“This party is going to be filled with tall, beautiful people from New Zealand,” my friend Dana explained to me as we stopped to find our bearings outside of the Lorimer Street subway station. “They’re pretty much the most amazing people I’ve ever met. Olivia, you remember her, she went to the College of Charleston.”
I shrugged and looked around. The first party of the evening was in Williamsburg, an area of the city I didn’t come to very often — tried to avoid at all costs, actually. It wasn’t how I remembered it growing up. Williamsburg used to be a quiet neighborhood where Jews of all sects used to live. Jews, and Italians. My grandmother grew up here.
She’d never recognize it today.
“Oh there it is, right across the street!” Dana led me through a busy intersection to Olivia’s building. I’d probably pass by its heavily graffitied door on the street. So would my grandmother.
“Vai a farti benedire!” she’d scream out, before dropping dead herself.
We climbed four flights of stairs before we found the right apartment. At 9:30pm on a Saturday, it was already overcrowded — indeed with tall, beautiful people from New Zealand. I was eye-level with pilly thrift store Christmas sweaters and armpits belonging to fashion models.
Dana knew everyone, despite having told me, “I only know like two people here.” That was Dana for you though: beloved by everyone, gatherer of friends, accumulator of experiences. At 27, she worked as a waitress in Manhattan but had aspirations of directing music videos.
We filled up on lackluster booze and migrated between batches of friends. I didn’t remember the names of anyone Dana introduced me to, and I knew they’d never remember mine.
Eventually Santa showed up, a drunken mess who had stopped by earlier that evening, filled up a red solo cup with jungle juice, and took a cab to a party in Queens hosted by Ja Rule. His Santa suit was matted and stained. He scrawny chest was exposed beneath it and he wore the pants hanging just below his ass cheeks.
Girls lined up to experience “Santa’s magic lap ride.” He grabbed and groped them, then gave them a present from his sack of toys. A dollar store pinball game. A decorative wooden fish. A VHS copy of Crocodile Dundee.
Everyone hooted and hollered and Instagrammed. I waited outside of the apartment, putting on my coat and hat amidst a pile of fixed gear bicycles. I tend to be a Scrooge when it comes to the holidays, but it was also just time for me to move on.
The Montrose stop on the L was quieter. It was the dividing line between shady Williamsburg and posh Williamsburg; a lot of Hispanic families had moved there in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Section-8 housing opened up and offered them a cheap place to live close to the city.
Some of them were still there, but Williamsburg’s gentrification cycle was definitely infiltrating; a Vegan donut shop sat next to a shabby Pentecostal church. A 24-hour bagel store served plastered 20 and 30something Caucasians while a homeless man begged for spare change across the street.
I didn’t feel comfortable. Not because of the church, or because of the homeless man, but because absolutely no one in the area had perspective on what was happening around them.
Four flights of stairs brought us to the next apartment. My jaw dropped upon entering what looked like the most tricked-out New York apartment I’d ever seen. It was huge. It was clean. It had wall art.
I was in love with the ‘togetherness’ of it all.
We put our coats on the rented coat rack and made our way into the open-plan living room and kitchen. This group had been labeled, “30something DJs” and the atmosphere was rife with it. Nothing was out of place, not a bowl or a beer bottle or even a half-used joint graced the immaculate wood floor paneling.
How silly of me to assume anyone here smoked something as trivial as weed, however. In their world, it was cocaine or bust.
We talked a bit with Dana’s friend JD. He wore a tweed blazer and converse sneakers. He was balding but was still able to pull off a comb-over in a way that didn’t scream, “Damn, you’re old.”
They’d been friends for more than ten years; my place in the conversation was irrelevant, so I began to admire the architecture of the space. Clean, Scandinavian-inspired cabinetry. A sink and oven located in an island topped with a granite counter. A wave-like piece of art made from ping-pong balls illuminated with purple light that had been presented at Burning Man.
A woman wearing a cerulean blue draped dress, her hair perfectly sculpted to fall on one side. She delicately held a champagne flute while pretending not to be bored with the person conversing in front of her. That’s how 30something DJs in Brooklyn lived.
“I almost moved here,” I caught Dana say at some point in her conversation with JD.
“How much does a room in this place cost?” I asked, still looking at the woman in the blue draped dress. I saw myself in her, and hoped for a low price tag; this place wasn’t close to Manhattan, but it wasn’t in the ghetto either. Maybe I’d take it off of their hands if one of their DJ careers failed to explode.
Dana shrugged. “I think they pay $1300.”
“For the whole place? Or each?”
The apartment had three bedrooms. At almost $4000 a month, I realized that maybe I didn’t belong here. These people gave off the illusion that they “had it all” when really, they were struggling like every other New Yorker. I was over struggling though. Even if it meant having a fly Williamsburg apartment to compromise for the rest of the shit happening in my life.
The last stop was a bar where our friend Carrie was celebrating her birthday. It was already 1:30am. Technically it was not her birthday anymore, but I’m pretty sure she was too drunk to care.
I knew we were in Bushwick the minute we stepped out of the Jefferson stop. The skyline was slimmer here, and every other building showed evidence of crinkled aluminum siding, barbed wire, or painted-over window glass. Bushwick was an area of industry before poorer hipsters decided to call it home.
Warehouses, factories, and other former businesses had been converted into tenement-like housing. The McKibbin Street Lofts, with their fire code violations and plumbing issues, were spreading from their original location to wherever white people felt like settling down next.
The Left Hand Path looks like garbage on the outside — it doesn’t even have a proper sign attributing what the establishment is — but I have to give them credit, because the inside is hella cool. Dim lighting created from vintage oil lamps, a sleek wooden bar equipped with USB and electrical power outlets, a decent selection of craft beers and cocktails. If I lived in the area, I wouldn’t mind coming here. It’s a place I could become a regular at even.
Dana and I order hot toddies. She recommends them and I’m about to collapse from all of the party hopping, so a nice cup of spiked tea would do me good. Instead I’m presented with a $10 cup of lukewarm whiskey with a splash of lemon juice.
Even the draft beers are expensive; at $7 for a pull, I’m paying Manhattan prices for a venue that takes me 40 minutes to get to from the Upper West Side.
We eventually walk Carrie back to her apartment, and head further south towards residents that rely on the M train to take them places. The atmosphere changes drastically. Apartments are more run-down. Bars and niche cafes show up less and less. A woman yells out at us while we pass a bodega that I know white people don’t go into:
“Hello! Hello! Can you stop? Hello, I’m talking to you! Hey, hey! Hello?”
“Shut the fuck up!” Dana yells back. The woman curses us out. I’m a bit stunned. Couldn’t we have just kept walking and left her alone?
I’ve been in New York a long time. One thing I always wonder about is how long it will take before the minority populations are pushed so far that they hit the Nassau County border and can’t survive with our $10,000 / year housing taxes and infallible suburban culture.
Will Bed-Sty become the new Williamsburg? How long before East New York turns into “Southeast Bushwick” when searching for an apartment on Craigslist?