Brooklyn

You know what Brooklyn is like?

You know what Brooklyn is like sometimes? It’s like a sunny, satisfying day, and you’re walking down the street, saying hello to all the friendly shop-keepers who give you deals on deals when business is good, and somewhere in a window, music from the 1940’s is playing.  Brooklyn is also like a leaky underpass ahead with drops of water falling through the cracks. As hard as you try, perhaps you’re sure of passing through it without getting wet, a single, cold, dirty drop happens to find its way onto the back of your neck, and trickles down your spine, giving you that odd, awkward shudder you tried to avoid.

Brooklyn Sound

BROOKLYN SOUND

22nd Street, between 4th and 5th
Brooklyn, NY
10/23/2010
Anchor Steam

The last time I visited Brooklyn was in April, my brother lived on Classon Avenue, and we got together with the folks for a nice weekend, but that’s a different story. A shady trend was growing in his area (sky-boxes and stained brownstone buildings), and he took the move as a blessing.

Now, on the corner of 22nd street, between 4th and 5th, my brother adjusts to a life with his girlfriend. She’s a great girl, and they go well together. They love all the same things, and they even apply to the same jobs. There was nothing out-of-place in this scene, nothing except for maybe the scene itself.

“The house used to be all red, like these stairs,” my brother pointed out as we walked towards it. I was surprised not to walk up the stairs, but instead beside them to the garden-level entrance left of the house. A cozy barbecue patio looked at us as we stepped down into the apartment. It was a unique world underneath a gay couple’s paradise. The bathroom looked to be carved out of a cave, and the radiator (after an interesting story of breaking down and leaking) had a burly towel covering it.

There should be no expectations of greatness, I thought, other than the greatness you make for yourself.

My bed was the floor where the coffee table rests. There was no rug, but they prepared for me a sleeping bag and several warm blankets. I slept like a baby that first night, but not before checking out an art gallery (Under Minerva) we passed by earlier on a walk around the block. There was a painting in the front of a DJ in layers of orange and blue, playing records and mixing it up at a club of diverse colors in the background. The basic colors of the DJ washed over the pretty lights, and it truly stood out from afar.

Over ATM slips and Grizzly Bear, I was enjoying the taste of sugar on my tongue, making a list of songs I had recommended to my brother. It was appreciated over drinks and jazz in south Brooklyn on Saturday, with him and his girlfriend and two of her friends from Pratt. For moments during the show, I saw a notebook passed between the two of them, collaborating in silence while the rest of us watched and listened.

I sat behind the piano player, and on occasion he would look back at me with an odd smile. I didn’t know what to think, and continued drinking my double of Scotch, next to the Cosmopolitan and Brooklyn Lager, Mai Tai and Gin & Tonic.

The show was good. The quartet of drums, piano, bass and trumpet were like four young wolves on the street. For an amateur show, the buzz of the evening revolved around the trumpet player, an awkward sixteen year old with short black curls and bifocals.

There was a saxophonist; his instrument rested casually to my right for a long time. His wine glass was on the table we took when we first arrived, before he came over and took it away himself. He did not play with the group until much later in the set, and his cameo appearance upped the quality dramatically. The trumpet and saxophone ran together, picking up on each other’s vibe as if they knew what the score was.

And then there was that pianist. I don’t know what I did to provoke him, but he was enthusiastic, keeping the melody and giving it his all. There were times when he stood up to bang down on the piano, as if he really needed to let it out that way. Perhaps he just didn’t give a damn.

When the show was over we walked up 5th Avenue and landed at a bar called Commonwealth. It had a nice outdoor patio, with bench-tables and umbrellas. I remember red tables; a tall boy of Anchor Steam beer; the bottle so cold it had icy condensation on it. We were talking about the music and the people at the show. Art-speak and journeys and briefs on photography and music and television were shared over nightcaps, and quip upon quip upon quip… I told them about Boston, and they told me about New York.

My brother mentioned taking shots in the subway tunnels. The empty tunnels of Brooklyn are vast and incredibly dangerous to explore on your own. There is something alluring about the darkness within, and it has my brother’s lens fixed. He tried to explain it to me, but I was too concerned about his safety to go on with it.

It’s just like a butterfly and its fleeting moment in the sky.

We walked up 5th Avenue, passing the famous pizza shop Adam Sandler ate at in “Big Daddy”. I stopped at the all-night bakery ran by some lovely Hispanic ladies who enjoyed my company at 3am, in such a state, ordering cannolis and donuts and cookies and such. We laughed and smiled together for those five minutes before taking it all back home.

