Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Category: Brooklyn

To Be or Not to Be, Brooklyn Nets ‘hood destructo edition

First in an occasional series about the Brooklyn Nets, of whom I am a season ticket holder. Written on Wednesday, before the “B” caps were restocked. Huzzah!

It’s the “B” they’re after. You can’t find the fitted Brooklyn Nets cap with the “B” logo in the center at the Modell’s across the street from the stadium or either of the two Modellses on Fulton Street, blocks away, neither at the Lidz store there. You can’t find them in sizes anywhere but the extremes edges of the bell curve, aka normal human sizes, at least. 6 7/8. 7 7/8. 8. Even the ones in window displays are outliers. I asked, but far faster brains than me tried that tack and came away empty-headed.

The fitted cap that has the “Nets” shield is readily available, but no one cares about the Nets, a brand as attractive as sour milk, and that shitty Raiders ripoff logo. It’s the “B” they want for the team in binary black-and-white currently measuring the proverbial drapes at the Barclay’s Center, where the final pieces of its oxidized roof are being moved into place as I write this, just down the street. Actually I just went out to look, and the crane is still, for now.

Joe Johnson’s on a billboard just outside the stadium, and Deron Williams is on a cellphone ad closer to downtown, but then again, he was even before he re-signed. Their T-shirts alone spill out the front of souvenir stores—poor unrepresented Gerald Wallace, a fine player in his own right, though “poor” might not be the right word. Many of the souvenirs, which I have spent a good deal of time admiring, play directly on Brooklyn’s “neighborhood” feel, and I put neighborhood in quotes because sports teams and neighborhoods tend to coexist as well as breakfast and, well, sour milk. The Nets are a cause and symptom of Brooklyn gentrification, so seeing T-shirts that show dangling shoes hanging from the borough’s name seems like a practice the NYPD will soon outlaw near the stadium for security reasons. Change will officially be on. The difference between Brooklyn before and after the Nets will be black and white as the second Tyson Chandler wins the Opening Night tip from Brook Lopez, and Tyson Chandler will win the Opening Night tip from Brook Lopez.

Until then, the Nets are less a team than a prefab nostalgia factory. The selling of “old” Brooklyn before it’s old may be disingenuous, but it feels good The Nets haven’t even released their official jerseys. They’re building suspense, delaying the reality as long as possible, not restocked the “B” hats in bulk. Their first game is against the New York Knicks. After that, they’re just a basketball team. It’s rare that a team gets to make a legitimate sales pitch, but the Nets have sold themselves in two different ways, and one has resonated, and it’s not the one where they’re a great professional basketball team. It’s the one where they’re the team from a Brooklyn they came to destroy.

As soon as the games start, that definition will go “poof.” They’ll be the team not of the olde borough but that of Williams and Johnson and Williams and Brook Lopez and Avery Johnson. They’ll be defined by their players, and how their players perform year after year. The neighborhood around the stadium will expand and contract according to the whims of the richest man in Russia and the fairly bland economics of pro sports. They’ll be in the middle of this neighborhood, but they’ll seem farther away than they ever have, because it won’t be a dream anymore, but dumb reality.

The summer, like a ball at the apex of its flight, is about to start its death drip. The Nets have uniforms soon, and they’ll be real, and they’ll be playing in Minnesota on a random Wednesday night, just like the Bulls and Warriors and rest of them. Enjoy this rare and magical time. Milk it.

(Hat courtesy adidas, Modell’s and $28)



“I don’t care if half the league strikes. Those who do will encounter quick retribution. All will be suspended, and I don’t care if it wrecks the league for 10 years. This is the United States of America, and one citizen has as much right to play as another.”

Ford Frick, per Joe Posnanski, on a potential Cardinals boycott of a game versus Jackie Robinson’s Dodgers in 1947.

