Category Archives: City-Dwelling

Catalogued: Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, by Danielle Evans

 Evans, Danielle. 
 Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self / by Danielle Evans. 
- New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.
“Usually, Eva thought of herself as a good person. She stayed up at night worrying about the human condition in vague and specific incarnations. She made herself available to the people whom she loved, and some whom she didn’t. She gave money to every other homeless person and stopped to let stray kids remind her how much Jesus and the Hare Krishnas loved her, more for the benefit of their souls than hers. Still, she wondered sometimes if it wasn’t all pretense—if, when she shut her eyes and wished restitution upon the whole wounded parade of humanity, she wasn’t really wishing away the world that created war and illness so that she might have a world in which there was room to feel sorry for herself. Every day she felt herself losing things it was unacceptable to mourn.”
A collection of beautiful (without being the slightest bit overwrought) stories.

In My Backpack: GOOD Magazine’s ‘Cities’ Issue

A quote plucked from my current reading material.

Los Angeles // Value Inn

When talking about cities like Cleveland or Pittsburgh, city planners and architects refer to the dead or under-used areas as “broken teeth.” Well, Los Angeles might as well be a washed-up prizefighter, because there are a lot of gaping holes between those pearly whites.” —Tim Halbur, “The Future is Bright in Los Angeles,” GOOD magazine, Spring 2011

Curio: 3/5/11

Later at the Chelsea Piers, alternating between kissing and shouting at each other, the afternoon sun doing the same with the water before us, no one seemed to mind at all that we were occupying a bench spilling tequila all over, and why would they? The city does what it’s supposed to sometimes. // I have to believe in love, or something akin to it, for the same reasons Schliemann had to believe in Troy. The stories are there. The architecture is conceivable. And the doubters are less interesting thatn the partisans.
Those are two selections from a weird, lovely little book—the kind of lightweight, whispy little thing you can take with you in your purse or pocket and not feel like an ass reading at the bar while you wait for your friend, or while you wait for no one—called Please Take Me Off The Guest List. It’s a collection of essays by writer/Fresh Kills’ singer/Beauty Bar bartender Zachary Lipez and photographs by Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner, designed by Stacy Wakefield and published by Akashic books. For a different view of Brooklyn, check out City Limits’ “Brooklyn Issue,” which features a 5-part piece looking at “the borough behind the brand.” Or check out Phoebe Maltz’s post, “Of Brooklyn’s old, new and international,” which is the kind of Phoebe post that makes me think yes, yes, yes, this is why I always keep Phoebe in my important g-reader folder. Phoebe laments “the ever-growing canon of travel advice not exactly aimed at hipsters, but that conflates ‘where the hipsters are’ with ‘where one finds local color.’”
The old-as-time popularity of telling people how to find ‘off the beaten path’ restaurants, of how to (as is written, preposterously, on the side of tourist vans near Battery Park City) “Come a tourist, leave a local,” has morphed into a kind of parallel tourist industry, in which there’s an assumption that everyone’s looking for pretty much the same thing around the world, namely the equivalent of Williamsburg or Wicker Park of whichever locale they may find themselves in. This is the real-life travel equivalent to the street-style blogs depicting identically-quirkily dressed 20-and-30-somethings, whose locales one can only discern from their ethnicity. (Naturally platinum blond and in the ’70s-inspired uniform-of-the-moment? Helsinki. Dark hair and a rockin’ post-army bod in the same outfit? Tel Aviv.) It’s precisely this approach that sends tourists in Paris – Paris! – to the Canal St. Martin area, which is good and well but… the 6th and 7th Arrondissements! The Seine! One doesn’t go to Paris for hipsters who happen to speak French and own a bit more striped stuff. One goes for the beautiful everything, for the 60-ish women who look like a young Catherine Deneuve, for the bichons frises with their own chairs in a café.
Freddie is also being unabashedly Freddie right now on his blog, railing against the “distorting influences” of DC cocktail parties on media and politics. It’s all a bit hysterical, and intense (“every new breed is a purer expression of corruption than the one that came before.,” but sends you wandering strange thought-holes nonetheless, and makes you question your own assumptions about things a bit, or look at your own culpability, or something. It will make you think about something, and that is why one reads Freddie. I think I will have more to say about it in a bit, but—California! How does anyone stay inside here?