I slept on the floor that night, on top of a sleeping bag underneath four warm blankets.

Sunday felt like waking up without a care in the world. In a good way, I felt free to do anything. I had but the clothes on my back. One of them was my Plaid Weekender jacket, and it kept me warm during the walk down to Bagel World, a bagel shop my brother swears by. I went by myself this time to enjoy south Brooklyn’s sights and smells. I bought one of my all-famous egg and pastrami bagel sandwiches in addition to garlic bagels and cream cheese. There was a produce stand across the street, so I waited in line to buy two Macoun apples and a pint of fresh apple cider.

We spoke about music when I got back. The third roommate, PK, was making egg-shaped plaster molds on the kitchen table that looked surprisingly like mini-cities. “Don’t burn me out of your picture,” he said as I got ready for my train home. I think he made his point.

Tactics versus Strategy

I had the day to my self. Finally some time alone to do what I wanted after weeks and weeks of catering to others. It is mid Autumn in Manhattan. Back in Boston it had been unusually warm, not so down here. I had most of the afternoon ahead of me after a quick coffee with a few colleagues in the city, the friend I was going to meet for dinner had to work late, so there I was with a good eight hours to kill. I went to Bryant park; the last time I was in the city with time to spare that is where I went, I ended up meeting with a dead end recruiter in the Chrysler building shortly after that, so who knows where this moment of pause in the park would bring me. I wanted Indian food, and of course, being only a few blocks from the tourist traps of the city, every place I looked at was either packed or over priced. I looked online to see where the closest subway was and then saw where that subway would take me; I could go uptown towards Central Park, have some food and then have a cigar (I brought one because I knew I would have time to enjoy it), or I could go downtown to SoHo and Greenwich Village. I opted for the later. I got off at Washington Square and started walking towards the Indian restaurant I picked out in the West Village. I really didn’t want to go into Greenwich Village because of the bad memories of my last time there over the summer, so that guided me towards the Hudson. While I walked I happened to come across this little Mexican restaurant that looked perfect to relax for a few hours and have some tasty food. Just as I hoped the place was empty and it was warm, those were the two requirements I had.

 

Like I mentioned earlier, the weather in Manhattan was pretty different than Boston’s the day before, it was actually seasonal so I can’t complain, all I can say is that I was sorely mistaken for not wearing a jacket. I had a pretty good burrito at the Mexican place; the ground beef was just spicy enough to warm me up and the guacamole, lettuce, tomatoes cooled my tongue when things got too hot. I wanted a beer, but they wanted too much for one, so I got coffee. The coffee was fantastic; almost like Turkish coffee there was a pleasant sweet aroma and a hint of cane sugar and caramel that worked my palate

like a crisp sauvingon blanc would after having brie and apple in a puff pastry – if that means nothing to you then I highly suggest you try it right now! Anyway, this is not a restaurant review, but this would be an otherwise unsavory account of an ordinary afternoon if I didn’t include the above. After gorging on Mexican goodness I needed that cigar and a good walk. I really had only one objective and that was to find a park were I could enjoy that cigar, as luck would have it, Washington Park was only a few blocks away.

 

It had gotten dark and I saw that the bums had set up camp in on the benches by the entrance I was approaching. I decided to be bold and invade their territory with hopes of not angering the urban homesteaders with my cigar smoke. It was here where I met Alex. About sixty years old, Alex was dressed like your typical hobo; he had the baseball cap, at least one big puffy winter jacket and probably a few layers of pants on. I actually felt envious for once – I was clearly out of my element in my jeans, cotton button down dress shirt with only a thin cotton v-neck sweater, hardly protecting me from the penetrating cold wind that pushed its way through the trees of the park. Alex was sitting in front of a chess board. I loved chess and I had nothing to do for several hours, I asked him if he charged to play. I knew his time had to be worth something. It only cost me a coffee and donut from the Starbucks up the street.

