Monday, March 19, 2012

I grabbed a domain name and am moving my blog there. I had to write a book in nine months so that pretty much drove me out of the blogosphere. But with the book coming out and more free time, I'll be back in regular action. Hope I can grab some of you absent friends. As a teaser, my and the book got mentioned in the Sunday New York Times. All about Williamsburg and Bohemians, of course.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Northside Robbery

As he left the Greenpoint Tavern, moments before being invited to leave, James Cassese had an epiphany. The Greenpoint Tavern (or GPT or Rosies as it was known to regulars, Rosie’s for one of the owners with her blue-tinted bouffant and lacquered face that covered maternal booze-dispensing tenderness) on a Saturday near midnight was exactly the place where clarity could sweep over you. Despite the neon palm tree in the window it was always Christmas at the bar – strands of Christmas lights and Christmas streamers and Christmas banners on the wall. At the long bar, a few old Polish men drank morosely and tried to ignore the crowds of bellowing children in odd clothing who had seized Rosie’s and were holding the pool table and jukebox hostage.
James’s rocket of possibility had launched as he’d summoned the last scuffed dollars from his wallet and realized that he couldn’t tip on what it was clear would be his last drink. So then, how to get money for that next drink, and even more importantly, the drinks after that? Rosie had already given him one free drink for old time’s sake and she had more recently scolded him for borrowing the drink of one of the noisy art child who had vehemently complained about theft. Even worse, Rosie had taken the kid’s side although she had known James for twenty years (it didn’t occur to James that familiarity was exactly what had led Rosie to her decision). Cassese was a large man with a thick black moustache worn completely without irony. His bulk had always given him confidence; people thought twice before they shouldered past him on the subway and this made him feel an inherent importance. The loss of his job as a car service dispatcher in the Bronx two years earlier had inexorably directed James back to Greenpoint, where in eleven months he’d worn out the couch welcome of every family member and friend he had left. There it was late on a June night and James had no place to go with his empty wallet. Foresight had led him to wear his long windbreaker – it made sleeping in the park more comfortable.
The loss of his job had given James all the time in the world to do what he desired most – drink – but had taken away the means for him to do it. Rosies was his last stand. James had grown up in Greenpoint and he’d been visiting the bar for thirty years, back to when he was an underage drinker in an era no bartender on Bedford ever said the word, ‘ID.’ Despite the fact that James had just dispatched the final dollar from his last welfare check, he’d rediscovered his confidence as well whiskey-and-soda’s went down. The nine-inch Bowie knife strapped to his ankle in a soft leather case bolstered that confidence, which is why he wore it, of course, but the rocket of insight didn’t explode until he opened the bar door and walked out into June.
Across the street car headlights flung diamonds and shadows onto plate glass shop windows. James looked directly through cars and the people hurrying away from the subway and through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows and saw the barista in the L To-Go exposed behind the counter. That’s when it all came together for. Besides the barista, a gangly kid, the To-Go store was empty and closing, the morning and lunch rushes long past. James decided that he would walk in with his confident bulk, present his nine inches to the puny kid and have him empty the register (James had seen the barista’s pulling the cash drawer from the register and counting the money out on the counter other nights, so perhaps his epiphany was not as spontaneous as it seems). A stroll around the block and he would return directly to Rosie’s; no cop would ever suspect such casual bravado. In the bar, he would tell Rosie that an old friend had finally paid off a loan and he would buy both of them shots and he would even apologize for his earlier misbehavior. It was a happy vision.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Samuel Beckett

Certain questions of a theological nature preoccupied me strangely. As for example.

