Freaking Out Squares

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Boerum Hill, Bayside, Red Hook, And Points South

I’ve never been one of those people who make the most of long stretches of unemployment, using them as an opportunity to brush up on my now-almost nonexistent Russian, read The Grapes of Wrath, or hell, even clean the house. (Especially cleaning the house! My god, who do you think I am? I guess those kibitzers back home were right when they told me no man would ever want to marry me!) No, I typically use my weeks off to listlessly search for employment, rack my brain for something that can remotely pass as interesting to post on here, and flog myself for being a spoiled white brat who can afford to piss around “finding herself,” supported by regular cash infusions from the Bank of Dad. I can’t even make an effort to rehab myself into respectability anymore, like I could when I was in my mid-twenties and thought there was something wrong with me that I wasn’t fulfilled by marketing skate shoes or entering invoices into a computer for eight hours a day. (Actually, I probably could have stomached the entering invoices, had I been in the employ of, say, a hole-in-the-wall theatre company run by a bitchy flamer with a heart of gold instead of a pharmaceutical PR firm where my boss was a bitchy, frumpy Lawn Guylander who pulled shit with me like claiming she’d given me the rent bill when she hadn’t and ordering me to pick up the oatmeal wrapper she left on the kitchen counter while making all sweetie-sweet with everyone else. Anyway, my celeb BFF has written a whole book about this, and she did a far better job capturing the ritual degradation of peon desk work than I certainly can at this hot, sleepy point in time, so do us all a favor and buy it.)

I have actually committed to registering with Central Casting, but as I believe I’ve already mentioned in these pages, you need a Social Security card to sign up with them, and I don’t have one at the moment thanks to that fucking bitch who stole my wallet and my own stupidity for keeping my Social Security card in my wallet in the first place—precisely what the Social Security office itself tell you NOT to do. So now I have to go through the process of replenishing my identification documents, a task which, in my book, rivals logging invoices and watching paint dry for a good time. I hate standing; I hate lines; I hate standing in lines, and I’m not looking forward to hauling my ass into Manhattan to do exactly that. But I suppose this is as good a week as any (hey! That just made me think of Lloyd Bridges in Airplane! and that whole “Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking/drinking/amphetamines/sniffing glue” schtick), so reckon I’ll be taking the big trip to the island of Manahassa sometime in the next couple of days so I can sign up for the ritual degradation of peon acting! Movin’ on up to the East Side…

Hauling ass into Manhattan to shift back and forth on the balls of my feet in a government office may be (and is!) about as easy and fun as pulling an infected molar out of my cervix, but doing same to Brooklyn to write fiction at a café is rather like flossing, I have to say—so eminently satisfying that I wonder why in the Good Gourd I don’t do it, like, every day. (Well, for one thing, it can get expensive, and flossing is mostly free, but…) My already precarious mental health necessitated that I break with my unemployment tradition and flee this cave I call home for the wilds of
Boerum Hill, Brooklyn
and the shelter of the legendary (to me, at least) Boerum Hill Food Company, an unassuming little boho/slightly-hipster-but-not-so’s-it-makes-me-wanna-take-strychnine java joint right off the F/G at Bergen Street. Not coincidentally, the Boerum Hill Food Company is also where Ayun Halliday wrote her first book, The Big Rumpus, and since I’m a crazy stalker and she plugged the joint in the thank-you notes in said tome, I figured what the hell. (And I’m not a crazy stalker—AH and family are in the Balkans until Friday, and as soon as they return, I’ll be confining my writerly activities to the cafes of Park Slope or the far more down-to-earth Greenpoint because I am respectful. So there.)