What I read and wrote this summer

Not pictured: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Motherless Brooklyn

Those of you who have followed the WordPress site, and the fewer of you who have followed the Tumblr site, know that I’ve written many, many things over the past few years. The one thing I’ve been bad at is bringing them together in any sort of cohesive way, and I’m going to change that. This is a list of everything I’ve read and written this summer as defined by Memorial Day through Labor Day, because that’s how I’m defining it. I’ll start with the books I’ve read, in the order in which I finished them:

As you can see, I spent a lot of time in the classics, new and old. I picked up Kavalier & Clay because it was one of those books I hadn’t read but every friend of mine had read and liked. Oscar Wao was the same deal, and I actually put a copy of it down at the bookstore to pick up K & C, only to have a friend lend me a copy later in the summer. I had never read Moby-Dick, despite growing up on Martha’s Vineyard: mistake. Somehow I hadn’t read Of Mice and Men, either. Ben got me hooked on David Mitchell, first on his new one—the first half of which probably changed my writing style forever—and later, Cloud Atlas, which I finished yesterday to meet the unofficial deadline for writing this post.

You can probably see the progression from Moby-Dick to Heart of Darkness to Things Fall Apart, or at least the second part of it. Hitchens I picked up because I’ve seen several interviews with him since he fell ill, and realized that I’ve been delinquent. I wasn’t disappointed. Are We Winning? was a review copy based on the interview I did for Leitch’s last book, though I have yet to write any sort of review. I tore through Motherless Brooklyn in less than 24 hours on M.V., during which time I also managed to sleep for eight hours and paint two ceilings. It helps that it mostly takes place within three blocks of my Brooklyn home. Finally, I was iffy on A Visit from the Good Squad until a single paragraph mid-book ratcheted the awesome up to 11 and it didn’t stop until it was over. Highly recommended, especially if you like music.

What I’ve written

I spent the majority of the summer writing imaginary conversations, which I enjoyed immensely. I really liked fitting all the dialogue together, which I had never tried before. It was a little exhausting, though, which is why my production plummeted in August.

  • Sports
  • Baseball busts the barometer; a mistake shows how big the game has become (WordPress)
  • Dwyane Wade and LeBron James (WordPress)
  • LeBron, the Knicks, the Nets, and the red pill (WordPress)
  • If I was LeBron James (WordPress)
  • Chris Bosh, -$28 million man; David Stern, superstar (WordPress)
  • If everyone always did the safest or most popular thing, the world would be a shitty place (WordPress)
  • A few more LeBron thoughts (WordPress)
  • Oosthuizen (Tumblr)
  • “Superteams” (Tumblr)
  • A-Rod at 599 (Tumblr)
  • David Tyree and David Patten (Tumblr)
  • Pet Peeve (Tumblr)
  • Mad Men Recaps
  • Episode 1: Betty’s Alive. Yay? (Tumblr)
  • Episode 2: Enough Foreplay (Tumblr)
  • Episode 3: “You know what’s going on here? Handjobs!” (Tumblr)
  • Episode 4: I’m the asshole (Tumblr)
  • Episode 6: The cure for the common Mad Men season (Tumblr)
  • Humor
  • We’ve changed our name to SeaStreak Martha’s Vineyard (WordPress)

It is my intent to “drop,” so to speak, a post about the 2010 Patriots on Thursday morning. We’ll see how it goes.

The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost

I came home last night after my 10 o’clock—yes, 10 p.m.—flag football game to find my 31-year-old self (aka, me, last year) on my futon checking his email. The lights had been off and I hadn’t seen him, and I threw my bag on the futon without looking, and…

2009 Bryan: Watch it!

ME: (startled) Aaaaah!

2009 Bryan: Hi. Love what you’ve done with the place. Nice shirt.

ME: (looks down at tie-dyed uniform) Thanks.

2009 Bryan: You wear tie-dye often?

ME: It’s my flag football uniform.

2009 Bryan: You play flag football?

ME: Yep. This is the third season.

2009 Bryan: Nice. What does the lady think?

ME: The who?

2009 Bryan: (uneasily) The lady… what does she think about it?

ME: Oh right, her. Um…

2009 Bryan: Oh.

ME: I’m sorry dude. I know you were excited, especially right about now.

2009 Bryan: (clams up)

ME: It’s just…

2009 Bryan: …

ME: We were still acting a little “young.”

2009 Bryan: I’m trying not to act young!

ME: It’s the fact that you have to try at all. You’ll get it, eventually.

2009 Bryan: So now all we do is write blog posts (turns computer around, shows screen to this blog) and play flag football? And rearrange the apartment a bit?

