If you missed the first installment of the Defense Industry Report then here’s a recap of that amazing document: Hate me now for I, Dave “Affadavit” Reeves, started “Defend Brooklyn”, the contagion of which continues to this day in many bastard forms.
That’s right. I have become a thousandaire by harvesting the pocket litter of jingoistic hooligans and those who pay to dress like them. The quick wisdom of the “Defend Brooklyn” slogan has eclipsed everything else I’ve done in my life. Women have loved me, left me and tried to kill me with weapons purchased from the filthy profits of this T shirt. It introduced me to famous people and conned that bunch of Hollywood hacks calling themselves “writers” to let me into their guild.
But why is this? What does it mean? What the fuck? Defend Brooklyn thrives in ambiguity like middle east politics or the lyrics of Powderfinger .
First off: I am not really from Brooklyn. Brooklyn became home for me after a series of nasty run-ins with North Carolina authorities, culminating in an assault on a police officer. (Be careful about assaulting a police officer, as you will end up like Danny Chavez of the seminal Negroclash band “Apollo Heights” or or worse.)
I was acquitted of assaulting said police officer not because of my rights or anything but because I was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of my harassment. Still, small town cops watch out for their own, so they sharked ever closer in my rearview mirror, trying to force the swerve. Eventually I called a friend of mine who’d been kicked out of college the same week as me for some advice. He told me to come up to his spot in New York City where the cops don’t give a damn about anything.
I was such a hick when I got off the plane. I had never eaten sushi, falafel balls or lox bagels before. I thought Alphabet City was so named because the bums walked around chanting “A” “D” “C”, only to learn that these are the initials of drugs (acid, heroin, cocaine respectively) they peddled. And they were junkies, not bums. Things like junkies were news to me.
My boy’s “spot” was a squat sponsored by a Cooper Union painter. We were allowed to crash in his studio at night along with a guy named Doug, who seemed normal until he lost his life paying Russian Roulette. We took herbal ephedrine to help us relax while playing chess and waiting for photo assistant gigs.
I was able to enjoy my birthright of a full flowering southern degeneracy by drinking beer day and night anywhere I wanted: forties on the stoop, tallboys on the train, a wee nip in the hall to help soften the floor for a good night’s sleep. Dinkins was in office and the Lower East Side was an open air drug market. I couldn’t get arrested in that town. Nobody cared about a white boy with all his teeth.
My friend played saxophone with downtown jazzbos Cecil Taylor and Butch Morris. We smoked weed with Zorn, who clowned my choice of clubwear. It was made clear to me that I had to get hip quick or get shipped back to the sticks. They were famous downtown horn tooters and piano beaters but who was I and what did I think I was doing stomping around New York City in hiking boots?
To rank as a New Yorker one had to do something. But what? I didn’t think to just steal somebody else’s idea, paste it on a shirt and sell it as my own, which would have made me an equal with my contemporaries in the t-shirt propaganda game, without having to go through all the messy work of actually being creative. <img src=”http://www.arthurmag.com/magpie/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/obey_1984-300×199.jpg” alt=”obey_1984″ title=”obey_1984″ width=”300″ height=”199″ class=”alignleft size-medium wp-image-10146″
As I pondered this situation providence intervened. An undercover cop disguised as a barefoot rasta busted a friend of mine for drinking beer on the stoop. It was Giulliani time. Overnight, our idyllic crowded Lower East Side squat zone became an expensive, cop-infested hell. I cried, tore hair and lost all hope, until a real rasta told us shit like that never goes down in Brooklyn because those cops out there are busy.
So, we scouted across a dangerous mix of rusty metal plates cattywamped between patches of thick blacktop and muggers called the Williamsburg Bridge .
The caged walkway ended in dark, pocked leavings from the great insurance fires of the seventies. It was 1994 and the area near the bridge was empty, except for an old Amish mobster singing weird songs though a big tube on top of the Jew church.
As we headed north the streets were rimmed with fresh-off-the-jet types, drinking beer on the stoop, radios turned up to eleven. Back then it was correct to consider Williamsburg a tough neighborhood in San Juan. Every day was Puerto Rico Day, and then at nighttime too.
When cumbia and car alarms mixed together on Bedford it was disorienting as a casino. It was the summer lazer pointers came out, so we had to advance up the Avenue fighting the urge to flinch at the red dots dancing on our shirts, comforted by the belief that maybe there wasn’t a gun at the other end of the beam.
The locals sized us up. We were too weird to be cops, too fat to be junkies. What did we want? I told them, “I want to be in America. Okay by me in America. Everything free in America.” We had the dance-off, and I won. (footage lost) So, according to their custom, they had to treat us as equals and rented us some rooms above a Bodega for six hundred dollars.
After this, an initial force of somewhere between six and ten white black and french types occupied that room, spoke English and dug in. More Alpha Hipsters came across the bridge every day, run from their hometowns like common lepers or Mormons, unafraid, broke and weird. The world had cornered us in Brooklyn, between the recycling plant and where lead paint sandblasted off the bridge fell to the ground.