Register Thursday | June 27 | 2019

Entering Williamsburg

A wonderfully iconoclastic study of the hip Brooklyn neighbourhood

I lived in Williamsburg. Because it was cheap, or cheaper than living in Manhattan, and it was close, ten minutes to Union Square aboard the efficient L train, painted gray in the complex prismatic code of the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority. Efficient, that is, when it wasn’t raining, because when it rained the subway tunnel, cut too shallow or too deep (I’m no civil engineer), sucked water like a punctured hull, fried the train’s circuitry and sent me, cursing, into a twenty-buck livery cab or, worse, into the purgatorial G, which eventually connects, somewhere deep in Bed-Stuy, with a city-bound A. Let me say that again. The G train, which meanders from Forest Hills, Queens, to Smith Street, Brooklyn, where it jumps above ground and offers an aspect of the apocalyptically rancid Gowanus Canal—the G Train, color-coded an embarrassing highlighter green, out there doing its own thing, lonely and spurned, like your special-ed cousin at your family picnic.

But I did not come here to talk about the G train. Which, at bottom, I rather admire, since it’s the only train in the system that has successfully eluded membership in the fashionable clique of Manhattan. No, I came here to talk about Williamsburg, which on a map sticks up from the fist of Brooklyn like a boxer’s thumb, in the far northern reaches of the borough. This Williamsburg is not the Williamsburg you might have read about in a recent edition of Vanity Fair, or the Williamsburg that the Utne Reader, the year I moved there, in 1997, favored with the distinction “third-hippest” place to live in North America, behind the Lower Garden District of New Orleans and the Inner Mission of San Francisco, just ahead of Montreal’s Plateau.

No, it is not of these Williamsburgs I choose to speak.

Media coverage does offer some interesting insight into the place, however unintentionally. What was once a section of Brooklyn that showed up mostly in police-blotter dispatches in the Post and Daily News (and still does, though with less frequency: “Sex Fiend Admits He Killed 5 in Brooklyn,” “Cops Shoot Brick Thrower”) graduated first to occasional mentions in alternative weeklies such as the Village Voice and New York Press, then to residential laurels in Utne and finally to full-blown articles in the East Coast slicks. By the time Vanity Fair got around to printing a Williamsburg story, your mind started making serious historical analogies to the fates of SoHo or Alphabet City, which have become, to a greater or lesser extent, open-air shopping malls for Wall Streeters and tourists.

It is an old story. The first artists began arriving in the mid-1980s, with their room-sized canvases and heavy, artifact-forging machinery, rooftop art-flick showings and, eventually, their entrepreneurial remora, who opened bars and restaurants and art-supply outlets. What they arrived to were four distinct ethnic quarters: Hasidic Jews in the southeast corner along the river, Italians inland, Puerto Ricans to the south and Poles up north, spilling over from their more prominent stake on Greenpoint—Brooklyn’s last stand before Newtown Creek gives way to that most derided of boroughs, Queens. Soon, what I will term the “fifth quarter” of Williamsburg, if that makes any sense, had materialized. This bright new clientele preferred the waterfront regions just south and east of the Polish section. It is an area known as the Northside, a bunch of blocks where charming townhouses still exist and where big cinder-block warehouses sit close to the river like slumbering brontosaurs. The Northside is conveniently clustered around the first L stop in Brooklyn, at Bedford Avenue, referred to by some as Avenue E, the Lower East Side having leaped the river, its trend-spotting inhabitants following the same path over the Williamsburg Bridge that the immigrant tribes took less than a century before. By 1997, the citizens of this fifth quarter had ceased obeying the traditional boundaries, squatting in whatever loft space was still available, or sliding in wherever the neighborhood’s real estate brokers could find them an appropriate seat, thousand-dollar deposit checks signed right there in the empty living rooms of apartments they’d only just seen—competition for housing in New York being what it is—plus the broker’s vig, 10 percent of a year’s rent.