The midwest farmers’ daughters

It’s impossible for me to think about California, at this point in my life, without thinking about Joan Didion. I came to Didion recently-ish—I think it must have been just a little over a year ago, I was on the verge of moving to New York and Conor told me to read Didion’s famous moving to and moving away from New York essay, “Goodbye to All That,” to which I responded:
I adored it. But I wonder—did you feel that way, when you moved to New York? I don’t. I worry I am too old, or too stubborn …
Which just shows you what a pretentious, dramatic twit I can be sometimes, because of course I got swept up in loving it here (and also just, Gawd, you know?). It’s been about one year and one month since I moved here, and I may or may not be as bad as when my then-boyfriend first moved here, moved into the McKibben lofts, and called me at my apartment in DC at 2 in the morning to tell me that the loft building across the street had started blaring and singing “Holland, 1945″ by Neutral Milk Hotel, and then the residents of his building started doing it back at them, and then they were all having a Holland 1945 sing-a-long and wasn’t that just magical and New York the best? Shoot me if I ever become one of those people, I told my DC friends. And now I live in a house with 13 other members of my creative collective, Goddamn Cobras, and make raw pies and have housemates who play in a band called Zebros in our basement. So, there’s that. What all of this has to do with California is that, on the official one-year anniversary of my move to New York, I was not in New York but in Ojai, California, shooting a movie and/or camping out in dried out riverbeds and forests and lagoons and farms and mountaintops and beaches. That land is incredible, let me tell you; as a lifelong midwesterner with a splash of east coast, I had no idea how beautiful California could actually be. But what a weird little place, that state. How can a land so built on frontierism, on lone rangers and outcasts and outlaws (you see, I not so long ago finished both Didion’s first novel, Run River, and her book about California, Where I Was From, and also spent last fall and winter watching John Wayne and Sergio Leone movies, so I have these grand sort of notions about California’s founding) be so … progressive, in all the most negative senses of the word? And why doesn’t someone advertise a medical marijuana shop without using the old tropes of psychedelia? Why do the lemons in California get so big? And how the hell did Los Angeles even happen? Why are there so many car dealerships on the strip between L.A. and Santa Barbara? And how does anyone ever get anything done what with the beaches and the sunsets and the palm trees and all of that? Why did I want so badly to feel some sort of connection to a silly place that was once a different place (in my case, the first studio warehouse and lot, for Keystone Studios, opened by Mac Sennett, in what’s now Echo Park, but what does it matter—I wanted to see a Celebrity House, you know; I went looking for Mabel Normand’s Alvarado Street bungalow, I had to visit Haight-Ashbury)? And why do people in San Francisco pretend like they don’t have the worst weather? Why does California, the Idea of California, draw people, like the Idea of New York City, even still, even now—a highway not just a highway but a California Highway; a sunset a California Sunset … A weird little place, that state. I hope to visit again sometime. ********** * I am now reading Tom Robbins’ Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, the first Robbins book I’ve even attempted—I tend to lump him in that group of Overhyped Gen X Male Authors I Have No Interest In, like David Foster Wallace and Dave Edgars and I think Thomas Pynchon, though he is probably much older, isn’t he?—because when I was driving down the Pacific Coast Highway on my own, no radio signal, no music of any kind, no visibility much beyond my headlights, all fog and endless bridges—to be saved only by the prospect of Guadalupe, because Jables said I would Love It, only to find the most dismal, empty town, Mexican track housing, and suddenly 56 degrees when I fill up my gas a few towns later—or even during the filming of our goddamn western, when Fanny’s house was all slightly-off-key vintage upright pianos, Bearclaw banging on the keys theatrically (in his full Sheriff costume), and fresh mulberries sunshine outside bathtubs wine and toasts—which of course all made me sad because somehow nostalgia and enjoyment always hit me in reverse, well—I don’t know where it came from, didn’t know the phrase referenced a book, a song, anything at all, all the same it became a bit of a mantra, just a little bit, which is silly–it’s silly, right, okay? I know—but nonetheless it became a bit of a mantra, “even cowgirls get the blues,” that somehow cheered me up (I had been wearing these amazing cowgirl boots as a part of my film costume and now refused to take the boots, or my turquoise jewelry, or my ragged jean shorts, off, you see), so when I saw this old Tom Robbins’ paperback copy in a used bookstore in San Francisco with Rachel for four dollars and 50 cents, I had to pick it up. Even cowgirls get the blues. Only by now, I have owned the book for over two weeks, and I’ve only read ten pages. It’s hard to like a woman with giant thumbs, and it’s hard to feel like a cowgirl in Brooklyn …