Alas, I digress. So, yeah, the Boerum Hill Food Company was worth the trip—it’s food, after all, and hot coffee, and it’s not part of my usual stomping grounds, which are limited to good old SoAs/LIC, Gramercy, and the West Village, for the most part. The young lady working the counter was the sweetest person in the world, and I don’t know her name but she has a dark blond ponytail and groovy black-framed glasses, and I think she works on Tuesdays, so if you happen to pop in, tell her the girl from Astoria says hi, and profuse thanks for her gracious hospitality. Added enhancement came in the form of a precocious but not bratty second-grade girl with whom I had a sweet conversation about how to make a lowercase “k” in cursive, a two-hundred-pound prima ballerina named Alexandra something-or-other, and the contents of my notebook, which would be the fiction project I’m attempting to craft. Odd, isn’t it, that I’ve lived in this great city for eight years and change and I’m still writing about good old all-American fascist high schools. In fact, the working title is “Claudia Schatz and the All-American Fascist High School.” Rather cuts to the chase, don’t you think? Don’t worry, I didn’t tell the little girl that—she didn’t ask, number 1, and number 2, I don’t tend to blow the minds of other people’s kids, baby, unless specifically invited to do so.

While we’re on the subject of der Kinder, you know that story about how when a couple is trying to have a baby, and the second they decide to quit trying and adopt, the woman gets pregnant? Well, lemme just say that the second I trounced out of this house to go writing in Brooklyn, my temp agency FINALLY called me with some work after six weeks. Answering the phone at a doctor’s office, nine to five, no problem, except the clinic is in Bayside, which is way the hell out in Queens—so way the hell out, in fact, that no subways reach it. Eep. As a tenderfoot who never takes buses and likes to sleep real late, I almost balked at the idea, but after six weeks, I really was in absolutely no position to turn down anything that came my way save, perhaps, a day’s work in an abattoir in Bayonne. There’s NO good way to get THERE from Queens.

But I’ve heard nice things about Bayside—according to Kevin Walsh, author of Forgotten New York: The Ultimate Urban Explorer’s Guide to All Five Boroughs, “the neighborhood has always retained a small-town atmosphere,” and while small towns in America make me scratch frenziedly at imaginary fleas, small towns within the five boroughs are nothing if not kind of awesome. And as it turned out, I didn’t have to take the bus after all! At the end of the 7 line, Flushing-Main Street, all you have to do is walk two blocks south to get the Long Island Railroad, which will drop you in Bayside in eight minutes. If you catch the 8:40 and walk fast, you’ll get to work only two minutes after nine, which is an improvement over your usual twenty after, which you always blame on train trouble. (Jeez, all of a sudden I’m Jay McInerney.) I’ve ranted about Upper East Side doctor’s offices on these pages, so let me just pause and say the folks at Premier Healthcare are a much-needed break with uppity tradition, treating the temp like a human being and offering her free coffee like everyone else and chatting with her in the lunchroom. The one rude doctor I encountered was on the phone, barking at me to find someone’s bloodwork NOW, as if that information were just shimmering readily at my temp’s fingertips. Prick. Probably on the Upper East Side himself. Only other slight bummer was discovering that whomsoever is in charge of these things blocked AOL and MySpace—for security reasons, I suspect, since no one seemed to mind terribly that I spent my time between phone calls assembling a cheap restaurant list with the assistance of the Village Voice and New York Magazine. To cap off the day, I found a little Japanese cheap goods shop on the way back to the LIRR and bought myself some pretty l’il 99-cent earrings. Yay yay.