My roommate and I—at the time I was a reporter for a newswire, he a PhD student at Jamaica-based St. John’s—found an apartment on Manhattan Avenue, solidly inside the Italian section of the Billy-B. We were the clients of a real estate broker who shall here be known as Freddie “The Rat,” for a long thin fascine of hair that trailed down his neck from an otherwise normal haircut, a configuration colloquially known as a rat tail. He also drove a car on the inside of which he had strung Christmas lights. In addition to real estate brokering, his firm advertised services as diverse as personal-injury law and tax accounting. Freddie found us a five-hundred-square-foot, fourth-floor walk-up with neither refrigerator nor stove nor closets. (Freddie probably fabricated this tale, but, evidently, closets at one time were taxed as extra rooms and therefore eliminated by deft landlords.) We took it for $950 a month and paid, right off the bat, $950 for deposit, $1900 for first and last month’s rent and another $1090 for Freddie’s good turn. Three years later, my first roommate gone and replaced by another, our rent had risen to $1300.

All of this rent-jacking was due to film-school trust-fund babies, Internet-startup worker bees, nightclub DJs, bartending actors, sometime models and tenderfoot writers—such as myself—all of whom had colonized whole swaths of Williamsburg terrain. And the landlords, God bless them, became wise to demand, became wise to the spendthrifty ways of the neighborhood’s new punter.

It is a tired genre, this evisceration of newly fashionable districts, though it is certainly a common enough phenomenon in the lives of great cities. In New York alone, pick the decade, the century, and another neighborhood hits the block of fashion, sold to the highest bidders of fashion. But this was the first time I’d actually lived in a place where the phenomenon was unfolding, removed from the pages of the novel or the history book and slapped smack down there on the street like a set of emptied garbage cans. A street, Manhattan Avenue, that I could see from the window of my bedroom, alive with the shouted obscenities of kids coming home from school, with the atomic eructations of Harley-Davidsons growling down the street from B-52 Tattoo, a combined bike garage–tattoo parlor across the way.

It is perhaps Brooklyn’s ugliest section. Its waterfront has the coloration of a Braque painting. A Domino Sugar refinery has lived along the river since the nineteenth century; it resembles a Midwestern grain elevator of uncommon size, all corrugated metal and chutes that pass over the streets. Plains of garbage-strewn marsh border the immediate riverfront, along with sewage plants and vast loading lots forever a-rumble with rigs classed as variously as Norfolk warships. The air holds the sweet sulfurous odor of shit-treating chemical. A strip of light industry—sweatshop garment mills, automobile garages, tool-and-die firms, manufacturers of mysterious compound—runs three blocks inland from the river before giving way to a few blocks of residences, then another strip of light industry. A group of neighborhood artists—just what sort of artists (sculptors, painters, installation installers) I do not know—recently hired a bus, taped a soundtrack of ambient street sounds overdubbed with electronic trance music, charged fifteen bucks per ticket, titled itself “Dencity,” then set out to tour the Billy-B industrial sites, soundtrack pumping from speakers. An “absurd anti-tour,” “the urban equivalent of an explorer’s notebook,” “it blends fact and fiction in a cinematic way” is how “Dencity” is described in the argot of the Northside.

Adding to the neighborhood’s unsightliness, an insect plague—Asian long-horned beetle—deforested the Burg in the mid-1990s. In place of splendid old elms and Norway maples, which once shaded the stoops where families gathered on summer evenings, indeed still gather, the municipal fathers planted a sporadic crop of runty shadeless ash—their wood, evidently, an affront to the long-horned palate. Only recently have these ash trees outgrown sapling stage, and whole blocks remain barren and blitz-bombed looking. Dutch farmhouses of the seventeenth century gave way to stone mansions circa the nineteenth, which gave way to brick tenements in the twentieth, which gave way, most recently, to a warren of wood-frame walk-ups. They blossomed along the sidewalks, in my part of Williamsburg at least, after some serious postwar slum clearance left a few tenements standing here and there like a hillbilly’s teeth. All of these newer dwellings fell victim to an unfortunate craze for aluminum and vinyl siding, a case of architectural mass mania perhaps not rivaled since Baroque Italy, and, indeed, the colors and textures of Williamsburg’s sidings are as ornate and various as a San Simeon interior. Corduroyed, beveled, marbled and two-toned; ersatz-bricked and -shingled. Per square inch, more aluminum could exist in Williamsburg than anywhere outside a Reynolds Wrap plant.

