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Brooklyn Perfect

September 6, 2011

After weeks of continuous symptoms and tsuris, stress and doctors, hospitals and stents, Shelley and I had a day full of life in the county of Kings.

It started the night before. She went to sleep. I went out with friends to an all night party in DUMBO (a neighborhood carved out of what’s Down Under the Manhattan Brooklyn Overpass). Shelley didn’t come because she’s grown tired of these parties; but I haven’t. As I’ve written before, two very young and remarkable young men named Balktic and Winkel create (with the help of an extended family of artistic maniacs) complete environments for a night in huge, vacant warehouses in Brooklyn. This time however, the warehouse’s landlord flaked out, so the party got downsized into Winkel’s loft. But I went, and, along with 150 twenty and thirty somethings, and exactly two other boomers, proceeded to flush my system in several ways, stripping down to my physical essence on the dance floor to electronic music ‘till dawn.

Well – pre-dawn. My friend Jeff and I left at 4:30 and walked through the streets.  DUMBO at that hour is a remarkable journey of witnessing the past as it morphs into the present. It’s all old factories, warehouses, deserted cobblestoned streets full of old trolley tracks, views of 2 bridges spanning a darkly sparkling and foreboding East River. It’s desolate gritty urban magic. And, for anyone old enough to recall the bad old days, scary as hell at that hour. As we walked to Jeff’s car, I pictured a gang of toughs careening around the corner in their old Chevy and screeching to a halt onto the sidewalk in front of us. But these were little more than echoes of images of a city long gone, and an old Brooklyn as dead as those wiseguys lying in cement shoes at the bottom of that river. For this corner of Brooklyn is now as renewed as the rents are high. Indeed there was a young couple, probably from the party, lying on the sidewalk by an old building, all over each other, the empty beer bottles beside them suggesting they must have been hanging out there in the wee hours for quite a while, on that deserted street. Neither they nor we could have gotten mugged around there if we had tried.

I came home, full of the sexual energy of the party and bringing it back home to Shelley. At 5:00 am, I woke her, and she proved to me yet again that she is a very vital and passionate woman first, an elder second, and a cardiac patient last.

Normally I would have slept a good ten or eleven hours to rejuvenate. But after six hours, I woke up, and something happened.

I believe strongly in a good night’s sleep, but I notice that the longer I sleep, the more I wake up being all in my head – with dreams, thoughts, and full of memories of the day before and plans for the day to come. “Don’t talk to me in the morning” is my mantra. But now with fewer hours of sleep, I could wake and fly under the left-brain radar, and therefore be something I so rarely am: Spontaneous. Still flushed and refreshed from the night before, where I’d danced all my demons back down to hell, I was ready to keep the party going, albeit sober.

I told Shelley we’re going out for breakfast, called a car, and off we went to Smogasburg. Have you gone? (The Times calls it “…a summer rock festival for food…”)  Get there before it closes in November. Right by the water at the edge of Williamsburg on Saturdays are perhaps 40 or so food stands of every conceivable variety: pastries and desserts and drinks of all sorts; ethnic foods of every stripe; and all with an aura of edgy, artistic experimentation fit for the urban gastronaut. For my breakfast I had homemade granola (with chocolate chunks) topped with yogurt and peaches. Shelley had a vegan eggplant parmagian on a homemade spelt roll with a cashew “cheese” and tomato sauce that was delectable.  Next time we’re bringing friends and a bottle of wine, as there’s plenty of lawn space by the water to eat and chill out on.

Then we walked through Williamsburg towards the G train. Here was my weekend’s second revitalized Brooklyn neighborhood, also gentrified but full of vitality and youthful innovation. There’s a permanent wall art installation in the Metropolitan Ave station there. The artist challenges us with words, juxtaposing “Faith” with “Fate”, and “Safe” with “Sane”. (Hmmm…that last pair present us with one of  our biggest choices in life, yes?) We rode the subway to Brooklyn Heights so Shelley could get her new glasses.

Then we caught a cab to the Slope, so she could pick up some meds, and I could get a haircut.

Of course, this is the only barber shop in Brooklyn I would ever go to, or have ever gone to for almost 30 years: Park Slope Barber on 7th Ave and 4th Street, est. 1904. John spends 20 minutes on my beard and (what’s left of) my hair. Sometimes there’s a wait, but that only increases the pleasure, as music is always playing in there, with never anything (much like the shop’s furnishings) from the past 30 years.

Park Slope Barber's Cash Register and Music Collection


There’s plenty of Sinatra; old jazz; and lots of doo wop; Rhythm and Blues; and standards. If you want to know what’s playing, there’s Joe the music maven who’s always there on weekends, to tell you more than you’d ever want to know about the song, the artist, the musicians, the times.