1. What value is to be attached to the theory that Eve sprang, not from Adam's rib, but from a tumour in the fat of his leg (arse?)?
2. Did the serpent crawl, or as Comestor affirms, walk upright?
3. Did Mary conceive through the ear, as Augustine and Adobard assert?
4. How much longer are we to hang about waiting for the antichrist?
5. Does it really matter which hand is employed to absterege the podex?
6. What is one to think of the Irish oath sworn by the natives with the right hand on the relics of the saints and the left on the virile member?
7. Does nature observe the Sabbath?
8. Is it true that the devils do not feel the pains of hell?
9. The algebraic theology of Craig. What is one to think of this?
10. Is it true that the infant Saint-Roch refused to suck on Wednesdays and Fridays?
11. What is one to think of the excommunication of vermin in the sixteenth century?
12. Is one to approve of the Italian cobbler Lovat who, having cut off his testicles, crucified himself?
13. What was God doing with himself before the creation?
14. Might not the beatific vision become a source of boredom, in the long run?
15. Is it true that Judas’ torments are suspended on Saturdays?
16. What if the mass for the dead were read over the living?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Bar Called Kokie's

It wasn’t named for coke, the bartender said. That’s the funny thing. I mean, the place opened in the 50s and it sure wasn’t pushing coke back then.
The bartender was thick – thick torso, thick neck, thick skin, fingers like cannolis and that blunt LI accent, Brooklynese tempered by a generation in the suburbs. But he could tell a story.
They got this frog in Puerto Rico, he said. It’s called a coqui because of the sound it makes, ‘ko-kee, ko-kee, ko-kee.’ The guy who owned this place was Puerto Rican. Back then, it was some kind of social club. He used to have card games in here, strippers, that kind of thing. I mean he was half a wise guy anyway. One night he got stabbed in some card game. That was it for him. He was like, ‘I’m seventy years old. I don’t need this shit.’ So he gave the place to his nephew and that’s when it got started. One of the old doorman comes in here and we talk.
The Antique Lounge had opened a couple of months earlier. Its antique flourishes came courtesy of a restaurant catalogue – tin ceiling, exposed brick, classic moldings, and a fireplace. The furniture was so plush you could drown in it. Nothing was left from the long reign of Kokie’s.
I’m forty-three years old, the bartender said. I’m in it for the long haul. This place is my dream. I was born in the neighborhood. When I was four my parents moved out to Lynbrook but we stayed connected.
The bartender was also the owner. Blond salon streaks in his hair and his padded face made him look younger.
They had a great take here, he said. Twenty-thousand dollars for a four-day week. That’s not bad – even if you include the coke. Of course, you don’t know how many people were getting envelopes. I’m sure the police chief got his envelope. And the fire inspector. After 9/11 that all changed. The precinct got a new patrol chief, a woman who used to work narcotics. She said, ‘I’m not having this here.’ It’s hard enough to be a woman in that position anyway – and then have a coke bar under your nose. Right out in the open. I mean, if you’re gonna do that, at least be discrete. But no. They had the salsa band in here. The noise after hours. Still, they didn’t even get busted. That’s the funny thing. They lost their lease. They got some kind of three strikes thing in New York, I don’t know the legal particulars but the landlord was afraid they’d take away his building. So he didn’t renew the lease.
The owner bought me a drink. The way he talked, I figured that he’d been a Kokie’s customer himself and not just once.
The neighbors hated them more than anything, he said. When I took over they came in to check us out. When I told them what I was doing, they thanked me. You know, the Kokie’s crew thought they were being discrete. That’s the funny thing. With the booths in the back and leaning against the wall to put in your order. And the way they used to cut that stuff to shit. Why not have a decent product? But they really stepped on it. What went on with Kokies, I couldn’t have that. Most of my family is cops so…
We looked around the quiet lounge – five or six people on the couches and sofas, classic rock playing on the jukebox. We could have been in any of fifty NYC bars. ‘Antique’ was in.
We did all our own renovations. We soundproofed the ceiling. We put in our own hot water – the guy upstairs used to share it. And it’s working out. Couples like it in here. We got the couches. It’s romantic. Last week we had fifty dykes for a party. Not too many of them were those lipstick lesbians, I tell you. But nice people. Polite. That’s the kind of place I want. The guy who owns Rain came in here last week. You know what he told me?
Rain Lounge had opened the year before on Bedford and North 5th. The ‘urban’ vibe made it an anomaly even on a changing Northside – flash cars parked in front, gangster vines, hip hop thumping, meaty bouncers. The fact that both long-time locals and newcomers disdained the only neighborhood club that catered to African-Americans said something about our tolerance for ‘diversity.’
He told me, the bartender said, ‘I dread going to work. The fights. The girls passed out on E. The guns.’ I told him, ‘You don’t have to do it.’ But he said, ‘No.’ That’s the choice he made. But he probably takes in thirty-five hundred on a Friday night. Me, I’m doing good if I get that in a week. Then again, he’s probably paying eight grand a month for that corner. I pay twenty-five hundred. The authorities have it out for him too. I had the fire inspectors in here, the safety marshals. They told me, ‘We got the inspection list for Rain. We’re going to nail them for this and this and this.’ That’s not the crowd I want. I won’t play hip hop or techno. I’m in it for the long haul.
I went back to the Antique Lounge a few times after that, hoping to commune with the ghosts of Kokies but the bar had nothing for me. But the next winter, it had closed and Rain wasn’t too far behind. Kokie’s business model beat theirs by almost a half-century.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Patrick Bateman: White Negro