I have a hard time envisioning the neighborhood during its heyday, which I would put—though I’m not acquainted with the Burg’s proper history—sometime in the mid-nineteenth century, when it served as a kind of semirural retreat for affluent Manhattanites flush with industrial swag. Williamsburg was home to tucked-away country clubs, exclusive resorts and, back when Brooklyn was a veritable Bavaria of breweries, rambling tree-shaded biergarten. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, James Fisk, William C. Whitney and other Gilded Age worthies ferried across the East River to relax in Williamsburg’s inviting purlieu, away from the Darwinistic maw of the nearby island.

Barely a vestige of this past remains in the fossil record of today’s neighborhood. My friends Victor and Jennifer live in a renovated carriage house—it might have been servants’ quarters—behind the home of their landlords, an aging Italian couple, who have transformed the courtyard between the two structures into a garden and amateur aviary. Fat-leaved fig trees canopy the patio, canaries shriek inside cages vaulted as a Paris arcade, tub-sized terra-cotta spill exotic botany, and vines rich with wisteria climb the fence between this courtyard and the next. From under the patio’s firmament of leaves you can see T-shirts and underwear hanging from the neighbor’s third-story laundry line like gaudy bats. When my friends and I drank beer in Victor’s borrowed courtyard, carefully outing our cigarettes in beer-bottle ashtrays and talking quietly so as not to disturb his landlords, the atmosphere bespoke the long-gone private clubs Mr. Vanderbilt must once have visited and an age of complicated facial hair and pungent cigars, of men built like the Commodore’s own steamships, portly and ballasted and belching, a physique, a token of affluence, as fashionable then as washboard stomachs are now, and far more easily attained. It invoked specters of quip-ready menservants and fireplaces the size of pilgrimage grottoes; of muscular dozen-hand horses drawing landaus limp with the petite bourgeoisie, hoof-trots clopping off cobblestone; of corseted doyennes operating their households as speedily as the ship captains who berthed their craft in the nearby shipyards. For the Burg at this point was also a smart suburb. Financiers, manufacturers and merchants built mansions that orbited the Williamsburg private clubs as densely as the smart suburbs of Westchester do golf courses nowadays. And along the riverfront, a hansom-cab minute from home, these men of industry stuck their black fortress-huge warehouses, mills, ironworks and factories. The drug maker Pfizer and the now defunct Schaefer brewing company both first narcotized the public from strongholds here. This Gilded Age version of Williamsburg was a self-sustained nation, a discrete state.

Of course the serfs of this new fiefdom also had to live somewhere, and when the Williamsburg Bridge opened in 1903—twenty years after that other, grander span downriver—landowners, to accommodate the proletariat bands then escaping the teeming airless ravages of the Lower East Side, quickly dug up whatever primeval woodlands remained and threw up a thicket of rookeries. Already the Burg’s genteel old stock had begun retreating to softer climes, abandoning their neighborhood like colonials fleeing a native upheaval, leaving their homes to be destroyed or carved up into squalid boardinghouses. Fifty years later, in 1954, Robert Moses—the civic impresario responsible for the outer-borough ganglion of highway and overpass—built the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Like bulwarks along a DMZ, it split the neighborhood, and even as it was being constructed Williamsburg land values plummeted, more families left en masse and the Burg’s fortunes slid to their nadir.

