They Don't Have Neighborhoods There

Busy day, what with getting up at 6:45 am to catch the morning boat off the island, then making my way into town, unloading a summer’s accumulation of stuff at the apartment, hopping the subway over to the city for a couple appointments and a welcome back to New York cappuccino at the ever excellent Rocco’s. Then back to Brooklyn to do what little I could do to help Joshua getting this little web machine off the ground.  Joshua, in case your spyware hasn’t kept you up to date, is the guy who’s responsible for nearly everything you see here apart from the actual writing.  It was pretty exciting to be making what I hope will be seen as a great leap forward, and especially rewarding to hear some of the old Lookouts and Potatomen songs and know that they’re now available for others who might like to hear them (I’ll be adding some more as the days go by).

So by the time I got to Lulu’s (more commonly known as the Lost and Found, and also, recently, the Alligator Something-or-other; the name changes have been so numerous and so without rhyme or reason that a bridge-and-tunnel couple wandered away bewildered after the doorman told them he’d never heard of a place called Lost and Found), I had missed half the bands, and missed one more while I talked to Unlovable Frank, Boobie Dewton, and several other luminaries of the New York Clique out on the sidewalk.  This was of course the first night of Carlapalooza, the annual series of shows orchestrated and arranged by the indefatigable Chadd Derkins to honor the lovely Carla Monoxide’s birthday and to raise money to fight multiple sclerosis, which she is battling.

When I used to live in the Bay Area, opening night for the San Francisco Opera was considered (in some circles, circles to which I was not generally admitted, but never mind) the formal start of autumn social season, and you could probably say the same for Carlapalooza, again in certain circles, probably the only circles to which I will ever be admitted, but a guy do worse, much, much worse, than to be welcomed into the rarefied realms of the New York Pop Punk Elite.

I got to see the Marshmallows, the band from downstairs (literally; they practice underneath my living room, and their guitarist sleeps (very occasionally, it must be said) just below my office, as well as New Jersey’s Full of Fancy, all of which was good, but as usual with these events, some of the most uproarious and hilarious action unfolded out in the street, and also as usual, the ever witty and urbane Chris Grivet was right at the heart of it.  Tonight he regaled us with his theories on a) why the grassy, fenced-in area behind his house is not a “yard,” merely a “space,” and why he could never live in Brooklyn.

His “not a yard” case was simply put: it’s not big enough to be a yard.  How big does a yard have to be?  Well, this seemed to one of those existential “I know it when I see it” situations.  When it was pointed out by more reasonable friends and roommates that the space in question was big enough to park a car on and still have sections of lawn visible around it, Mr. Grivet retorted, “Yeah, but can you drive the car around in it? I think not. Therefore, not a yard.” Chelsea then pointed out that the landlord not only keeps a lawnmower in the yard/not yard, but also regularly uses it to keep the grass in check.  There was a sudden nodding of heads and a general agreement (general except for Mr. Grivet, who on principle never agrees with anyone)  that if it has a lawnmower, it has to be a yard.

So we moved on to Brooklyn and its nonexistent neighborhoods.  Mr. Grivet is a born-and-bred Astorian, and he has a rather sniffy attitude toward those who don’t share his pedigree. Essentially, if you weren’t born here, educated here, and haven’t lived here all your life, you’re not a New Yorker. Fact. And not just anywhere within the New York city limits will do; it has to be “real” New York, meaning, among other things, that it has to be served by a subway line.  So all of Staten Island is out, just for starters (it actually belongs in New Jersey, he’ll be happy to inform you).  And not just any subway line; he maintains that the L and the G are not “real” lines because they only serve two boroughs, unlike his beloved N, for example.

As a lifelong Queens boy, he’s not likely to have much good to say about Brooklyn, either, but since that’s where a great deal of the musical and cultural action he favors takes place, people often ask him why he doesn’t consider moving over to this side of Newtown Creek, if only to save himself the long late-night schleps back to the outer reaches, and his latest riposte to this, having moved on from the more elemental “Brooklyn sucks,” is that “they don’t have neighborhoods there.”

Does it do any good to point out that Brooklyn is practically nothing but neighborhoods? No, it does not. Nor does it help to gesture grandly at the picturesque streets of Greenpoint, where we happened to be standing, and borrow a word from the state motto of Michigan, Circumspice! (Look around you.) Greenpoint doesn’t count as a neighborhood, he explained, because, “None of these people were born here.  They’re all Polish, or hipsters, or something.”

If this sounds terribly xenophobic (we’re only talking about the Polish here; everyone agrees it’s all right to hate the hipsters), it’s not, really. For all his obstreperous bluster, Chris Grivet has a heart of gold and loves (nearly) all 8.5 million people who have come (legitimately or, in his view, otherwise) to live in this great city. He just likes to complain. A lot. And argue. A lot. Which, regardless of where he was born, is a powerful credential of his being a True New Yorker, old school division.

But right when the argument was winding down after having dissolved into gales of laughter, I asked Sebby Zatopek, who’s over from London for the weekend, if he didn’t seem some similarity to the lengthy, intricate, and sometimes extraordinarily heated arguments that frequently develop in English pubs, and usually over subjects that are equally inane. True, you might point out that arguments are not uncommon any place where alcohol is served, but the English pub argument is a rather different species than the usual bar fare in America, which often doesn’t get beyond the level of, “Oh yeah, well, you’re one, too, just wait here while I go get my gun.”

Whereas pub arguments, and many that I’ve heard in New York, depend more on wit, word play, and the ability to say preposterous things with a straight face. It’s just one of the million little things I missed about New York this summer, and as much as I enjoyed my time out on the island, and the ability to stroll 250 feet and be on the beach any time I wanted, I don’t think I’d like to leave the city for that long again, and especially, above all, not in summer.  Wow, it’s great to be back. Now it’s time to sleep three or four hours, get up in time to try and remember how to play the songs I’m supposed to play at the show tomorrow, and shuffle on down to the Cake Shop for Day Two of Carlapalooza!

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