After this Shelley and I were hungry again, so we walked a few blocks up 7th Avenue to Thai Rice Kitchen, a very inexpensive standby right before you hit the F train. I ordered what must have been my 100th plate of Tofu Spices (get it with the Seitan), the single most delicious dish I have ever had in a restaurant.

But what most inspired me this weekend was Shelley and the hope I see for the future of our city and of us all.

Shelley herself is a light that refuses to be dimmed even in the fog of unanswered cardiac conundrums. On the subway of all places, before I knew it she was connecting with the people across the aisle and behind us (“Oh look! An infant!”) starting a conversation with the Hispanic woman clutching a two week old girl. She gets more joy out of buying something she likes than any woman I’ve ever known (and that’s saying something!). On the streets of the city, or in a hospital bed, she touches and is touched by who and what is all around her.  Her spirit is simply irrepressible.

As is the city’s.  More than anything else in DUMBO and Williamsburg this weekend, I saw something that I suspect has not yet been fully birthed or articulated. Something new is trying to emerge; something we can’t make out or name yet because it lies some miles beyond the horizon. The creative young people of this town – not all of them  (but it never takes all, or even a majority) are busting out and remaking urban life in their image.  They’re far more entrepreneurial than we boomers were at that age, but often just as legally irreverent; and far more female – led; and far less oppressed by the mainstream culture. Indeed, they are helping drive the culture, at least technologically.

If I were to try to connect the dots out to a possible future – a future that is still, I contend, up for grabs – I foresee a great dying and rebirthing. The old culture is dying a necessary death and what we are witnessing are the birth pangs of something new struggling to emerge. A vibrant, exuberantly creative spunk that’s daring to create not only new things but in new ways – fashion, music, food, and new ways of connecting – and all in the middle of a dreary recession yet! At heart, I believe they’re trying to change The Story, how it all turns out, which of course will mean how it all will turn out for them. They intuitively grasp that it’s still possible to rewrite tomorrow’s history.

And it’s all germinating, above and underground, right here in Brooklyn. For Shelley and I, it’s good to be alive, here and now.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. dave abramowitz permalink
    September 6, 2011 3:11 pm

    Whew, and double Whew!

  2. September 6, 2011 4:33 pm

    ‘a vegan eggplant parmagian on a homemade spelt roll with a cashew “cheese” and tomato sauce’

    God, you’re really tempting me…

  3. September 6, 2011 6:44 pm

    like hearing brooklyn metamorphosing again and again. my mother was born in prospect park when it was a russian jewish immigration near-slum. then she and my father lived there as starving communist artists in the 30’s.

  4. September 7, 2011 2:05 am

    I’m glad you had a great weekend in Brooklyn, and I hate to sound like a bummer here, but I don’t think you should extrapolate your experience into a grand prognostication for the future of the world. Honestly, techno music parties and ethnic vegetarian food — is that really something new? Doesn’t the basic concept go back to the 60s, if not earlier, to the beats (substitute jazz or psychedelic rock for techno)? Williamsburg is a great place with lots of fun, creative energy — no argument there. But it’s just one neighborhood, and I don’t see any really new artistic movement sweeping the culture. (Seems to me that postmodernism amply demonstrated the death of art in our culture nearly a generation ago.) Millionaire yuppies have replaced the wise guys along the Brooklyn waterfront (Dumbo, etc.), but gangsters and thugs still terrorize most of Brooklyn — witness the approximately 48 shootings this weekend in NYC, the great majority in northern Brooklyn neighborhoods. The big picture is not pretty — unemployment through the roof, financial problems unlike anything we’ve seen in our lives, and a psycho case like Rick Perry leading among Republican candidates, while Obama turns back on his own progressive initiatives and drops in the polls. Williamsburg is a nice escape, but if you want to face reality, you have to go to Iowa where presidential candidates are made.

  5. Tresa permalink
    November 20, 2011 1:24 pm

    Ed, you should tag along to one of these parties and see if you’re able to resist rebirth, rejuvenation.

    I come alive when I get out and party with music that, like you said, drowns out demons. Taste freshness in food, witness the new, creative light that can sometimes best be found in the dark of night (at killer parties where creative energies merge). It is an antidote to all the bad, sad things in the world. It is not to be confused with turning away from what’s wrong, rather, it is a way to bloom, find the fuel to again surge forward, light another candle to sustain those pushing ahead on the path of change. It’s dark up there at the front, you know.

    As if anyone *needs* a reason to party. Glad to have vicariously gone there with you, Charley.

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