The hipster’s immediate descendent, the hippy, became a figure of disdain, at least if you didn’t like patchouli and the Grateful Dead. Anyway the hippie seems to have very little to do with the hipster qualities outlined by Mailer in ‘The White Negro.’ You don’t really expect some granola-chomping tree-hugger to spontaneously kick the crap out of a store clerk. Bret Easton Ellis’ anti-hero in American Psycho, Patrick Bateman, embodies Mailer’s hipster better than any hippie kid, his evolution accelerated by three decades of market manipulations, the individual split between an empty social order and the indulgence of his most immediate desires – for Bateman sexual violence and murder. Ellis’ characters express their individuality through minute concern with gradations of style, and yet remain generally unrecognizable to each other (a running joke in the book). Bateman’s bloodlust is, in part, a reaction to the fact that there are others cooler than him.

Mailer focuses on the most romantic aspect of the hipster – the impulse to spontaneity and violence – and says very little about the elaborations of cool. Thus his hipster is lopsided, no Lester Young there. Mailer is onto something though with the idea of the hipster trying to make real his ‘infantile fantasy.’ What’s changed is the way in which the marketplace has nurtured the infantile fantasy. Nothing is more pleasing to people selling things than customers who can’t resist their most immediate impulse. The social revolutions of the 1960s fell short, but ‘expressing yourself’ by way of ‘lifestyle’ has conquered the world.

The origin of the contemporary hipster has everything to do with Reagan-era America. The manufacturing of a new national consensus in the 1980s left many out. Thrift no long figured into the construction of the American character – the most lasting legacy of the 1960s was comfort with debt – but flag-waving, conformity, and a return to traditional gender roles swept across the country. The corporate raider became a hero. On the outside: baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet. On the inside: Patrick Bateman.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Charitable Case

This poor woman just wants to give me her money. How can I deny her final wishes?
Like everyone with an email account - that is to say, everyone - I get these letters constantly. There's something particularly charming about this one. Maybe being addressed as 'God's elect' or perhaps 'serious tears'?

From Mrs Sarata Farah

Dear God's elect,

I believe you will do better than I think,

It is understandable that you may be a bit apprehensive because you do not know me, I am writing this mail to you with serious tears in my eyes and great sorrow in my heart, My Name is Mrs. Sarata Farah,Am contacting you from my country Tunisia . I want to tell you this because I don’t have any other option than to tell you as I was touched to open up to you, I am married to Mr. Toyo Farah who worked with Tunisia embassy in Ouagadougou the capital city of Burkina Faso: in west Africa for nine years before he died in the year 2005.We were married for eleven years without a child. He died after a brief illness that lasted for only five days. Since his death I decided not to remarry again, when my late husband was alive he deposited the sum of US$ 8.2 Million (Eight million two hundred thousand dollars) with a bank in Ouagadougou ,

Presently this money still in the bank there. He made this money available for exportation of Gold from Burkina mining. Recently, My Doctor told me that I would not last for the period of seven months due to cancer problem. The one that disturbs me most is my stroke sickness. Having known my condition I decided to hand you over this mission to take care of the less-privileged, you will utilize this money the way I am going to instruct herein. I want you to take 30 Percent of the total money for your personal use While 70% of the money will go to charity work" helping people in the street.

