I imagine that some, but probably not all, of you out there may have gotten some amusement today from a Slate piece by the ever-reliable Katie Roiphe, ridiculously headlined "The 99 Percent Take Over Brooklyn," or from the subsequent Gawker mockery of said piece, more amusingly hedded "Katie Roiphe Saw A Fight." Roiphe's piece is a rather breathless account of a street altercation between apparently mostly youths of African-American origin, followed by Very Serious ruminations on what this all means. The piece is largely notable, as is usual for Roiphe, by the magesterial contempt it expresses for people who are pretty much exactly like Roiphe, only they don't write for Slate, unlucky them. But I write this piece not to offer mockery (much), but rather, an explanation and perhaps some consolation.
In the piece Roiphe describes "her" Brooklyn neighborhood as one lined with side streets that contain "coffee shops that sell $4.50 iced lattes made from something called 'Intelligentsia coffee.'" The Gawker piece mocks Roiphe for using scare quotes around the phrase about the coffee, but in fact Intelligentsia Coffee is more than a hoity toity concept, it's an actual brand, as you may see by clicking the link, and I've passed by the joint where they sell those lattes. As it happens, Roiphe is describing what is also MY neighborhood, how do you like that? And she's RIGHT, there has been a bit of an uptick in boisterous activity among the minority youth in that vicinity. And she has a THEORY about why.
"There are no messages. There are no demands. There are no signs made out of pizza boxes. But there is something about our untenable situation nevertheless making itself known."
Ah, Katie, dearest, I wish I could tell you that your pretty, soul-filled words tell some hard-won truth, but I'm afraid it's just not so. Here's what's going on: around May of this year, just as school had ended, the MTA shut down—didn't just stagger service at, didn't just schedule reduced hours for—actually shut down the Smith and 9th Street station serviced by the F and G subway lines. I remember when it was about to happen, and my wife and I were making small talk at the checkout of a local deli, and the owner was muttering unpleasant implications about what was gonna happen once "those kids" (and we had abolutely no doubt as to what he meant with that phrase) would be emptying out of/getting on the subway at the Carroll Street station (an entrance to which is seen in the above photo, that I took all by myself) instead of the place where they ought. "[Name redacted] is such a nice man, but that's kind of a racist thing to say," my wife said as we walked home. "Well, maybe it's not so much racist and more that he understands how large groups of young kids tend to act," I shrugged. "And anyway, haven't you seen Do The Right Thing?"
The thing is, the deli guy wasn't precisely wrong. Right now there are grubby, nasty kids—of all races, really, I hasten to add like a good liberal—clotting up the streets in the afternoons in the ways they generally did not in this neighborhood ever since the school year ended. Quite a few of them are what any number of characters played by Eugene Levy on SCTV 90 would call "hoodlums." They don't give me much trouble, because I'm so AWESOME and I RELATE to them, no, actually because I'm tall, but they are pretty damn annoying and they do make nuisances out of themselves in/on any given retail outlet or street corner they opt to blight. They do not, from what I can glean, themselves have much concern with "our untenable situation." They seem more concerned with acting as if they're auditioning for a blackboard jungle iteration of Jersey Shore, I'd say. But I imagine that's just my own social prejudice talking. And if I find them annoying, just imagine how freaked out the residents of 320 Smith, the apartment monstrosity we tried to keep off my block (also seen in the above photo that I took all by myself) must be. Given that they're all more or less living here under protest (the rest of the neighborhood's, not theirs) (no really—when I'm out sometimes in the morning I swear I see most of the people who live there coming out with their hands over their faces like they're doing a perp walk or something), and now they've gotta put up with these yo-yos loitering in what is essentially the front of their home, the situation must be making some of 'em wonder how they can get whatever ridiculous money they've spent back.
Me? I've been in Carroll Gardens since 1989, and I seen a lot of changes. I remember when on July 4th weekend you couldn't even walk ONTO, let alone UP Second Place for the literal blankets of firecrackers they started lighting up a full 48 hours before the holiday actually landed. Sounded like you were in Beirut, like they used to say. Almost scared my poor little kitty to death. Recently one of the local good, um, fellows, looked me up and down on the street and said, "You! You used to be one of the new guys. Now you been around so long, you're one of the old guys!" "Uh, yeah," I said. "Thank you. And thank you for, you know, not breaking my legs that one time." So all I know is that this, too, shall pass. Eventually, Katie, they'll be finished restoring or reconstructing the Culver viaduct, or whatever the hell it is they're working on, the Smith and 9th Street station will reopen, and for a lot of kids in an untenable situation their days of goofing off and screwing around in Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill will be over. Of course, I suppose had you given the matter a little thought, you might have been able to suss that out yourself, but then you would have been out one dopey Slate article and the no-doubt juicy fee you got for it.
I am reminded of a story told me by an old friend, a journalist and itinerant musician who once played in a band fronted by Lucy Simon, Carly's older sister. One day after rehearsal (I gather this was some time in the 1970s), my friend was taking off, and he and Lucy were walking together. She asked him what he was going to do, and he said he was gonna grab the subway and go to X and meet a friend for something to eat, and Lucy said, "Oh, you're taking the subway?" and he said, "Yes," and why do you ask, and apparently Lucy got kind of sheepish and asked him if he had a subway token on him. He responded in the affirmative, and she got furtherly sheepish and asked him if she could see it. He assented, and she admitted that she had, in fact, never laid eyes on one before.