The primary thoroughfare of Italian Williamsburg is Graham Avenue—also known as the Via Vespucci, even printed on street signs beneath its Anglo variant. Nary a chain store nor restaurant exists on this strip, as I’m sure the de facto chamber of commerce/business-licensing bureau, rumored to be somehow linked to the Burg’s many “social clubs,” has arranged it. A few years ago a TCBY yogurt shop sold its confections on Graham Ave., but it closed, mysteriously, after only six months. Down the street from my old apartment lies Cono & Son’s O’Pesaccatore, San Cono’s Pizzeria and, a few blocks further on, Mama Maria’s Salumaria, a glorious delicatessen stocked with the most essential of foods—anchovies, roasted red peppers, Genoa salami from actual fucking Genoa, a Roman Empire’s worth of olive varieties. A middle-aged man named Cono D’Alto owns Mama Maria’s. With his ample nose, Cheshire smile and rim of cassock-black hair, he resembles a friar of slightly devious intent. Whenever I stopped at the salumaria, Mr. D’Alto would be shooting the shit with Joey—his heavily tattooed sidekick who works behind the counter. Oftentimes Mr. D’Alto would be peeling and halving what must have been a gross of garlic cloves, forming in a glass mixing bowl before him a great banana-green heap.

You’ll have noticed the proliferation of this strange name Cono. It is a first name, and it is taken from San Cono, patron saint of Teggiano, a mountain village in the Campania region of southern Italy, where peasants still hand-cultivate the terraced limestone earth, eroded and brick-crumbly, with beast-drawn ploughs and shoulder bags of seed. At least that’s how I envision it. Over the years, Teggianese by the thousands have emigrated to the US, settling mostly in Williamsburg. You won’t find San Cono, a twelfth-century Benedictine monk, in any Vatican-endorsed hagiography, however, because San Cono was never officially canonized. (As if to start his life right for a Butler’s blurb, little Cono, perhaps six years old, decided to say his prayers inside an oven, a lit one, where he was found by his parents, unsinged, praise be to God; and when a band of marauders assaulted Teggiano, Cono, now teenaged and a cleric, dashed back and forth inside the village walls, catching cannonballs barehanded, like Duke Snyder shagging flies.) In the center of Teggiano’s piazza the holy man rises—or at least his one-hundred-foot statue does—crowned with a gold halo, palms held skyward, ascending toward heaven atop a knot of cherubs. In Williamsburg each September, on his feast day, the descendants of Teggiano march down Ainsle Street, a cacophonous little brass band leading the procession. Somewhere behind, a float being pulled by someone’s funeral-black Cadillac carries a papier-mâché replica of the Teggiano original. I could see this procession from my bedroom window, which overlooked the axis of Manhattan and Ainsle, and what first served merely to wake me up too early one September morning became, all at once, a glimpse into the mysteries of my neighborhood, of all of the ways there must be to live and die in Williamsburg.

