Friday, March 24, 2006

The Brooklyn Syndrome

New York has a way of stripping you to your simplest inputs. The separation and isolation of trains, cabs and largeness can create a piecemeal inward narrative; a self muting diatribe worthy of exclusion from normal context. For example, I need eggs. This is normal. By the time I reach the eggs, however, I have talked myself into ham sandwiches, beer, bread, and I never even buy eggs. The city moves around you, not through you. Everything the inner dialogue wants is a warped version of something better. Better always exists: better jobs, better apartments, better men/women, and better arguments. Yet, there remains something better than you. It’s Brooklyn.

I live in Queens. Bringing this up is an inherent mistake. The divide in any conversation in New York revolves around one of three things: your neighborhood, your entertainment choices, and your old friends. However, no conversation matters after you admit to living in Queens.
Queens, like the unmentioned portions of any cities lies dormant in minds like old movies—the Sunday TNT/TBS movies that everyone watches hung over. Brooklyn’s hip exterior awaits you like new movies. The new movies await you in theatres. The new movies gleam like alabaster. The new movies exist solely to mock your empty wallet. The new movies are better, glitzier, and heavier. They hang over you in advertisements, water cooler conversations, and appear with well timed veracity—topically variant and beautiful like fresh snow. Brooklyn exists one hour away (by train at least). As a borough, Brooklyn is the definition of uncharacteristic cool. All your young friends live there and assume you do. Manhattan is old hat—though cheaper in Harlem. Queens has the bigger rooms, better landlords, overall tighter feel, yet it seems so uncool. Brooklyn uncoils itself in back alley bars packed with the elitists. Essentially, stripped to it’s core, it is the definition of the lunch table I was banished from in my one year of public high school. The only difference? That lunch table never had anything I wanted in the first place. Brooklyn’s style belies that of what I want—interesting conversation and musical heretics.

Unlike my younger days, I now realize the understated is the obvious. Simplicity contains the grand design of the articulate and gravitas. Warranted explanations are the décor of the writer and artist, thus creating the social fold of Brooklyn’s elitism. Obviousness seeps through it’s streets, and plants itself at the local watering holes. Isn’t that what high school is for though—realizations of the simple? Back then, overstatement was the ruler of the day. The only objective was to be seen. Look at me, I have a tie and no collared shirt. Look at me, I play sports. Look at me, I have a girlfriend. We are holding hands and making out at lunch. People sustained themselves by simply standing around others more popular than they were. Semi-circles of future enemies and elitists formed around the social norms; groups defined by choices of all kinds (clothes, music, even smell at times). Now, as aforementioned, the simplest inputs are readily available. The pared down group can be geographical, musical, monetarily similar, work environment related, et cetera. Placement in social order depends less on commonality, and more on sheer locale. I can become great friends with nearly anyone merely through the need to communicate. The only problem is where I live. A typical conversation, when drinking in Brooklyn:

“Where do you live?”
“I live in Queens.”
“Really. Why? I mean, it’s so far away, y’know?”
“Yeah, but I like it.” I know this isn’t true (it takes less than 25 minutes to get to lower Manhattan), but I don’t explain over the horrific droning of the pointless DJ.

Conversations like this one are not generally snobby by any means, but they provide little openness—they are counterproductive. Saying I live in Queens invites snarkiness and closes off a sense of belonging to both parties. Often, in fact, I have had to leave after these conversations because the conversations dried completely. Awkward silences tend to follow the “oh” like they do when the trains reach optimal speed and make it impossible to hear the person next to you. So I leave the person to consider why a man in his mid-twenties would live in Queens when, aside from its apparently horrendous locale, it’s the antithesis of New York’s atmosphere; the literal opposite of the cultural elite.

Queens, to its discredit, does offer very little by comparison to the two major boroughs. There are fewer youths, bars, theatres, museums, etc. There is a lack of excitement and reciprocity. Queens does not give me options like I give it rent. Dormant for the most part, I feel no need to linger after I get home from work. Queens’ strongest arguments are merely ill-conceived dopplegangers of the rest of the city. Their version of Chinatown looms large, but realistically, Flushing is a long train ride away for the Americanized version of Manhattan’s foul smelling haven for cheap bus rides and delicious foods. The New York Metropolitans, despite the influx of new and expensive talent, are the second rate Major League Baseball franchise. The museums reek of second hand information—my bus stop includes a sign directing you to Kaufman Theatre—an Andy Kaufman version of motion picture insight. Not the most interesting perspective; a de facto argument against calling Queens a “hip” place to live.

In the midst of these arguments, Queens stands put as my choice for a home for the time being. I would be remiss in saying I am not planning on ever living in Brooklyn. I will. The thing is—and this goes for Manhattan too, the same thought process that guides me to buy beer instead of eggs is the same that will ultimately drive my distrust of Brooklyn’s endless faux hawks and needless bar DJs. On the way to Brooklyn’s more capable conversations, I need to drink alone for a little while. Sure, eggs are cheap nourishment for a man who has lost thirty pounds in five and a half months, but beer’s inebriating quality is more prevalent right now. I’d probably have a steady girlfriend and more opportunities to network in Brooklyn, but I need that hyper-loneliness that drives me. Queens’ non-English speaking contingent alongside its anti-youth movement capitulate the attitude of the slacker and quitter better than any hip bar or trendy haircut. I suppose I could live in Bedstuy or thirty eight stops off of the “L” (or “fashion”) train, but, in essence, we are discussing the same mindset anyway.

The beauty of Astoria hits you at four in the morning. Drunk after a train ride from Manhattan, I sop my last piece of bread onto a sauce ridden Styrofoam plate—the remnants of a beef souvlaki shish kabob affectionately referred to as “meat on a stick.” The particular souvlaki joint I frequent—quite literally a cart on the corner of Broadway and 32nd street) was overrun with muscle bound men waiting in line as their all-Greek dance clubs shut down for the night. Several Puerto Ricans hang their heads out of their trucks blasting “Mas Gasolina” by Daddy Yankee. The two groups shout at one another. In the midst of it all are my roommates and I alongside two males our age. They praise our meat on a stick contingent, and admit that they drunkenly drive from Brooklyn every Friday for the delectable yet unidentifiable meat.

“I would live in Queens for this. In fact, I might move into Astoria soon.”
“For the meat?” I’m shocked.
“Yeah—that and it’s cheaper here and closer to Manhattan than where we are now.”
His friend pipes in—“Yeah, and I mean, what the fuck? It’s all New York City.”
Intrinsically, I nod with pride. I live here. I already knew that. I freeze for a moment, and realize that I am just as guilty of prideful indignation as any resident of Brooklyn. That’s fine. Simple as it may be, I live here is a justifiable response. The simplest inputs are usually the ones that make the most sense. As I walk, the background noise settles into the slow paced rhythm of Astoria—the occasional car, a couple laughing, my roommates enjoying their late night meal. I will sleep without noise, and sleep well. I live here. This thought resonates through the drunken haze. I have learned to like the Mets, Andy Kaufman was pretty funny, and i don't have enough money to watch new movies anyway. Sure, everything will get better, but I’m exactly where I want to be right now.


At 6:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this was all just so you could write about the goddamned meat on a stick, wasn't it... you have a problem, jeff! let me help you!


At 11:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

as an out-of-towner who ventured to have meat on a stick at 5 AM in 15 degree Astoria winter, i have to say that jeff really does not have a problem (well, i'm sure he has a problem but 'meat on a stick' is not it). my main problem is that jeff was not present for my first (and hopefully not last) M.o.a.S. experience.


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