ME: Yeah, you like?

2009 Bryan: I guess. I don’t see how I’m going to come up with this.

ME: A lot can happen in a year if you let it.

2009 Bryan: (angry) What does that fucking mean?

ME: It means that now that you’re not hiding out in your party palace in Astoria, you can actually grow up.

2009 Bryan: Oh for Christ’s sake.

ME: You know, one of our good friends say we talk in general terms about religion more than we realize.

2009 Bryan: You’re not like some crazy Christian or anything?

ME: (makes sign of cross) No.

2009 Bryan: Shalom.

ME: L’Chaim.

(2009 Bryan’s phone rings. I pull out my phone—the same one—and look at the time. It’s the girlfriend, on the way home from work. It’s a conversation I don’t need to hear, so I go take a quick shower and come back to find him finishing up. And then.)

ME: So?

2009 Bryan: She’s going home. How do you screw this up?

ME: It’s been two weeks. Easy, buddy.

2009 Bryan: You are condescending.

ME: Take my advice: Just do whatever you’re going to do. Nothing is going to change. You’re going to be back here in a year anyway.

(I hear keys in the door and am startled. The door opens, and it’s 33-year-old Bryan, wearing a snappy suit and sunglasses. He carries himself well, but there is an odor of booze on his breath)

33-Year-Old-Me: (Declarative statement:) Boys.

2009 Bryan: Nice suit.

ME: No fucking way.

(33-Year-Old Me just slaps me lightly on the cheek, like a soccer player, and moves over to the desk, where he sits with a dopey smile on his face and starts to talk to 2009 Bryan.)

33-Year-Old Me: Hey dude.

2009 Bryan: What’s up?

33-Year-Old Me: Now listen up. 2010 Bryan knows what he’s talking about, mostly. Just ride out whatever’s going on here until it’s over. But for God’s sake, enjoy yourself.

2009 Bryan: He just told me about that.

33-Year-Old Me: Told you about what?

2009 Bryan: Mentioning God.

(33-Year-Old Me snatches laptop from 2009 Bryan, types furiously into Google until this picture is showing)

33-Year-Old Me: Now do me a favor and shut up for a second. (2009 Bryan would not normally take such talk, but frankly, he’s entranced by the suit. The line from Catch Me If You Can echoes in my head: “They were all looking at the pinstripes…”) That was just S—— on the phone, right?

2009 Bryan: How do you know all this?

33-Year-Old Me: I had the conversation, remember? She said she was just going to go home after work, and you said that made sense, because you have to work tomorrow and it would be too late?

2009 Bryan: More or less.

33-Year-Old Me: Dude! Go over there! Live in the moment!

2009 Bryan: But I’ll be tired… (Both me and 33-Year-Old Bryan look at him like: Get over it.)

33-Year-Old Me: (with dopey smile, takes cigarette out of pocket and starts tapping it on the desk) Live a little dude. Go surprise her with flowers or something.

2009 Bryan: (entranced by cigarette, doesn’t even mention it) Okay.

ME: Get excited, man!

2009 Bryan: Okay! (gets up, walks to door, pulls out out phone to make a call as door closes behind him.)

ME: Wow. That was good.

33-Year-Old Me: Tell me about it.

ME: (in appreciation) Nice suit, man. Why are you wearing it?

33-Year-Old Me: (starts taking it off) Thanks. It was mostly for effect. Scare the kid, you know?

ME: Oh. We own it, though?

33-Year-Old Me: You’ll find out.

ME: We smoke?

33-Year-Old Me: Nope, also for effect. (crushes cigarette in hand) Want to get a drink?

ME: I don’t know, I’m honestly pretty tired.

33-Year-Old Me: (mocking) Live a little! (and then) Ha. Me too.

ME: I’m gonna hit the hay. You gonna take the futon?

33-Year-Old Me: Oh Jesus, this thing?

ME: Will I still have it in a year?

(He can’t answer because he’s already snoring. I try on the suit jacket. It looks nice, but I’d probably rather buy a couch.)

