Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Tag: Brooklyn

The Coolest City on the Planet

So Hamilton Nolan thinks GQ is ridiculous for big-upping Brooklyn restaurants. And sure, the subhead is cloying:

Don’t take that as a knock onManhattan, which is doing ust fine. But for the first time since, well, ever, you can spend every New York minute of your trip on the far side of the East River and never feel like you’re missing out. Here’s how to explore the place where everything’s happening before it’s happening.

I mean golly gee whiz doody, I may be just a small-town rube, but that looks like a pretty good list to me. I mean, the real “coolest city on the planet” for food is Queens, hands down, but I don’t see anyone publishing that issue, least of all Gawker. (Well, New York Magazine did it, but I trust them on Queens as much as Nolan trusts GQ on Brooklyn.)

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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.

New eyes

I wanted to write a blog post on the bus today, but I didn’t know how I was going to post it, and then I got SOCKED in the face by reality, where my $74 bus ticket (up from $66, like, yesterday) includes free wireless internet. Pith in motion! Note to U.S. Airways: get on this. Though I actually kind of liked the, you know, conversation I had in its absence yesterday.

So uh yeah. The Blind Side is on. I would watch this! But there’s no sound. And I read the book.

This was my second toe-touch in Brooklyn in the last two weeks. Twelve hours and gone. The first was MVY–>NY–>The Desert. This one is the return trip. I figured that if I didn’t get out of NY at the earliest opportunity I would be stuck here. And when I typed “JFK” into the self check-in yesterday, I felt nauseated. Having tasted Not New York, I’m eager to drink it down in copious amounts. Having seen other places with new eyes, especially Phoenix, I’m eager to do the same with New York.

But I can’t. When I came back in last night, it hurt my eyes to look. It was like being forced to watch TV when you’ve been at it for 12 hours. I needed, and need a break. I need to come back with new eyes. I need to see new and exciting things to do, or at least not grow anxious by looking at the old ones. I believe, in the parlance of our times, that I need a vacation. I need to get away.

So now I’m back on the bus, traversing the same stretch of I-95 that this guy, an O’Donnell and many a Smadbeck has owned over the last decade. I used to take pride in knowing the exits by heart. Now I take pride in only caring about my destination. I’ve been told that “place” is important to me, and I believe it. I used to the think the places along the way were the story, but they’re not. As I’ve begun renovating my childhood home, I have a much better idea of what a place means when you put your own sweat into it, and the gratification of seeing your own vision come to life. Having been away for so long, it was easy to see “home” with new eyes, and set about doing what had to be done.

My apartment in Brooklyn has been another story. I’ve tried to put it together without a real vision, and have done it piecemeal and half-assed. With new eyes, all of that might change.

The Key to Writing

It was a slow day at work (more to the point, I’m moving slowly, even if I shouldn’t be) and I hadn’t written here for awhile, so I decided it was probably time for a blog post. And why not one on writing? It’s something I do a lot and probably don’t talk about as much as I should, because it’s probably the subject on which I have the most knowledge to impart. I’m not talking about past participles or present pluperfects, because I couldn’t teach you what those are, nor am I an peanut gallery grammarian (I am vicious with with my own prose, but only insofar as I know mistakes when I see them; I never bothered to learn what most of them are called) I’m talking about the act of writing itself, of putting words together to make sentences, not in theory but in practice.

During the period in my adult life where I was the most preachy about writing—which, perhaps not coincidentally, was the period in my life where I was doing the least of it—I had a phrase that I was ready to repeat to anyone but most often ended up telling my satisfied self: “The key to writing is to write.” I was, I confess, on to something. One cannot become a better writer without doing the hard work of writing every day, the exact same way one cannot become a great runner without running every day, or one (presumably) cannot become a great chef without cooking every day.  At the time I was saying it not to describe my  habits, but to describe my past ones at the Queens newspaper, where I wrote hundreds of thousands of words that ultimately landed me unemployed by choice, but unemployed nonetheless. I wanted credit for the life I had lived instead of enjoying the life I was living.

I still wrote, and wrote a lot, but without much discipline. My mind would wander from subject to subject, and my output was frighteningly erratic. I could write nothing for months and then write 20,000 words in two weeks. Most of these words went nowhere, and passed before no one’s eyes but my own. My computer is a graveyard of unfinished project after unfinished project. I have taken pains not to erase most of them in the event that, some day, I have the courage to face them and make them into something readable, but that day has not yet arrived.