 

Alex didn’t say much, but he played chess pretty well. I figured he would be about as good at chess as I would be at making macros given that this must have been somewhat of an occupation outside of his cigarette business. He sold a pack for nine bucks, making a small profit margin, especially in New York, but he still undersold the corner stores by a few bucks. His clients tended to be exclusive though, he knew them on a first name basis like any good proprietor and was flexible with the quantity he sold. I liked this guy, he was smart. I guess even the bums in New York have that drive to achieve that I really haven’t seen in other cities. Alex and I played three games. I lost all three. What I learned though was not just a better way to play chess, but I learned something about my self. In chess, just like in life, I like to make the first move. I guess that is the control freak in me, but what it does is open me up to a vulnerability of being taken by someone who waits for me to make the bad move that inevitably comes. This guy exploited that bad move every time just like a sharp trader on Wall Street would make a quick in and out move on an undervalued stock and get out just before the price hits equilibrium and the gains flatten. So Alex just waited. Even when I tried to change up my playing style in the second game he still got me after about twenty moves. He took me after I had every major piece except a rook and a queen and he took me after I totally shifted from a heavy offense to an almost neutral playing style. The key he told me was not strategy, but tactics, and then it made sense; I had a strategy, but he really didn’t play with a strategy, he would not hold himself to a predictable pattern, but he would use a few clever tactics to put me into a position where I was trapped – trapped by my own strategy as it were since that is what he exploited. It would not have mattered if I played defense or offense I think since he was always just a few moves ahead of me. Alex’s favorite piece was the knight, I hate the knight, but I have now come to respect it just like I respect Alex and will be thankful for the lesson he taught me.

 

America Back To Work

Riding the rails from Boston to New York I occasionally take a break from my laptop to gaze out the window. Maybe it is because I am looking for it now, but it seems that there is a lot going on in a country, or at least a region, who is supposed to be falling behind. Most of the trip takes me through coastal Connecticut, and all along the shore line there are men and machines building with steel and moving rocks and earth. Sights like this give me hope. I do not fear that that life blood of this country, the men and women who work every day to build and then maintain it, are falling behind, they are just maintaining a vast infrastructure that has suddenly been awaken by an urgency broadcasted from the other side of the globe. I hope that America will be able to put its wreckless ways behind itself and embrace the future by investing in the people and infrastructure that made this countries greatness possible.

The Chrylser Building

“Joe, come in here for a second,” the fat guy with the small head said through the open door into the quiet waiting room. “So I spoke to a few of the guys here and they don’t really have anything for you right now, but here is my card anyway. We’ll be in touch alright.” I hardly had time to respond before the fat guy led me back out into the waiting room. The time was only 10:15am, my interview was for 10:00am. I know these recruiters work fast, but I hardly had five minutes with this dude, I thought to my self. With at least an hour and a half to kill until I met up with my girlfriend and her mother for lunch in mid-town I needed something to occupy my newly found free time.

It was a perfect summer day in New York; 80 degrees and not a cloud in the sky, perfect if you aren’t wearing a black suit and tie that is, needless to say I could feel the sweat rolling down my back. I walked a few blocks to Bryant Park, I remember passing it as I walked to my poor excuse for an interview with a recruiter. Taking a seat on a vacant bench I took out my phone and called Xue, my girlfriend, asking her if she could meet up at an earlier time. No luck, she was in Brooklyn, walking around to various hospitals inquiring about nursing positions. She just graduated and was looking for a job too. We were both looking in New York, and today was only day one of what would amount to a four day rat race around the boroughs of Manhattan (for me) and Brooklyn (for her); I was looking for work in banking, she, as mentioned before, was looking for nursing jobs.

Upon ending the call I pondered my dilemma. The waste of time interview left me in the middle of Manhattan with the adrenaline still pumping; unable to use that energy to impress an interviewer, I turned to the next best thing: find a new interview. Taking out my phone once more I did a search for recruiting firms. I cold called several of them, telling them I had time to meet today if they were available. Some places had no answer and others said they didn’t accept walk-in’s, another put me into the voice mail. After spending about thirty minutes calling various places I saw a strange number come up on the caller ID, it was a recruiter from the firm I left a message with, one of the places who did not apparently accept walk-in’s. The recruiter’s name was also Joe, but the coincidences did not end there. Joe, turned out was from Rhode Island, just like I was. We talked about Rhode Island for a minute before he invited me up to his office in the Chrysler Building for a meeting at 2pm. I was ecstatic! I know this isn’t that big of a deal, I mean, it isn’t like I got a job out of it, but it was simply the idea of making things happen so fast that got me excited, and the idea that sometimes a little extra (and unconventional) effort pays off occasionally. I had never done something like this before and had it actually work.