Salt Water Tonic

I don’t know if this is a superstition, a home remedy, a theory, an axiom, a fact, bilged nonsense, hocus-pocus, or what, but I believe salt water cures almost everything. Poison Ivy, malaise, acne, you name it—if it’s not some sort of Major Medical Problem, I eschew the doctor’s office, and get to the beach. This is certainly related to my island upbringing. This doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

Yesterday I went to Coney Island after work. It’s a straight shot from my office on 34th Street on the N or Q train, whichever comes first. I took the N. I wanted to get my feet in the water, and I knew if I stopped at my house to get shorts and a towel, I would never leave. Instead I would become a caricature: the businessman with the untucked shirt and rolled-up pant legs, falling downhill toward the ocean.

Some people get healed by the ocean just by looking at it. I’m finally reading Moby-Dick, which opens with scenes of “Manhattoes” eschewing the comforts of their homes to gaze longingly to sea:

Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries.

And why would they do that?

We see ourselves in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantasm of life; and this is the key to it all.

Well jeepers, when you put it like that.

So here I was, grasping at the phantasm, keeping a watchful eye of my laptop onshore hidden snugly under my shirt, paranoia over potential stolen goods fading as the minutes ticked by, the sun set, the beach cleared, and my skin absorbed enough Vitamin D (and eventually, my blood enough Pacifico) to slow my internal clock down to something resembling normal. I never slowed it down completely: this is still Brooklyn, after all. But the reason Brooklyn is Brooklyn and Manhattan is Manhattan is that you can survive in Brooklyn by maintaining just a touch of self-awareness. I did it, and I was fine, and I got to enjoy the show.

What show? Well, how about the state park workers shooing people out of the water after 6 p.m.? Spaced about 100 yards apart, these teams of sentinels were tasked with enforcing an impossible rule: “The water is closed.” They’d get everyone out, and everyone would immediately fall back in behind them. From above, it would have looked like a sine curve steadily meandering its way toward Montauk. The water is closed. Ha. Call me when that works. I’ll even leave the ringer on.

Later on, at an outdoor bar that I chose to watch the sunset—actually, I chose it to steel myself for the ride home, and ended up enjoying the sunset—I was, finding myself head-bobbing uncomfortably to early Billy Joel (I was in the merely slightly boozy, not belligerently drunk state in which this is actually possible), trying to distract myself by looking around and sending text messages to Yankees fans. At some point, a couple came into the sparsely-crowded area at around the same time as a group of six guys who posted up with some Popeyes and ordered some beers. The couple was a conspicuously older man with a younger woman with whom he had only recently made an acquaintance; they sat in the table next to me. I thought I was the only one to notice when, as the group began to leave, two of the guys approached the table and, nearly brushing old dude’s hand off girl’s leg, slapped two condoms on the table to the delight of their themselves, their four friends, the old dude, and even his now slightly embarrassed special lady. Then they left, and life continued as if it never happened (for the time being, anyway).

All of this is a way of saying that I was right about the salt water. Outside of the fogginess of my head—two beers can do it to me now—it was a tonic for what ailed me.

Look up

I looked at the sky just now, and not fleetingly; I was outside, and I just looked up, up, up. It was just before dusk, and it seemed a miracle that it was 6:15 and there were still hints of blue. I noticed a bird’s nest in a tree branch that I initially assumed was a plastic bag, because so many of them come to rest there. It was too small to be the nest of a Morning Dove, which makes me happy, as their signature cooing has haunted me from West Tisbury to Forest Hills to the Tiger Woods 10 video game in which, on certain courses, it is a sound effect designed, likely, to put you at ease. When I lived in Forest Hills, in an old building in a wooded area of Queens, the birds would stand in the windowsill and coo. It took effort to bang the window, but they seemed to know the score even if you scared them away. They always came back.

I realized, as I craned my neck tonight, taking in whatever portion of the cloud formations I could, that it’s a rare thing for me to do. Most of my life at least recently has been spent looking straight ahead, or down. In Astoria, there was a shortcut to the train station that I would use on some mornings. The shortcut ran around and along a 60-ish-foot high wall over which the Amtrak passed — it was tall enough to pass over the elevated subway track. The latticework of  Amtrak’s power lines ran above along the edges of the rails, and birds would stand on them just long enough to have their lives removed from this world… whereupon their bodies would fall to the ground in the walkway that so many people hurried along… only the walkway was also a driveway for a municipal parking lot, which meant a lot of tire traffic, and a lot of pancaked bird carcasses. You could tell how long a bird’s body had been there by the amount of blood. Lots of blood — recent death. No blood — a long time. I saw flattened skeletons fairly often, which looked like displays in a pop-up book where you pull on tabs and the figure jumps into three dimensions.