It turns out that when I said, “The key to writing is to write,” I was only partially correct. There are a lot of other things that help; things that I’ve done virtually all my life, but never as rigorously as I do now in the service of my own work. The first is reading. For a long time I thought that reading was important to writing merely to give the author a platform from which to have an authoritative voice; something of a pile of books to stand on. That is important, but it’s not the only part that is important, nor is it even the critical part. There would be periods of months at a time over the past few years that I wouldn’t read a book at all, because I was satisfied with the amount which I had read. I was underestimating, greatly, the process by which gradually reading one’s way through a book influences one’s ability and inclination to write. I had become the hare and the tortoises were passing me. I have forever rallied against being labeled as a “writer,” because it’s a meaningless, self-applicable title. I wanted to be published first. That led to an unfortunately long neither-chicken-nor-egg scenario for my career, which ultimately righted itself to a degree when I moved to Brooklyn, shut off the TV, and began acting like a professional writer. That meant moving through a book at all times, and putting some words down every day. The important thing for me on the writing side is to keep the restrict0r plates on, so to speak. I stop myself at 750 words, which I’ve already bumped up from 500, in order to maintain my enthusiasm about writing from day to day. As a journalist, I have always been goal-oriented: get the article done, get it edited, get it published. A writer’s job is different: it’s process-oriented, and no amount of guffawing about my past is going to change that.

High Tide in Brooklyn

I couldn’t wait five minutes. I was walking to the subway from work and called a friend who was in a conversation: He’d call back in five. I stood next to the stairwell, pacing, flipping my phone open to see if the numbers had changed. 4:51. Then, after an hour: 4:52. I couldn’t make it. Tourists flooded past me, men handed out newspapers: 4:53. What would I do when I got home? 4:54. Read a book, I suppose. 4:55. Now I could see 9 p.m., and it looked like my living room, with the TV on and a book in my hands. And by the time my phone flashed 4:56, I was through the turnstile and headed to my sixth home in eight years.

My superintendent got the boot last week; the management company fired him without remorse or much warning, it appears. He’s lived here for 39 years and they sent him a letter giving him two weeks to get out. People in the building were outraged, and took to the building’s e-mail list to register their outrage and arrange for him to see tenant lawyers. They even put a signup sheet downstairs to pledge support, which I missed — by the time I got there, the list had been removed and it was just an exhortation and a pen on a stick. Presumably those names were passed along to the people who deliver my rent statements. I have to suspect my landlords know it’s coming. They’ve done this before, and they’ve dealt with this before. It’s really hard to get someone out of their apartment in this city if they’re willing and able to fight back and whether they have rights that have been broken or not. This is part of it.

On the bright side, I’ve never been the target of something like this. I’ve been forced to move twice. Both times I lived on the second floor of a house in Queens, both times the owner sold the house, and both times were between 2004 and 2007 — not surprising, in restrospect. The amount of money poured into real estate then was staggering. In Woodhaven, Queens, a cluttered, low-lying and middle-class-at-best neighborhood, there were full attached condominiums going up that started at $650,000 by the middle of 2004. I didn’t know much about real estate at the time, and I knew jack about subprime mortgages, but I knew something was off. When the bubble burst, it took a few months for me to connect the dots. I took it for granted: to live in a city was to be transient.

That’s not how things are in my building now. Here, there’s permanence. When I moved in the person vacating the apartment told me of two local species: the “lifers” and the “steppers.” Lifers are self-explanatory. Steppers stayed 5-7 years. I was 31, and he was 37: MATH. It’s amazing that in Brooklyn, where everyone fancies themselves special, I became another puzzle piece. I was probably one before, too, but I was off the beaten path and that was its own reward. There’s an emptiness from having left Queens to move someplace so rigidly spectacular. I’ve seen this place plenty in movie sets, in sepia-toned photographs you can buy off the street. This place evokes the forties, or the twenties. White, tree-lined, beautiful when it snows. It won’t be much different in 20 years; its about slow changes, and slow movements in and out like my own.

Queens? Queens will be different. Queens is a place in motion, a place where the world constantly doubles back on itself, like the remains a giant wave following gravity back into the ocean and the teeth of another one. It’s not like that here, and so when there is something to overcome — like an unseemly eviction — the people become riled. There’s no denying the goodness of their quest. But having been where the heavy waves crash, time after time after time, I know it never stops. Just as Long Island has its turbulent Atlantic shore and its placid North Shore, Queens (tubulent) and yuppie Brooklyn (placid) express this idea — even if in doing so they inversely geographically situated to the actual tides, a funny little note. What’s not funny is a man who’s lived somewhere for 39 years being cast away from his home at a moment’s notice. For him, the years probably went by like minutes: 1971… 1972… 1973… 2009… 2010. And now, in a manner of seconds, he needs a new home.

I bet I know where he lands.

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.

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?