2005-06-17 - 5:23 p.m.
In all the hoopla surrounding the resurgence of Batman with Christopher Nolan’s latest opus, every newspaper and TV news shows tried desperately to find some new angle to approach the Dark Night. The single article I enjoyed discussed how New York was represented one way or another in a myriad of trade paperbacks. Superman, Batman and Spiderman all inhabit the Big Apple or at least some derivation there of. Put best, Frank Miller was quoted, “Metropolis is New York during the day, and Gotham is New York at night.” While I don’t feel the need to have a Kryptonian or a deranged billionaire looking out for my gangly ass, the dichotomy of New York’s is glaringly apparent.
Gotham on one side of the BQE, and Metropolis on the other.
My finances were shot with one simple phone call. I tried to reach a friend on a boring Thursday night only to be greeted by the recorded strong arm of my phone company.
This translated roughly to: “Hey, Shithead. You know those little envelopes we kept sending you? Yeah? Well, stop fucking using them for your paper-mache busts of Rosario Dawson, and pay your fucking bill, you dick!”
Since the bundle of cash they electronically shook from my pockets amounted to a good half of my remaining pittance for the next couple weeks, it probably wasn’t the best of ideas to head out for a steak dinner at a posh little café in Western Williamsburg, but when one considers my condition, doped up on Tylenol PM, suffering from ennui of the palate after bland diet of Cheerios for the previous thirty six hours, and a desperate need to get out somewhere warm and inviting, the sudden and overwhelming desire to find some succulent dead cow to huck into my gaping maw seemed perfectly acceptable.
I washed myself up, and headed out to the other side of town.
I’ve discovered I’m not the only one in the borough who insists they live in “East Williamsburg” when they get hit with the locale question. With so much expectation built into the street of Bedford, any admission that one lives with in a mile radius of the hipster nexus can land you with an assumed bottle of patchouli oil in your bathroom. As quickly as I claim to have grown up in Eastern Connecticut to distance myself from the posh, nannied populace of Westchester, I now claim “East Williamsburg” to distance myself from their well funded children.
My little neighborhood is far more excited about the Puerto Rican day parade than the release of a new single by The Killers, and despite feeling like the only blancito in the building I still think it’s preferable. People grill on the corner outside, while kids toss a baseball back and forth across the street. Down on Grand Street most of the store fronts on the block have had their shutters down since the Reagan Era, but their stoops serve as street side seating after church. The few backyards that have been dug out between complexes serve for Sunday functions. I don’t own a grill. My throwing arm is a bit weak. I haven’t been to church in a long while. All I can do during those Sunday family gatherings, is let their music drift into my apartment through the open windows. I’m not a part of this world, but I feel comfortable there, or, at the very least, I don’t feel competitive with it.
No one would think to compare my neighborhood to Bushwick, but a quick look at the surroundings doesn’t generally inspire developers to begin work on a new Dolce and Cabana outlet. (Do they have outlets?) Just west of my hovel, however, a near replica of Bleeker Street is being built up with all the fixin’s: ritzy clubs and restaurants, bolstered by savvy internet cafes and boutiques offering the latest in dresses that look like underwear. All of this going on safely on the other side of the highway. Some people live on the wrong side of the tracks. I live on the wrong side of the BQE.
With rumbling tummy, and the winnings of my recent poker game burning a hole in my pocket, I swung my man-purse over my shoulder, and skittered under the expressway. It doesn’t take long to take in the difference. Street numbers are spelled out in gold leaf instead of Sharpie. You suddenly see a lot more marble. And everyone seems to be traveling in horn rimmed packs.
There wasn’t one other party of one on the street. Everyone, without exception, adhered to the buddy system, traveling together in matching band t-shirts and coordinated peasant skirts floating in the breeze. I thought it odd that an area known as a bastion to the individual creative, would have tenants so addicted to the group. Then again, those T. S. Elliot quotes aren’t good for much unless you can Proofrock your friends into the secret society while befuddling the rest.
In bright yellow shirt and without escort, I was in the lurch throughout the evening. Walking into a new restaurant with no discernable sign out front, and a eight item menu listed on a rumpled piece of recycled paper, I had a nice dollop of time to take in the rustic décor while they seated the cute, young, well-dressed pair of ladies who entered in front of me. And then I waited. No one came. I am a bit shy in these situations, not wanting to seem needy, but one would think standing idly by at the edge of the restaurant floor would announce one’s intention to be seated. Eventually I stammered out a wave, and the Amazonian hostess ushered me into my seat.
The ladies were being poured a glasses of water as I scooted my bag under the seat. I sat dry and parched for ten minutes before anyone came by. When she happened by with my aqua, I ordered up a glass of wine. Only after two cigarettes past the ladies receiving their bottle of wine, presented and served in tandem by two women who sung the praises of the sanguine liquor like two coked up PR reps at a pitch meeting, did my waitress, a lady of murky sarcasm and locks of dank black hair that slid over her tattooed shoulders, pause slightly before my table saying…
The obvious revealed she went about her way.
She did come back after a bit with the glass I ordered. I don’t much blame her for placing me on low priority. The scabby little kid sitting by himself, reading at a restaurant, usually doesn’t demand a whole lot of attention.
The whole place was teaming with couples sitting languidly, enjoying another beer, and singing along with Rufus Weinwright on the stereo. The ladies beside me giggled themselves silly. I couldn’t tell what cheered them so, despite my best efforts to evesdrop. My excuse: the one closest to me had a British accent, and those remain magnetic. Her blond compatriot drew a demure hand to her chest with each snicker; a move so classical I thought it lost with Queen Victoria. Everyone seemed tucked into snug familiarity. Some even knew the staff and cooks.
Meanwhile I sat by reading the story of a man detail the intimate details surrounding the loss of what he hoped to be his second-to-last greatest love.
Gotham on one side, Metropolis on the other.
I don’t long for the opulence the westenders seem to enjoy. I get it from time to time too. I’m not ready for the family living my eastsider neighbors have either. But I envy their comfort. Their ease in all things that it feels like I lack.
Those people to my left and right, it feels like they have a flag slammed into this city. They’ve staked their place, and it’s theirs. I still struggle with the title of New Yorker, neigh on three years now of residence. So many seem like they own this city, and I’m still renting.
I will always enjoy the view, and there remains no place else I’d rather hang my hat, but with Gotham to one side and Metropolis to the other, I still keep wondering where I fit. I have a feeling I’ll keep pondering that, until I decide, apropos of nothing, that I do fit. I’ve got a feeling that’s what everyone else is doing.
6 Letters to the Editor