Eventually I stopped using the pathway except for the most pressing emergencies (being late for anything but work, I suspect). But I had to keep looking down. Dead animals, vomit, dog shit — they were everywhere.

That said, Astoria had its charms. The food within five blocks of my apartment was better than the food within 20 blocks of anyplace else I’ve lived, and cheaper. Greek, Czech, Italian, Afghani, Colombian, Thai — we had everything. What we lacked, and what Queens lacks in spades, is atmosphere. There’s nothing sexy about it, which leads some to believe there’s nothing interesting about it, but they’re wrong. At the same time, there’s a reason that no public figure you may know as from Queens still lives there, or would even dream of it.

I wish Brooklyn was as interesting. It’s not, at least not where I live now. This is a Yuppie’s Paradise, as lampooned here (that was written in my apartment, and I have no idea to what degree I am the intended target, but I’d put it at around 30 percent. I’d be fine with it if the spot-in description of myself and my neighborhood didn’t leave me cold). I am implored by friends to whom I rave about studio apartments in the East Village that if I was to leave here, the grass would suddenly become technicolor green, and my eyes would widen with the thoughts of returning. I’m not so sure. It’s hard to look up when you don’t think you’re at the center of something; oddly, it takes a big of egoism to look to the sky and think that the weather, the world, is there just for you — you have to feel big to feel small again. Or like the subway ads say, sometimes you have to take a step backward to take a step forward. I guess the problem with a studio apartment is that you don’t have space to take many steps at all.

But it’s not that space I’m worried about; it’s outer space. I miss it. When I was growing up, it was paramount, crushing. The stars and moon were bright enough that I could drive without lights, especially in the snow. Often, it was too light for me to go to sleep. I never considered getting a curtain, or one at least one that blocked all the light. I thought if one sleepless night happened, so be it. I’d get back to bed the next night. When I got to Chicago and saw a friend blocking every bit of light in his apartment 24/7, I couldn’t bring myself to follow suit. Years later, I relented, and I was like everyone else. I hate having closed curtains, but now it’s just what I do, so again: not much opportunity to just stare at the sky and think. Of course, the more I write about it, the more I miss it, even if I remember the occasional feelings of terror it inspired in me about my insignificance. But my problem isn’t feeling insignificant. It’s feeling too significant, as if the bulk of my life’s work has been done.

I can’t remember the last time I opened a Word document and thought about writing. Oh, I’ve written a ton, but I’m talking about thinking about the words burning onto the page, and into the reader’s mind. It was easier to focus when I was writing for print every day. Every word was irretrievable, and every word was my name, which was out there. Now, it’s in here. I’ve stopped looking at my daily hit count because I don’t care, but I don’t care only because it would hurt to much to do so. I had victory in my hand and it slipped away. I was being read, which is the single hardest thing to achieve as a writer, and I took it for granted. The only way to reconcile this, to myself, was to blame the world. I was a star who hadn’t gotten his just deserves, I thought — no matter, I was a star anyway. If no one was looking, that wasn’t my fault. It was theirs. I messed around with forms, writing about anything I wanted, thinking I was a master at everything as my star slowly faded to a dull, insignificant twinkle. Any residual glow now is no different than the guy in Bombay who opens up a Blogger account — it’s the glow of the screen, pointing nowhere. It’s not real, but it’s not fake either. It is what it is. It’s also what I look at for hours upon hours of the day, stuffing my brain full of information about people, places and things. That’s great and all, but looking up helps me unlock the information that’s already in my head. By remembering how small I am, I remember that the combinations in my head are mine and mine alone, and that’s a comforting feeling.

Around the neighborhood

It’s nice to be back amongst the trees. Stranded for the last four years in Queens, I’m finally getting a proper fall, the type of which a cool, grey, wet day like today doesn’t completely ruin. Above you and on the ground are the oranges, yellows, and reds of October, with squirrels bustling through them looking for nuts, even in the street.