Better even than the food at Mama Maria’s was the conversation with its proprietor and staff. (But first a word about the deli’s cuisine. They make an absolutely killer hero there called, naturally, the Godfather, which contains the following ingredients: at least three thick wet discs of fresh mozzarella; a red-raw tongue of roasted pepper; ginger-thin slices of Genoa salami; garlic-riddled mortadella; a kind of spicy narrow-gauge salami called capicolla; a few salty strips of prosciutto; virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, all of it cozied fat and dripping into a twelve-inch loaf of hard-crust spullet bread, and if you order the sandwich, which is time-consuming to prepare, after four pm, Joey, the tattooed counterman, will sure as shit give you hell.) Because of his prominent position at the salumaria Joey had become an almost public figure in the neighborhood. His arms are hirsute, roustabout-thick and embossed with the green-blue macula of the Merchant Marine. Something, I think, about hair over tattoo makes you wonder about a man’s capacity for violence. But Joey, turns out, is a sweetheart. Sure he’s refined the craft of ball-busting to a level where he could probably organize a guild. (The busting of the balls is, borough-wide, among Brooklyn’s more romanticized pastimes, up there with stickball, Dodger fat-chewing and summer-heat hydrant uncorking, and few Brooklynites have reached as professional a plane as Joey.) But if he knows you’re down on your luck, could spare a few, your plastic a bit overswiped, he’ll knock a few bucks off your cold-cut-and-olive tab, even comp you maybe for full. I walked in there one time with some cash in my breast pocket. Looking to get a cold drink, I was on my way to the San Paulino festival, which is a San Gennaro–grade feast day thrown every year up the street, part of which features this weird cross between Barcelona human-tower building and Carnival float-bearing. It’s called the Dance of the Giglio, in which one hundred and twenty Williamsburg men hoist onto their shoulders a five-ton, five-story Tower of Pisa, then boogie around with it as best they can. The tradition comes from Nola, another lower-boot village of hardscrabble tenant-farmers, descendants of whom populate a subregion of Italian Williamsburg, just to the north of the Teggianese of Graham. Joey, from back of the counter, arms up on the glass like some capo Charlie Brown at the schoolyard fence, sees my wad, more a shim, really, of ATM-crisp twenties. He pulls me aside. Low-voiced he says, “Hey, kid, whadaya doin’ with that.”

“With what, Joey?”

“With this right here. Put this in your back pocket, for Chrissake. You’re goin’ over to the festival, what, you want somebody to jump you?”

Not long after I moved into the neighborhood, I went to Mama Maria’s for a sandwich. It was Saturday, it was lunchtime, the place was packed. Two policemen stood in line. Behind the counter was Margaret, an aged yet sprightly Williamsburg native easily mistaken for Mama Maria herself, if you didn’t already know that Mama Maria had, some time ago, joined San Cono in that Teggiano in the sky. Not many days before, a local incident had made national news. Remember the two NYPD cops who held down their Dominican victim, a minor perp, and used the handle of a plunger to commit acts so heinous as to forbid description here? Well, not long after that, in the deli, these two patrol cops—who of course played no role in the plunger episode, who were in fact well known in the neighborhood, Graham Ave. being part of their beat—these two cops received their rations from Margaret, but, pushing seventy as she is, she forgot to give them silverware.

“Eh! Margaret! Don’t we get any utensils with this?” one of them said, rather loudly, across the countertop.

Margaret, who’d already moved on to the next customer, turned slowly to face the cops. In her hand she held some plastic forks.

“I dunno if I should trust you guys with these,” she said, rather loudly, across the countertop. “You never know where you’re gonna shove ’em.”

This sort of service philosophy has gained commerce on Graham Ave. If you need to re-ink the ribbon on your typewriter, for instance, I would send you to the Queens Typewriter Company, situated on Graham just before the roaring overpass of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Contrary to the firm’s name, typewriters are no longer the firm’s specialty—they have advanced, with uneven success, into the computer age. Nonetheless they still tolerate the occasional Luddite. A poorly lit cave of a shop, Queens Typewriter looks somewhat out of place stocking Hewlett-Packard laser printers. Through its windows flow beams of sunlight, warm with dust. An ancient man sits behind the counter. Riveted to a local TV-news investigation—title: “Satan in Our Schools”—he gives a running commentary on the broadcast.

“These kids with their Satan,” he says. “Jesus Christ.” His voice is Pall Mall gruff. “When I was a kid there wasn’t no Satan. And if there was a Satan sure as shit we didn’t worship it. What the fuck. It’s the parents is what I think—they dunno these days what the fuck they’re doin.”

This man does not evidently work at the store, and he ignores you. At least until a commercial, when he agrees to summon from the back a man named Anthony, who shortly emerges.