Because I grew up an Orphan and I don't have anybody as my family member, just to endeavour that the house of God is maintained. am doing this so that God will forgive my sins and accept my soul because this sickness has suffered me so much. As soon as I receive your reply I shall give you the contact of the bank in Burkina Faso and I will also instruct my lawyer to issue you an authority letter that will prove you the present beneficiary of the money in the bank that's if you assure me that you will act accordingly as I Stated herein.

Hoping to hear from you soon.
Remain blessed
Yours Sister
Sarata Farah.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Where Is He Now?

Ying was a filmmaker with peculiar fashion sensibility. During the week, Ying wore business casual to his job managing containers on freighters coming from China. On weekends, Ying favored spangled bustiers, dresses with spaghetti straps, and expensive lipstick (I remember one of his girlfriends borrowing a tube of his – was it ‘Harlot Red’? – and saying, ‘This cost thirty dollars!). For years Ying wore a speculum on a cord around his neck; later, he replaced the speculum with a bicycle horn. Like a lot of the other Williamsburg characters in the early days, Ying was an instinctive eccentric. Eccentricity was often the only thing the characters had in common but in Williamsburg that was enough. I first met Ying in San Francisco at a party where he screened a film he’d shot on the Brooklyn Bridge. The film was beautiful and we talked about collaborating, even though Ying’s films didn’t have stories or actors. Still, we became friends: Ying introduced me to off-menu delicacies in Chinese restaurants (crab roe, pig intestines) and wu-xia films – together we watched a young Jet Li flying across the screen spinning and kicking. Ying’s father was an admiral in the Chinese navy [TK] and Ying worked for a Chinese shipping company. His first job had been in the Chinese merchant marine. One night I had to defend Ying from a bunch of Mexican guys who jumped out of a car because Ying was so damn cute in his tight black dress. Ying didn’t like to talk about his past and my questions annoyed him; Ying had fled China for the same reasons I’d run from Catholic school. When Ying’s company transferred him from SF to New York he ended up in Williamsburg.

Ying’s studio in the former Tung-Fa Noodle Factory had a large bed, a folding movie screen, tens of thousands of dollars of film equipment – including a camera with a shutter speed so fast it had been designed to film rocket launches – and not much else. The Noodle Factory was a fourteen-story white monolith that had once housed a lot of small-scale businesses – most of them sweat shops – a central feature in industrial NYC since the Civil War (a feature that continues to this day, if you squint. One night in a Soho dance studio, I looked out the window into a neighboring building. At ten p.m. dozens of Chinese women sat waist-deep in fabric leaned over sewing machines).

Ying had started off in New York delivering pizzas via bicycle but he’d graduated quickly to a big American car. He loved big American cars and in the decade we were friends he was never without one. He loved the automatic windows, the plush upholstery, the leisurely steering. No matter how much Ying drank or how far we were from my apartment on 169th Street, he’d always drive me home. But most nights we went out together we landed at the Noodle Factory. Film canisters, lengths of film and empty cognac bottles covered his floor. Through the 11th-floor windows J-M-Z subway cars clanked over the Williamsburg Bridge. The bridge lights and the headlights made it look like Six Flags. A darker skyscape rose to the south, warehouses crowded together and behind the warehouses the squat towers of housing projects. Like Drew and Stefan, Ying spent most of his time in Manhattan and when he came home, he parked his car and hurried inside. The Noodle Factory was a retreat, cut off from the street, a place to hover near the city.

Watching the bridge and the Manhattan lights from Ying’s studio, I didn’t think about the streets. They were just an obstacle as we moved from the car to the building, fear vanishing only when we sat cradled inside. It a long time for me to realize that you couldn’t have the freedom without the fear.