In the background, I can hear church bells chime from the Antiochian church on my block. It’s the same one that has a street festival every September, and at which this year I could hear a rock band playing loudly—and rather skillfully—from my couch. I thought there must have been a crowd of hundreds, the music was so good, but only after an hour did I rouse myself to go check. When I got outside, I saw the street was almost entirely empty. They were playing to a crowd of 12, and blissfully uncaring of it.

The community on my block is centered around The Victory coffee shop, a small, popular corner restaurant. The counter takes up most of the room inside, leaving only an L-shaped area for ordering and sitting, and when the weather is nice most of the patrons sit outside. It’s popular amonst the first- and second-kids crowd, and is a meeting place of sorts. Recently I got a flyer about the empty lot across from the shop; the landowner had promised to deliver affordable apartments but now there was talk of a school. The flyer warned that a school would only bring headaches to the block, and one can only guess that it was conceived of at the Victory.

Around the corner from the Victory is Kili, an odd little bar that, in the way it has hodgepodged different styles together is almost, but not quite, quintessentially Brooklyn-y. Originally conceived as a Kilimanjaro lodge replica, the area behind the bar has been gussied up and fancy cocktails are advertised, yet Doritos and similarly low-rent snacks sit in bowls at the bar. The dimly-lit dining room with candles on all the tables suggests intimacy until you actually go back there and see that the couches and decorations are in disrepair. There doesn’t seem to be any regular crowd to give the bar an identity, but logic suggest there must be enough regulars to make it profitable. The bar most suggests transience in a neighborhood where it is present but usually not so obviously laid bare.

Whirling around Kili, down an entire block of Atlantic Avenue and across the street is the Bedouin Tent, the second place I ate from alone in Brooklyn (the first night, I found Chinese food at the most familiar, bright counter restaurant I could find). The Bedouin Tent has a funny-looking menu printed on normal printer paper which has been folded in half, and is most notable for making their pitas made to order and for their “Middle PITA Eastern” sign. The falafel is high-quality, but almost too much so to be savory enough for my tastes. It’s almost too healthy. The real winner is the Merguez (spicy lamb) sandwich, which is bulky, fantastic and mixes with Louisiana hot sauce so incredibly that it seems like I’m jinxing it just by writing it down.

Curling back toward my building, there’s a small bodega where I go to get six-packs and the occasional drink, but that’s it. It’s oddly-shaped and always has owners sitting outside, and every time I walk in, I’m conscious that they’re watching me the whole time, even if they’re trying not to. I know they get stolen from a lot, because the one time they were feeling talkative someone had just nabbed something, and they showed me on the camera feed—turns out that if you turn around at the cash register, you see a four-windowed TV with camera feeds. That place is on lockdown, and they’re still nervous. I try to be as fast as possible, to spare us all the trouble, and I’m usually only buying one or two things anyway.

Now I’m hungry, but I have to do laundry. Not that it means going outside: for the first time in my adult life, I’ve got it in the building.

The War at Home

This column was started yesterday, but as “luck” would have it, the scene repeated itself last night. That’s right, I suffer for you to keep my columns fresh. We’ll get back to more topical/at all interesting topics tomorrow. That’s the plan at least.

I’m tired today. There’s no two ways about it: sleep is chasing me like I’m leading the Belmont Stakes. That’s the longest horse race in the world, and now the day seems so… long…

The culprit is a mosquito. He has invaded my personal space and bites me while I sleep. Could be a she, but there’s not a history of ladies sneaking into my apartment. (ed. note: see comments) Either way, as Walter Sobchak would say, worthy fucking adversary. I can’t even tell how he gets into the apartment. But when he does, he wreaks havoc.

Let’s set the scene: I live on the fifth floor of a five-story apartment building, and life is mostly good at the top. I’m free from most ambient ground-level noises, and there’s no pitter-patter of feet above my head. The roof is almost always completely vacant, except when someone’s installing a satellite dish or repainting it that searing, brilliant silver that burns your skin and eyes in the summer.

Up there, water collects in little pools. Up there, mosquitos breed, and then gameplan a way into my apartment. They come one at a time: there’s a Papacy of little buggers bleeding me dry. There’s one, I kill it, and then there’s one more. Always one, no more no less. But one can do a ton of damage.