Coast to Coast

It’s impossible for me to think about California, at this point in my life, without thinking about Joan Didion. I came to Didion recently-ish—I think it must have been just a little over a year ago, I was on the verge of moving to New York and Conor told me to read Didion’s famous moving to and moving away from New York essay, “Goodbye to All That,” to which I responded:
I adored it. But I wonder—did you feel that way, when you moved to New York? I don’t. I worry I am too old, or too stubborn …
Which just shows you what a pretentious, dramatic twit I can be sometimes, because of course I got swept up in loving it here (and also just, Gawd, you know?). It’s been about one year and one month since I moved here, and I may or may not be as bad as when my then-boyfriend first moved here, moved into the McKibben lofts, and called me at my apartment in DC at 2 in the morning to tell me that the loft building across the street had started blaring and singing “Holland, 1945″ by Neutral Milk Hotel, and then the residents of his building started doing it back at them, and then they were all having a Holland 1945 sing-a-long and wasn’t that just magical and New York the best? Shoot me if I ever become one of those people, I told my DC friends. And now I live in a house with 13 other members of my creative collective, Goddamn Cobras, and make raw pies and have housemates who play in a band called Zebros in our basement. So, there’s that. What all of this has to do with California is that, on the official one-year anniversary of my move to New York, I was not in New York but in Ojai, California, shooting a movie and/or camping out in dried out riverbeds and forests and lagoons and farms and mountaintops and beaches. That land is incredible, let me tell you; as a lifelong midwesterner with a splash of east coast, I had no idea how beautiful California could actually be. But what a weird little place, that state. How can a land so built on frontierism, on lone rangers and outcasts and outlaws (you see, I not so long ago finished both Didion’s first novel, Run River, and her book about California, Where I Was From, and also spent last fall and winter watching John Wayne and Sergio Leone movies, so I have these grand sort of notions about California’s founding) be so … progressive, in all the most negative senses of the word? And why doesn’t someone advertise a medical marijuana shop without using the old tropes of psychedelia? Why do the lemons in California get so big? And how the hell did Los Angeles even happen? Why are there so many car dealerships on the strip between L.A. and Santa Barbara? And how does anyone ever get anything done what with the beaches and the sunsets and the palm trees and all of that? Why did I want so badly to feel some sort of connection to a silly place that was once a different place (in my case, the first studio warehouse and lot, for Keystone Studios, opened by Mac Sennett, in what’s now Echo Park, but what does it matter—I wanted to see a Celebrity House, you know; I went looking for Mabel Normand’s Alvarado Street bungalow, I had to visit Haight-Ashbury)? And why do people in San Francisco pretend like they don’t have the worst weather? Why does California, the Idea of California, draw people, like the Idea of New York City, even still, even now—a highway not just a highway but a California Highway; a sunset a California Sunset … A weird little place, that state. I hope to visit again sometime. ********** * I am now reading Tom Robbins’ Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, the first Robbins book I’ve even attempted—I tend to lump him in that group of Overhyped Gen X Male Authors I Have No Interest In, like David Foster Wallace and Dave Edgars and I think Thomas Pynchon, though he is probably much older, isn’t he?—because when I was driving down the Pacific Coast Highway on my own, no radio signal, no music of any kind, no visibility much beyond my headlights, all fog and endless bridges—to be saved only by the prospect of Guadalupe, because Jables said I would Love It, only to find the most dismal, empty town, Mexican track housing, and suddenly 56 degrees when I fill up my gas a few towns later—or even during the filming of our goddamn western, when Fanny’s house was all slightly-off-key vintage upright pianos, Bearclaw banging on the keys theatrically (in his full Sheriff costume), and fresh mulberries sunshine outside bathtubs wine and toasts—which of course all made me sad because somehow nostalgia and enjoyment always hit me in reverse, well—I don’t know where it came from, didn’t know the phrase referenced a book, a song, anything at all, all the same it became a bit of a mantra, just a little bit, which is silly–it’s silly, right, okay? I know—but nonetheless it became a bit of a mantra, “even cowgirls get the blues,” that somehow cheered me up (I had been wearing these amazing cowgirl boots as a part of my film costume and now refused to take the boots, or my turquoise jewelry, or my ragged jean shorts, off, you see), so when I saw this old Tom Robbins’ paperback copy in a used bookstore in San Francisco with Rachel for four dollars and 50 cents, I had to pick it up. Even cowgirls get the blues. Only by now, I have owned the book for over two weeks, and I’ve only read ten pages. It’s hard to like a woman with giant thumbs, and it’s hard to feel like a cowgirl in Brooklyn …

