If you missed the last missive, here’s the nutshell: Manhattan has a drink, a chowder, a Frank Sinatra song and the opening of Saturday Night Live but Brooklyn has murderers who keep the cops focused on doing their job of murderer-catching and let me do my job of riding stolen bicycles into flaming trash cans with girls who look like Mick Jagger.
Revolutions are born in cities because it’s hard to be revolutionary when you’re thankful to make it home after too much beer and zeitgeist. The real freedom of Brooklyn was the freedom from the pig’s eye and his harsh blinking lights, crappy polyester uniform and horrible reform school shoes. Brooklyn cops didn’t pull over a responsible citizen asking “Where’s the fire”, “How did my sister end up in your car?” and “Why is she wearing only a tubetop?” because they didn’t have time and I didn’t need a car.
I turned into a man of many bicycles as rubber on the wheel is faster than rubber on the heel. Cycling in New York is more lethal than riding a motorcycle in Los Angeles. It’s roughly the same drunk/medicated population and chossy roads but New York has the added hazard of the Taliban cavalry driving yellow people squashers.
At the end of a Manhattan night I’d have to get on my bike, navigate traffic and cross the muggerland of the old Williamsburg bridge, drunk and hopelessly clipped into my pedals. It was dangerous but I was healthier than my Lower East Side peers who only had to stumble a couple of blocks home to nurse their habits into junkiedom.
In 1995, going back to Brooklyn meant you’d had been voted off the island. Bowery Boys and Loisidas loved to shame me about how they never been to Brooklyn and where was Brooklyn anyway?
Damn right I defended it. I’d been kicked out of college and run from the Bible Belt. Disney and Giullianification priced me out of Manhattan. I had to make a stand before I got pushed into the sea. Brooklyn was the Masada of me.
When I say “Brooklyn,” I mean before the raw food dipshits got there and it was all rice and beans or pierogis. Before the graffiti got all cute. Before the neighborhood was defined by the cookie cutter do’s and don’ts of Viacom.
I’m talking about Brooklyn when you could get a Heineken and bolsita right over the counter at Kokie’s. The kind of place you might shoot a king rat with a twenty guage shotgun in your apartment on Lorimer Street and your Chinese landlord never said a word because he was scared of getting deported. That place where Haitian families felt comfortable enough to burn a mattress and cook a goat on the sidewalk. A time so poorly lit that Monk could fall down the steps at Rug o Lad and then spit bloody teeth at the bartender so we could nab the Absinthe. The Brooklyn where you pour beer on the floor of the Greenpoint Tavern in order to twist with Horsey and Carlos on Christmas Eve.
That place is gone a long time now, banished to East New York or squelched behind facades of baby clothing shops. I’ve been going through the black box, trying to parse the day, the hour, the moment that Brooklyn turned into a mall. I remember a big bus pulled up. It said RISD on the side, which must be some kind of fashion academy because everybody that got off it had a bedhead and a pair of hundred dollar jeans slouched half off their ass.
They came in, ordered slices and checked their hair in the bulletproof plexiglas. There was a local kid named Mando in the pizza parlor, famous to us for a trick of breaking into David Henry Brown Jr’s apartment late at night to sell him drugs. Mando eyeballed the RISD kids, turned to me and my boy and shook his head solemnly.
“Remember? This neighborhood used to be hard.”
Mando was blaming the pioneer hipsters for how fashionistas thought it was safe to primp in Brooklyn. Mando intuited that the presence of these nabobs meant that the neighborhood had forgotten to keep up an illusion of danger. The ability for them to exist here indicated that the corruption was now systemic, as gentrification exponentializes so quickly. He was suggesting that it was our presence that brought this plague upon us.
Soon it became obvious that Mando was right. Every day overwhelming number of non-weirdos and normal job-having motherfuckers came in on the trains and paid exorbitant rents on time to live in our charming bohemian cesspool.
It’s the same every time: alpha hipsters and indie bands make coffeehouses which are patronized by fashionstas until the gays and college reality shows find out where they are and then suddenly all the buildings have doormen. The neighborhood keeps getting nicer until one day the local crackhead doesn’t come around to pimp Nazi uniforms, alligator heads or any other treasure reclaimed from the garbage. The Koolman is run off by hipster taco trucks. The cops write tickets for drinking beer on the street.
I wanted Mando to be wrong so badly that I went to the printer that day and had them make twenty t-shirts that read “Defend Brooklyn” with an AK-47 emblazoned on it. I didn’t try to sell them yet. Back then I didn’t want to be a t-shirt merchant. I just gave them out to like-minded people hoping to spark a war, like Red Dawn II if it was written by Genet featuring a cadre of wastrels vicious enough to break windows, burn down coffee klatches and scatter syringes around the neighborhood so we could still afford to live there.
Understand that I’m describing pre-9/11 thoughts and actions. Since then we’ve all made money, lost money and seen things that make the language and stance of “Defend Brooklyn” moot. Twilight Zone things like people that know they can’t fly jumping out of buildings and the BQE empty at rush hour.