This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered this problem. When I lived in Queens, I lived in the first floor of a house, with a room facing an unkempt backyard. Weeds were everywhere, and the perennial plants were overgrown. It was a mosquito’s Shangri-La. I wasn’t surprised when they’d get in, and I devised a method to kill the bastards. I’d turn on my reading lamp, and look to the side of it. Bathing the whole room in light was too much, but the ambient light was just enough to catch a glimpse of the bloodsuckers. The goal was to end the ordeal with one well-timed clap.

Apparently evolution works quickly, because that method doesn’t work anymore. That or Brooklyn mosquitos are just a tougher nut to crack. Or smear all over your wall, as it were.

These guys are spastic. They don’t buzz me until the lights are off. And they drink like an alcoholic at an open bar. More details are probably not necessary, but during the summer in my sleeping-without-a-shirt phase, I was sure a spider had taken up residence at Casa Joiner, and not one of the silly, functional kinds. I’m talking the kind you name sports teams after (I’m looking at you, University of Richmond). These bites were big.

But no.

The problem is, and always has been, mosquitos. That’s why, in the words of Montgomery Burns, I want to destroy the sun. Lacking any real mechanism to do so, I can only root hard for the onset of fall. Our summer was a largely contented one except for this.

I know what you’re thinking: Why don’t you just close your windows and doors? Well, they are closed. I’m at a loss to figure out why I’m still getting buzzed, the only real remedy to which is… getting buzzed. (A couple beers, and you’ll sleep right through the pain.) But that’s no way to go through life. The mosquitoes’ drinking breeds my own. That’s a downward spiral no one wants.

The only downward spiral I want is the sight of a wadded-up tissue with the last of the insect kings, meeting his watery grave. Down the stretch we come. Bring on winter.

The Brooklyn Bridge at the Magic Hour

The other night, in discussing my plan to paint the Manhattan Bridge, I took some shots at the Brooklyn Bridge in the company of a proud New Yorker. She was aghast, but I continued as if she wasn’t even there. “… and it’s not even pretty anyway!” I bellowed. “I just don’t think it’s a nice to look at as everyone says it is. They just want to like it because it’s old!”

When I was admonished by not just said woman and, well, everyone sitting around me, I refused to back down. Okay, maybe I backed down a little, retreating to my initial point about the Manhattan Bridge’s need for anything—anything—to spruce it up. On Monday, I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, like I often do, and everything changed.

I moved to Brooklyn in March, and it was July until I realized that the walk from City Hall to my house was no more than 45 minutes, and a sure way to beat the heat with the cool breezes at the top of the bridge. The first few times I did it, I made sure to stop and soak in the view of Brooklyn, Governor’s Island, the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan. I almost never looked north.

I was trying to understand what made the bridge so great. I’m not a cynic by nature as much as someone who needs to see things with his own eyes. I wasn’t seeing it yet, but I continued to walk over the bridge. I needed the exercise.

During this time, I began dating a woman who has since become the official squeeze of this blog. She often gets off work around the same time as I do, and had admonished me for never calling her before walking over the bridge (she lives nearby). Well, Monday, I finally did it, and we met at City Hall and pointed ourselves eastward, and that’s when everything clicked.

For all my thoughts that the summer was the best time to enjoy the span, I was wrong. It’s right now. The angle of the sun from 5 to 6 p.m. is just right to cast the shadows of the suspension cables across the bridge’s stanchion’s, which are also bathed in the oranges, reds and purples of the setting sun—what’s known as the “Magic Hour” to photographers. It’s majestic, and it’s only then that the size of the structure stands out. Surrounded by cables and shadows, it feels like you’re experiencing a wonder of the world (when it was opened, it was called the Eighth Wonder of the World). Here the bridge existed not as a watery tomb to those who created it but as a living, functional piece of art with no American equal. And I was finally mad at the aliens (Independence Day), tidal wave (Deep Impact) and U.S. Government (I Am Legend) for destroying it.