Block Party

But when I look around these days, at the bars, at rooftop parties, on the streets and avenues of this still-great city, I see an army of young people out there having a good time. They retain all the optimism of youth. Their prospects may be just as grim as everyone else’s, but they don’t let that affect them. They use their relative poverty to their advantage, creating fun through thrift. They are building the very memories that they will look back on a couple of decades from now and think, “Man, that was the greatest summer ever.” And it will absolutely be true. Two decades from now we will all be bog people living in warring tribes among the marshes of the New Jersey Meadowlands, skinning rats to provide pelts for warmth and eating their chemically-infested flesh for the tiny bits of protein we are able to provide to our bodies. As the kids of today huddle around the tire fires of tomorrow, they will tell stories to their undersized, two-headed children (assuming mankind remains fertile then) about those balmy summer days before the floods and fires when a six pack of beer and a bittorrented rip of the new Arcade Fire were very heaven. It will sound like paradise. [The Awl]

••••••••

My utter refusal to put words to screen around these parts (or any parts of the Internet, for that matter) can be explained in one word: Summer. Summer, darlings! I forgot to pay much attention to it for the bulk of July and early August, but then suddenly The Awl was already writing eulogies, and my Goddamn Cobra compatriots and I were putting the finishing pre-production touches on the western we’ve been planning since last fall, and tomorrow I set off for two weeks on the west coast, one week in the midwest, and holy September it will already be fall by the time I set foot in my beloved Brooklyn again! So some summer had to be had these past couple weeks, because like a new acquaintance of mine said recently, re: being A Man, “Eventually you have to know when is the right time to be all schooled in the ways of Cusackian “Say Anything” (i.e. open your fucking mouth and share your feelings and express yourself) and when is the right time to get all caveman and slut it up something rough and proper.” Or, like another new acquaintance of mine said recently, “Shit is way fragile, man.” Now is not the time to get all Cusackian about this summer, because this summer is dissolving, fast! And because when we’re all nursing our 3-eyed cucumber babies and eating rat people, or whatever it is, then —well, I think you get the point. But what I wanted to say—or what I wanted to show you, rather … hell, maybe it’s best if I just paraphrase Eli Cash: Well, everyone knows the kids in north Brooklyn are capable of this short of audacity to enjoy ourselves, this orgy of flagrant optimism. What this block party footage presupposes is … maybe it isn’t just us … ? *Note: In my quest to simply show the diversity of ages and ethnicities voraciously enjoying this sunny summer Sutton street day … I may have kept in a lot of gratuitous footage of cute kids dancing to hipster DJs playing Lady GaGa … (also, please pardon my poor editing skills, and the occasional oohs and ahhs from Hugh and I in the background).
* P.S. This was my first-ever block party! Whole-street garage sales were the closest we got to block parties in the suburban Midwest …