“What’re you doin,” he’s saying, “with a fucking typewriter. I’ll tell you what you need to do. You need to buy a computer, buy a printer. Look around here. Whadaya see? You see printers. You see computer fuckin’ printers. You see any typewriters in here? No, you do not.”

“So you can’t help me then.”

“Look. Paulie usually takes care of this stuff. But my luck, story of my life, he ain’t here today. Now you want me to re-ink this fucking thing, and now I gotta get my hands dirty.”

After it’s done you pay him his four dollars, and you thank him. As you’re about to leave he reaches into his pocket.

“Here,” he says. “Take my card. You got my card? Good. Now lose it. Don’t come back.” He slaps you on the back, and out you step onto the Via Vespucci, careful not to let the door hit you in the ass.

Graham Avenue is alive with this sort of mom-and-pop establishment. But slowly encroaching is another breed of entrepreneur, who sells vintage clothing or levies cover charges around the Northside’s Bedford Avenue. On Lorimer Street, a restaurant called Milo’s has existed for many years. Old Man Milo employed one eighty-year-old waitress who wore a uniform straight out of the TV show Alice; his simple selection of potables extended to bottles of Bud and Miller High Life, and liquor of the plastic-bottle sort. He catered almost exclusively to the elders of families who resided within a three-block radius. Toward the end of 1999, Old Man Milo decided it was finally time to retire, and local lore has it that after he sold the place to a consortium of hipsters—who promptly installed microbrew beer taps and minimalist low-to-the-floor furniture and dimmed the lights to a stylish lounge-grade key—he moved to Florida and died of a heart attack.

Happier stories thankfully abound. A couple of blocks down Metropolitan Avenue, an east-west thoroughfare running perpendicular to Graham, there arrived, not long after I had moved in, an art-supply shop called Big Genius. My first roommate, a dabbler in the visual arts, frequented the store. It has grown into something of a neighborhood hangout, less because of the tea and coffee it serves and more because of a sit-down Miss Pacman machine, 1980s vintage, and an idiosyncratic personnel. One clerk has the costume jewelry and dangerously waif-thin physique of a Black Sabbath roadie. It’s as if he’s dying in front of you. Then there’s the Reverend Vince Anderson, leader of a “Christian rock choir” that performs each Sunday at the Stinger, a nearby club. The Reverend, come to think of it, might not actually be a payrolled member of the Big Genius staff, but, as with Queens Typewriter’s anti-Satan advocate, some kind of store mascot. “Christian for Hire,” the Reverend’s business card announces. “Services every Sunday at 10 pm.” I have not attended his liturgy, but those who have tell me it is unclear whether the Reverend is being ironical. To my mind, he is not, because anyone capable of composing a song entitled “I Try To Be an Asshole But I’ve Got Jesus in My Head” smacks of an Augustinian honesty. Shaggy as a polecat, with a Lynyrd Skynyrd beard and lady-length hair, the Reverend prefers Merle Haggard, stovepipe hats and the Mets. “Rooting for the Yankees,” he argues, “is like rooting for the sun to rise.”

“I live in Brooklyn,” Truman Capote once wrote, the opening line of an essay about residing in the borough, in his case the affluent Brooklyn Heights. “By choice” is his next sentence, as if people would only live in such a “veldt of tawdriness” because of economic necessity, or predestination, or some freewill-dissolvent mixture thereof. But with just those two words Capote has also made an incisive and necessary comment about class. I, too, lived in Brooklyn, by choice. And so did (do) a lot of my friends. One is a reporter with the Financial Times. One is a playwright and screenplay person. Another’s a fact checker for Esquire magazine, another an editor at Penguin Putnam. One guy—he just moved, tellingly, to Harlem—he gets paid something like twenty bucks an hour to fetch coffee and lug obscure lighting gear this way and that on various NYC movie sets. Most of them live in Williamsburg’s Italian section, and most of their landlords are native Williamsburgers of Italian extraction, if not of Teggianese. But though the natives had no choice as to where they were born, certainly those that stayed chose to stay and, in staying, cash in—who can blame them?—on their neighborhood’s new vogue.