Yesterday, one day removed from my epiphany, I walked over the bridge again. Without the lady and the exact weather conditions, it was a touch less spectacular than the day before, so I turned my attention back to the Manhattan Bridge. There it was, in its blue-and-rust splendor, existing mostly for truckers and commuters who could do without the Brooklyn Bridge’s pomp and heightened security. One thought overwhelmed all others: it’s just too watery. The blue of the bridge mixes with the blue-green of the East River to render it mostly invisible except in those photographs from DUMBO where it perfectly frames the Empire State Building. I, like many new New Yorkers, saw that for myself about seven years ago and thought I had discovered something amazing. Like my recent discovery of the majesty of the Brooklyn Bridge, it just showed I had a lot to learn.

My initial proposal was to paint the bridge brown, but I think I’ve grown attached to one by a friend who left it in the comments here: paint it beige, and train lights on it a la the Empire State Building. Change the colors nightly. The bridge would become a living piece after sundown, keeping the magic alive after its little brother’s breathtaking show at the dusk.

Atlantic Antics

Yesterday was the Atlantic Antic street fair along Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. I know because I live a block away from Atlantic Avenue, and took in the sights and sounds of the event, which stretched for a good mile and a half or so. The temperature was in the upper sixties, and the sky was cloudless. It was a perfect day for a stroll.

Barely had I gotten there when I was yelled at about America’s involvement in Afghanistan. “We need to spend money where it REALLY belongs—on health care!” a guy yelled while failing to hand out fliers. No one was engaging him, despite his best efforts and one presumes the crowd’s general agreement. It’s one thing to read Frank Rich, it’s another to engage the maniacal guy at Atlantic and Boerum. How very un-Rich like that would be.

It was at this point that I noticed I was walking behind supporters of Bill Thompson, the comptroller who is running for mayor. There were two of them holding placards aloft, yelling “Bill Thompson for mayor!” This being a big event in a part of the town that could skew anti-Bloomberg, I wondered whether the candidate was leading the group himself, but he wasn’t—it was just those two, who received almost the same response as Mr. Afghanistan until someone yelled in passing, “Bill Thompson! That’s my man right there!”

By the time I got to Court Street, I was thinking about where exactly I was going to watch the Giants game when I came across a makeshift stage, constructed by the Parks department. There, a group of people were playing Middle Eastern music, and about a hundred people stood watching. “Stay here!” the MC urged. “Our first dancer is coming up right now!” He referred to her by name, which I have forgotten but remember had a real-world double meaning. We’ll call her Joy. Two minutes later, Joy was on stage dancing to the music. She was dressed in a brightly-colored silk-and-mesh outfit and looked exactly like a transexual. The crowd ate it up. I turned to leave.

Along the sidewalk, a man was playing a flute to accompany the music, to and for himself, in a storefront. A woman sitting in front of him shimmied to the music from the Parks Department speakers as Joy continued to swirl onstage.

I realized I was getting hungry. What to eat? There were so many choices. Most of them were standard street fair fare, like Italian sausage, french fries, fried cheese in many different forms and shish kebabs. There were several French restaurants along the route, and they hawked oysters and shrimp. There was even a crepe stand. My stomach was mostly full from the night before with spicy lamb meat, so I wasn’t tempted by the heavier stuff, though I did inquire as to the price of a falafel sandwich. I was told it was eight dollars, and resisted the urge to ask if he meant American currency.

By this point, I was almost back at my house, but I stopped to look at the offerings from the antique stores I’m too embarassed to go in. I learned very quickly that I should be saving old stuff—chairs that would be thrown out at a Queens school were fetching $600. The highlight were some high-ticket 50’s-era tin robot sculptures, which were arranged around a sign adminishing passsers by to “Please Do Not Touch the Robots.” Life lesson, learned.

After all this, I still needed food, so in the middle of this cross-cultural event in the heart of blue-and-Green Card America, I went two American classics: corn on the cob slathered in butter and salt, and lemonade, which I took back to my apartment. It was time for football! I knew the day would be better spent at the street fair, but I was drawn to kickoff like a kid to cotton candy. Sitting in front of the TV on a beautiful Sunday, I felt like I was participating in an American ritual as colorful and important as the street fair. Maybe I was just making excuses, but doesn’t football bring America together—fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, generations and generations—just like the Atlantic Antic? The communists and the powerful? The sinner and the saints? The trannies and the… whoever?

Or am I just being corny?