Greenpoint Block Party

But when I look around these days, at the bars, at rooftop parties, on the streets and avenues of this still-great city, I see an army of young people out there having a good time. They retain all the optimism of youth. Their prospects may be just as grim as everyone else’s, but they don’t let that affect them. They use their relative poverty to their advantage, creating fun through thrift. They are building the very memories that they will look back on a couple of decades from now and think, “Man, that was the greatest summer ever.” And it will absolutely be true. Two decades from now we will all be bog people living in warring tribes among the marshes of the New Jersey Meadowlands, skinning rats to provide pelts for warmth and eating their chemically-infested flesh for the tiny bits of protein we are able to provide to our bodies. As the kids of today huddle around the tire fires of tomorrow, they will tell stories to their undersized, two-headed children (assuming mankind remains fertile then) about those balmy summer days before the floods and fires when a six pack of beer and a bittorrented rip of the new Arcade Fire were very heaven. It will sound like paradise. [The Awl]

••••••••

My utter refusal to put words to screen around these parts (or any parts of the Internet, for that matter) can be explained in one word: Summer. Summer, darlings! I forgot to pay much attention to it for the bulk of July and early August, but then suddenly The Awl was already writing eulogies, and my Goddamn Cobra compatriots and I were putting the finishing pre-production touches on the western we’ve been planning since last fall, and tomorrow I set off for two weeks on the west coast, one week in the midwest, and holy September it will already be fall by the time I set foot in my beloved Brooklyn again! So some summer had to be had these past couple weeks, because like a new acquaintance of mine said recently, re: being A Man, “Eventually you have to know when is the right time to be all schooled in the ways of Cusackian “Say Anything” (i.e. open your fucking mouth and share your feelings and express yourself) and when is the right time to get all caveman and slut it up something rough and proper.” Or, like another new acquaintance of mine said recently, “Shit is way fragile, man.” Now is not the time to get all Cusackian about this summer, because this summer is dissolving, fast! And because when we’re all nursing our 3-eyed cucumber babies and eating rat people, or whatever it is, then —well, I think you get the point. But what I wanted to say—or what I wanted to show you, rather … hell, maybe it’s best if I just paraphrase Eli Cash: Well, everyone knows the kids in north Brooklyn are capable of this short of audacity to enjoy ourselves, this orgy of flagrant optimism. What this block party footage presupposes is … maybe it isn’t just us … ? *Note: In my quest to simply show the diversity of ages and ethnicities voraciously enjoying this sunny summer Sutton street day … I may have kept in a lot of gratuitous footage of cute kids dancing to hipster DJs playing Lady GaGa … (also, please pardon my poor editing skills, and the occasional oohs and ahhs from Hugh and I in the background).
* P.S. This was my first-ever block party! Whole-street garage sales were the closest we got to block parties in the suburban Midwest …