The meeting was scheduled for 2:00pm, I still had time to kill until lunch with Xue and her mother. Walking through the hot crowded Manhattan streets towards Macy’s on 34th and Broadway I called her once more only to find out that she was still in Brooklyn and would likely be there for a few more hours. I told her it was fine and that I had another interview to go to and that I would just have lunch alone; we could reconnect after the interview. I was disappointed that we could not have lunch together, I had been looking forward to it. With hunger now displacing disappointment though I made my way to the nearest Indian restaurant. It seems every time I eat lunch alone, it is either at an Indian or a Chinese restaurant, I don’t feel the stigma I would had I been eating at an American restaurant, save maybe a bar. The restaurant was perfect, crowded with tables full of Indian families speaking in Punjabi, or maybe Hind (I could not tell which), with its doors open to the bustling sidewalk; it warm and muggy inside, low ceilings, very dimly lit; the navy blue walls and the many Indian paintings hanging on the wall gave it the impression of being in a real Indian restaurant back in their home country. I felt like the American tourist coming in for some local flavor. Of course, this being New York, there really is no local flavor, unless you consider Brooklyn pizza to be the pinnacle of haute cuisine in the five boroughs. After eating my meal I asked the gentlemen at the counter to direct me towards the bathroom. He pointed to a small door in a nook partially covered by an Asian decorative screen on the back wall of the tiny restaurant. Faced with a stair case barely illuminated by the restaurant’s poor lighting I felt my way down into the bowels of the restaurant. Once I reached bottom it was totally pitch back and hot, like a coal mine, just with the sound of jack hammers and construction equipment replaced by the hum of the building’s boiler room. I felt along the walls, hoping for a light switch, fearing coming into contact with some exposed live wiring or a rusty nail. After about thirty seconds I found the switch and illuminated the absurdly small room. Everything was arranged in the most space efficient manner possible and the walls were painted a burgundy red. There was no trash on the floor or excrement spattered around the rim of the toilet, the sink was clean and there was both soap and paper towels ample in supply; it quite likely the nicest restaurant bathroom I had seen in the city that week after being in a locally owned cafe, a Starbucks and a KFC, all in mid-town. I hung my jacket on the door hook (another rarity) and tied my tie in the mirror – I had taken it off earlier while I was in Bryant Park. As I was doing this however I heard two men, one who had a thick Indian accent and another who sounded like he was from Boston, they were talking about some leak in the boiler room. I have to get out of here, I thought. I didn’t want to be down here if this place catches on fire or something. I quickly finished fixing my tie, put on my jacket and promptly went back up the dark stairs. I saw one of the men holding a flashlight… smart idea.

Manhattan had gotten even hotter by 1:30pm. The air was thick like cream cheese and filled with smoke from trucks and cigarettes. The heat generated by the herds of people and slow moving packs of cars and trucks was pulsing through my head causing me to sweat instantly upon being exposed to it. I had about six blocks to walk.

Walking into the lobby of the Chrysler building one is met with imposing and brooding architecture. The art deco motifs in marble, wood, mosaic and stainless steel are impressive but look almost like a movie set given its detail and conspicuousness. The elevators are styled accordingly and appear almost as they must have when the building was constructed. I could imagine a couple guys coming from a three martini lunch, smoking their cigars and talking about the next big railroad or oil deal, back in the day when this building was not a tourist attraction alone but a thousand foot plus tall boy’s club where men dressed in suits and had bottles of bourbon in a cabinet behind their desks. Those are the days I wished I worked in. The elevator let me off at the 27th floor and immediately I was plunged 75 years into the future, or present as it were; dark walnut sconces and brown marble gave way to glossy white walls illuminated by florescent lights and accented by plasma screen monitors displaying news and stock quotes, soft gray carpeting beneath my feet was a welcome change to the hard surfaces of the streets. There were glass double doors open which gave way to a medium size waiting room with a fantastic view of downtown Manhattan. A woman at the front desk greeted me and then showed me to a small conference room with a view equally as good of the many little roof decks and patios over looking the streets below. Buildings seemed to go on for miles down to the tip of the city.

“Would you care for a drink?” the secretary offered.

“Water, please.” I replied.

“Here you are sir, please have a seat, Joe will be in to see you shortly.”

I sipped that water slowly and took in the view. I had the corner office at the Chrysler Building with a view of Manhattan all to my self, I thought… for ten minutes anyway. That was the best glass of water I had during the whole trip.