The next day, Friday, found me haulin’ it to
Red Hook
, a neighborhood I’ve always wanted to visit but balked at because to get there, you have to take THE BUS. (I’ve also always balked at seeing On the Waterfront, which was filmed in Red Hook, because Elia Kazan wrote it as justification for turning in his friends to HUAC, although I suppose I’m not doing Kazan any harm by watching it now, so I reckon I can stop being such a silly ass and stick it in my Netflix queue.) But my friends Brook and Mr. Shangles have been keeping house there for quite some time, and I had to give Brook some opera tickets, so no time like the present. And I reckon I can consign my bus aversion to the same bin as the On the Waterfront one, because not only was catching the bus easy, it was also totally fucking cool! At the risk of sounding like a complete stoner rube, MTA buses are rad because you can actually see the neighborhoods through which you’re passing, and unlike those ripoff double-decker jobs in Manhattan, you don’t have to contend with a passel of tourists and an annoying loudspeaker! (I should get over myself—while I never, in all my years as a tourist in NYC, did something as obviously touristy as that, my dad and I did succumb in London, which is kind of silly in retrospect because London is not all that difficult to navigate, and everyone speaks English.) And I must thank the stars that the MTA has a trip finder on its website, because the directions I’d thought Mr. Shangles had emailed to me amounted to “take the G train and then the bus.” In case you’re looking to get from Astoria to Red Hook, take the G train to Hoyt-Schermerhorn (downtown Brooklyn, FYI) and grab the B61 bus, which will drop you off at various points along Van Brunt Street. You can also take the G to Smith/9th and get the B77, which will let you off two whole blocks closer to the Brook/Shangles residence.

After a wacky adventure involving Brook’s doorbell not working and my frenzied quest for a pay phone (which will not happen again, I assure you—I finally replaced my old cell phone yesterday! And it’s a cool cell phone, to boot—it’s silver and flips up and has a camera and everything), I caught up with her in the park at the end of Coffey Street, which is not, as I thought at first, the Red Hook Recreational area but a smaller grassy knoll at the foot of a pier, with a great view of the Statue of Liberty. Per usual, Brook was painting, and she had attracted a little knot of neighborhood kids who wanted to make their own art, which Brook in all her hippie earth mother loveliness handled far, far better than the author of this piece would have, I assure you. We ended up hitting the Pioneer Bar-B-Q on Van Brunt and Pioneer Street for brisket and pulled pork and a pint of the local microbrew, Sixpoint Craft Ale. The bartender was a gruff but friendly old gent who’d grown up in Red Hook, so naturally he was pissed off that “they” were driving up rents a thousand percent and forcing all the old-timers out, but as he also pointed out, there had once been gunfights in the streets every night, so “they” had to do something. I seriously hope “they,” whoever they are, don’t crud up Red Hook too much more with panini bars and hip, fun, and trendy restaurants (please note I fervently believe that “fun” does not belong in the same sentence as “hip” and “trendy” unless used to produce contrast). Compared to Williamsburg and, to a lesser extent, Boerum Hill, Red Hook can still kick it old school—Brook and I were hot to visit the VFW on Van Brunt, but someone has to invite you and, well, no one did—but man, it just brings me down to see those telltale orange signs with the Bloomingdale’s font hawking a restaurant called Bistro 718 or some such tripe. All’s I can say is, those yuppies better not touch Greenpoint if I’m ever going to realize my dream of living in Brooklyn. Seriously, why the hell does “gentrification” have to mean buying up old warehouses and converting them into hip nightclubs where normal people can’t even get a job, much less afford to patronize? If I had the drive and the business sense, I would start a community organization that buys up old warehouses and converts them into affordable housing. I’d make sure to slap some 99-cent stores in the neighborhood, too. Oh, yeah, and some cheap, hole-in-the-wall ethnic places too.

On the way back, I discovered that I needn’t have taken the G train in the first place, because the B61 bus goes straight from Red Hook to Long Island City! Punk rawk! It was dark by the time I caught it, but it was still fun to ride through Carroll Gardens, Downtown, et. al. and see what I’ve been missing. My radio’s batteries had died, though.

As a final note, props and thanks to the always awesome Ruth for her company this past weekend, not to mention the gifts that I should have given HER, seeing as her birthday was April 4. (The gifts were a citrus/cilantro natural oil diffuser and a Sting magnet made from a bottle cap by Sante Fe artist Goldie Garcia. Who knows—maybe I’ll get around to posting pictures.)

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