as the rest of the city, but these are boring changes. People from countries too insignificant for us to bomb set up families and go about regular business of shuffling kids to and from school, making dinner, and driving places to buy stuff. The houses form perfect rows and each window is covered in drawn shades and here and there a few statues of Christian Saints or perhaps a plant break up the monotony. Yards have for the most part succumb to driveways as this Brooklyn is much like Queens in that it was built on the edge of Car Culture and the early seeds of the Geography of Nowhere and cars are part of the landscape. In the area I was was visiting new cars are parked in most of these spaces as it appears that these waves of newcomer has found the Americandream(TM) as had those before them. It is not long before they move to Brookhaven or Mineola.
The attached houses are brick and unadorned were asleep. The protective covers, gates, bars, and grates over the windows demonstrate that Gotham, after all, is indeed one huge open air prison. The semi-detached homes have narrow walkways between them I assume to put trash cans or have a locked gate with a Smile You are On Camera sign. Behind I assume are claustrophobia-inducing gardens, little yards with huge plastic toys, and spaces perhaps also paved over and left vacant except for that broken lawn chair father always said, “don’t throw that away, I can fix it.” The sidewalks were in good order and trees at even intervals. There was no grittiness, no matter where I looked. The tags were on dumpsters and some buildings but were certainly not those of art school graduates. It was a warm spring day, and many buds and blossoms were apparent. Soon it would be very hot here. A few more days and it will be springtime in the city. Unlike other streets of what is now hipster Brooklyn, these streets are always quiet as even when people return home, they get out of the car, go in the house, and flip on the Tube.
On the Avenues, the shops sell to their particular ethnic or social-linguistic group and within those then address class aspirations and hierarchical power dynamics that are lost on a monoglot such as myself. The Italian bakeries, the Mexican bakeries, the Greek bakeries, the Chinese bakeries, the Koren bakeries lent a certain glutinous diversity in their singular ability to all-to-a-one churn out bread that is just a little too sweet as they also make cakes that are in shocking and similar Monsanto colours of sticky nasty. As it was midday, I went into a bakery that was also a coffee shop. There was not one smart nattering nabob at their iDevice tapping out the GAN (Great American Novel), no tattooed and pierced neo-tribalist speaking loudly about music festivals, no United Colors of Benetton(SM) selection of college-educated millennialists staking out their next dotcoms planning their podcast or talking about Leben und Kunst.
Six or so very similar women of a common but unknown age, dressed as those who use the term “flyover” make fun of in ill-fitting jeans and wearing your basic forgettable Walmart top, sat in different configurations shouting at each other or on their iThingamajigy in a Language Other Than English. It seems that in order to truly become ethnic, one has to be here a few generations before the tattoos come out, the oppressive Western dress is shed, and the blog on how you must be a Cree to wear the headdress or House of Hapsburg to don the codpiece is written. Diversity doesn’t always look like the melainotypes we were shown in those early morning college anthropology classes in Hogg Hall. Sometimes diversity looks just like us. And in this part of Brooklyn, there is mile after mile of this same diversity.
After completing my business in the strange yet pedestrian neighborhood, I returned to the quotidian parts of Brooklyn that we see in car commercials and crime dramas and back to the people who I can communicate with in a common tongue if not also by way of meme and emoji. By the time the long train ride had chugged back to this area it was tea time. I quickly found a cafe among the Cuban-inspired bars, Asian fusion restaurants, and “we sell one bag and there it is, the bag” boutiques. The cafe was more of the sort that this writer frequents and chock full of people who were more like myself. A diverse mix of over-educated young-enough professionals who enjoy food from around the world, travel to new places when they can, and consume all manner of culture all blended and served up as an easy-to-consume shake. As Tribe Called Quest songs quietly played in order to fill the dead spaces between the sounds, I sipped my fair-trade coco mocha. I thought of those boring flyover places of the city where hipsters fear to tread and was glad for once for the noise, grit, and confusing exciting gentrification in that part of Brooklyn I can no longer afford to live.