High-brow & low-brow gentrification defenses …

I happened to read both this review from the June issue of the Atlantic (“Gentrification and It’s Discontents”) and this op-ed on BushwickBK.com (“In Defense of ‘Hipsters’ and the Controversial Practice of Moving to a City Not of One’s Birth”) last weekend, and found the parallels kind of interesting & amusing. Atlantic editor Benjamin Schwarz reviews two recent urban-ecology books—Michael Sorkin’s Twenty Minutes in Manhattan and Sharon Zukin’s Naked Cityin what more or less amounts to a takedown of Jane Jacobs acolytes, and one that had me chuckling out loud a few times at that (which may be more of a reflection on my sense of humor than profound hilarity). Schwarz writes:
Even if Zukin and Sorkin bemoan the city’s deindustrialization and are wistful for the higgledy-piggledy way manufacturing was scattered throughout New York (diversity! mixed use!), they’re compelled to make clear that they don’t miss the sweatshops and the exploitative, horrible life that went with them. And recall that the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, in the heart of the Village on a block fronting Washington Square, burned in the second decade of the 20th century [...] Which means that even hazy melancholy for the New York of regular Joes with lunch pails returning after a good day’s work to their neighborhoods of kids playing stickball and corner drugstores dispensing egg creams can only evoke scenes pretty much limited to the years of the LaGuardia administration.
And:
Thanks to the profound influence that The Death and Life of Great American Cities has exerted, the West Village circa 1960 has come to epitomize—really to be the blueprint for—the urban good life. But in its mix of the new and the left over, in its alchemy of authenticity, grit, seedy glamour, and intellectual and cultural sophistication, this was a neighborhood in a transitional and unsustainable, if golden, moment.
He goes on to explain how the same cycle—industrial to bohemian to yuppie (or insert whatever adjectives make sense to you)—played out in SoHo, Tribeca and the East Village, and is currently playing out in parts of Brooklyn, and he mocks the authors’ romanticizing the precise moment on that spectrum that confers the most benefits on people like themselves:
… it’s clear that they pine for—and mistake as susceptible to preservation—the same sort of transitional moment Jacobs evokes in Death and Life, when an architecturally interesting enclave holds in ephemeral balance the emerging and the residual. Such neighborhoods still contain a sprinkling of light industry and raffish characters, for urban grit, and a dash of what Zukin calls “people of color,” for exotic diversity. Added to the mélange are lots and lots of experimental artists (for that boho frisson) and a generous but not overwhelming portion of right-thinking designers, publishing types, architects, and academics, and the one-of-a kind boutiques and innovative restaurants that will give them places to shop and brunch. Zukin declares that she “resent[s] everything Starbucks represents,” which really means that her urban ideal is the cool neighborhood at the moment before the first Starbucks moves in, an ever-more-fleeting moment.
Bushwick (a neighborhood in north Brooklyn butting up against both Williamsburg and Greenpoint, along with Bed Stuy and Ridgewood, Queens) is at that fleeting moment, or is at least as close to that fleeting moment as the city has right now, as far as I know (do any people in Queens or Harlem dispute me?); Greenpoint already has one Starbucks, and Williamsburg has just kind of lost the PR battle. In a column on BushwickBK.com, Barrett Brown complains:
… we have some great number of more irregular readers who really, really, enjoy our Bushwick Chic feature because they spend literally hours each week obsessing over “hipsters,” a catch-all term that has come to refer to anyone who moves to Brooklyn from somewhere other than Puerto Rico or some awful Balkan country. Most such commenters come to BushwickBK by way of Die Hipster, the increasingly popular website with an editorial stance to the effect that hipsters should strongly consider dying.
So, this article also made me chuckle out loud. But that’s not where the similarities end! Because Barrett also demonstrates how silly it is when “gentrification’s discontents” idealize any particular point in the urban neighborhood life-cycle:
Certainly there are some great number of douchebags, pseudo-intellectuals, and no-talent “artists” among the many over-educated young people who have moved to Bushwick over the past decade. Certainly there are a number of locals who are fine, capable people — but whatever that number is, it’s not so high that Bushwick natives are able to fill the various creative jobs that always need filling, which is why Bushwick, like all of New York, must continually import talent to fill them, even in such cases as nativity would provide a significant edge in the carrying out of such work.
In a subsequent response, Barrett defends himself against commenters who call him racist:
Although the stereotypical characteristics of the “hipster” don’t apply to many Puerto Ricans, the objections based on the simple of act of moving to Brooklyn from somewhere else and the real and imagined effects this has on those who already lived here would seem to apply, yet such objections are only made against a subset of those who move here: whites in general and youngish whites in particular. Somewhat related is the bizarre belief that non-whites are somehow more “genuine” than whites, and thereby entitled to live in certain places that whites are not. Ironically, many whites of the sort that the anti-hipster crowd like to mock — and rightfully so — also hold this belief, which is not only unfair to whites, but also patronizing of non-whites, who are regarded thereby as somehow above the criticism reserved for other “transplants.”
I think we all fall victim to our own skewed ideas about “authenticity” from time to time; everyone has their Jane Jacobs utopia in some form or other. A few months ago, I was talking to a friend who had grown up in Greenpoint. He mentioned that, at one point, there was talk the neighborhood was getting a Wal-Mart. Wouldn’t that have been terrible?, I immediately thought “I was really excited,” he said. For a boy who’d grown up with “mom-&-pop” corner stores and cramped, catch-all home goods outlets run or staffed by the area’s Polish, Hispanic or Italian residents, the bright, cheap, convenient plasticity of a local Wal-Mart sounded like a good deal.