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Hyperbolic Estate

I had another unbelievable New York conversation last night. It rivals the one Klahr and I had the other day, in which he decried the Archie Bunker stereotype of Queens, saying he mostly only sees Koreans out here now, and told me what I ought to be writing about in Coney Island is the gated community of white folks in the middle of a rather dejected piece of urban blight (Stereotype B, he said) which rests on the smoking grave of an amusement park (Stereotype A). All very well and good if you’re Tracy Kidder, I thought, but this is a puff piece for the borough president.

(The b.p. apparently hated the lede from my Coney Island article, which ran “Coney Island is not what it was, nor is it ever likely to be so again. Such is the nature of entertainment: the tastes and sophistication of audiences change.” The other article, a jerry-rigged piece of blow about Brooklyn studios which had neither style nor substance, he adored so much he changed all of two words in it. I will never understand some people. For example, myself. Where did I get this ability to write crap which is pitch-perfect for the ears of local bureaucrats? Did I really pick up that much during one summer at Sunset? Or was it all those thank-you letters my mom made me write?)

Sorry, major digression. So I was talking with my editor, and when we hit the first line of the studios piece, about the skyrocketing prices of Manhattan real estate, she went all Old Faithful on my ass about how Manhattan has always had wildly overpriced housing, even back when her grandmother was young.
“To live in Manhattan, you had to live like a god or you lived like a rat. There was no in-between,” she said.

She proceeded to give me a run-down of exactly what had happened to just about every neighborhood in the city, in such a tone that the entire time I wasn’t quite sure if I had made her mad. Carroll Gardens has always been nice Williamsburg has always been nice; Canarsie — African Americans now, had been all white-Jewish before, but all the Jews moved to Jersey (she has moved to Jersey); the Lower East Side was DISGUSTING, Park Slope was DISGUSTING. Quite a few neighborhoods were all-capitals DISGUSTING in her estimation. Park Slope was, she said, where all the “wealthy people from Manhattan” had infiltrated.

“In the seventies, you walked on Sixth Avenue (in Brooklyn) with your key out your sneakers on your glasses on and you MOVED,” she told me. The spiel ended with “It’s a different world. We grew up with black and white TV.”

With apologies to Itamar, New York City has got to be the most hotly-argued-about piece of ground anywhere. Or maybe I just think that because I’ve been living here too long. New York has a way of severely limiting your perspective, I think. You get a sense of how big it is, and you give up on having perspective at all. You pick one little half-acre of rhetorical ground to hoe, one three-block area to get incensed about, and you develop a flawed and nearsighted case to argue about it over and over. And it’s better to watch than a fireworks display, because you have absorbed the fine art of hyperbole if you’ve lived here long enough. No offense, Klahr. I just think you natives are funny. Like humorous funny. No, I do not want a pair of cement boots, put those away.

Speaking of living here too long, I had a frisson the other day which I never thought would come over me: I considered moving back to Pasadena and thought to myself “Good lord, how provincial, I never.” Venice Beach maybe, the Bay Area certainly, probably West Hollywood or Silverlake, but not Pasadena. And Barstow also sounds less doable than it did a few months ago. I am addicted to places which are about art now. Pasadena has art, and it has many other wonderful things, but it is not About Art. It is About Its Friends And Relations, I think, more than anything else.

Parts of New York are most definitely About Art. I am having some serious problems getting out the sand which collected in my shoes while I was in Coney Island. Some people out there are trying — how successfully? — to make it About Art. It’s a weird place to have escape fantasies about — it is only sixteen miles from here — but it’s the beach, and there’s some lovely weirdos out there. More on that eventually. That’s all for tonight.


  1. gus wrote:

    I want to note that I misquoted my editor and have changed the quote — she did not say “live like a god or live like a king,” she said something more like “live like a god or live like a rat,” only I could swear what she said was more colorful than “rat.” Wish I could remember what it was; my notes are also wrong.

    And Klahr, my grandma IS the little old lady from Pasadena. She’s also the college counselor after whom Lily Tomlin’s college counselor character in “Orange County” was named, incidentally.

    Wednesday, June 4, 2003 at 1:53 am | Permalink
  2. gus wrote:

    Oh, and I meant to add that I may not have quoted her right on Williamsburg, either. eek. She mentioned some other swanky Brooklyn neighborhood that has not changed, I forget which.

    Wednesday, June 4, 2003 at 1:55 am | Permalink
  3. leonard wrote:

    WeHo in the same sentence as Venice Beach and Silver Lake? I must not get out of my apartment enough. The Bay Area I could see, though.

    Wednesday, June 4, 2003 at 7:03 pm | Permalink
  4. lusty wrote:

    Coney Island for keeps.

    Saturday, June 14, 2003 at 8:08 pm | Permalink
  5. Oscar wrote:

    Good design! |

    Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

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