On a Web site called Billburg.com, which purports to report on Williamsburg culture of all kinds, you can check out upcoming entertainments, mostly of the exhibition variety (so-called installations abound, one an adaptation of the Divine Comedy, which “begs the question: Is it installation, performance, opera, architecture? Or all? Or none?” and charges twenty bucks admission). You can skim real estate classified ads: the Williamsburg wanteds—“BONJOUR! :), i’m a nice French female looking for a room or a studio :),” “2 girls 2 bedrooms Please!,” “Need it bad!!”—far outnumber the non-sublet, non-Greenpoint for-rents—“My landlord is looking for artists to fill his building. At present, he has two 1-bedroom apartments going for $975 on the J-M line on Broadway, 2 stops from Manhattan. We have a huge backyard and he’s a cool guy—most days.” Nine hundred and seventy five dollars, in case you missed that, a price considered quite reasonable. You can procure yoga lessons, or you can weigh in on the subject of yuppies on the site’s message-board forums. But that topic seems to have cooled off some; there are no postings right now. Nonetheless, it is popular sport among the fifth-quarter set to grumble and hand-wring over Williamsburg’s inevitable corruption. “Yuppies Go Home” was a popular spray-paint slogan—you could hardly call it graffiti—for awhile, and inside the men’s room at the Abbey, a fifth-quarter dive bar on Driggs near Bedford, someone has Sharpie-penned on the wall “Die Frat Boys.”

The thing is, what everybody’s so afraid of, what all these new Williamsburgers hate most of all, I think, are themselves. Or, to be specific, more of themselves. Because everyone’s familiar with that hoary SoHo conceit, that move from idiosyncratic cheap-rent district to Land of the Corporations—which the Burg was once anyway, albeit in a different way, with its Pfizers and its Schaefers. And the fifth quarter understands that it’s the leading edge of this move, that it is this move. But to me these fears seem like something of a figment, or, at best, uninteresting yak about the spoils, pun intended, of “gentrification.” As much as they rail against yuppies, most of Williamsburg’s hipsters consume as rabidly as anyone, with their cell phones and DSLs and overpriced apartments. Especially overpriced apartments. Who knows, moreover, what further sport that mercurial god Nasdaq—the very name sounds as if it belongs to some belligerent deity of the ancient Fertile Crescent—will make of its mutual-funded mortals? And who knows what sport the current belligerents of the Fertile Crescent have in store for the American Pig? Eventually the fifth quarter will move, as I have, somewhere else. It always does, for the fifth quarter and its subsequent generations are, at bottom, tourists, following the recommendations of their specialized guidebooks, their Utnes and their Black Books. The natives, however, will stay behind. This is what natives do. They stay. And in staying, they have what a tourist never can—a stake. This much I know: there will never be a Gap on Graham Avenue, and, frankly, I don’t care what happens to the Northside. Yes, they’re fine and good, and occasionally engaging, all of those self-conscious fifth-quarter establishments. But you can find them, too, across the river on Seventh and B, or in Chicago on Milwaukee and Damon, just as you can find Godfather approximations in Bensonhurst or Youngstown, Ohio. Only thing is, if I had lived in any of those other places I might have missed out on my own personal ball-busting at the hands of Joey.

So here, at bottom, is the cut of my jib: I’d much rather tell you about the people at Mama Maria’s than about the people at Galapagos, a fashionable Northside nightclub, which has a shallow decorative pool in its vestibule that ripples like the club’s mind—a pool, however, that does not reflect, dyed as it is with some kind of ink, as if to blot out consideration of the club’s own clientele. Or I’d much rather tell you about the feast of San Cono than about the Williamsburg Film Festival or some shrieking poseur’s po-mo installation themed around Dante’s Inferno. No. What I came here to talk about is Williamsburg.