Monday, June 20, 2011

We all want to call it home

Aw, everything changes all the time. There's not a whole lot you can do about it.

What did your neighborhood look like when you were a kid? If you're from some places in the United States, you've probably now got 15,000% more Starbucks, an additional Wal-Mart, several fewer Mom and Pop shops. The dilapidated old yellow brick library with the funny-smelling water faucets and grey toilet paper you used to play Oregon Trail in for an hour on Thursday evenings after swim team has been replaced by a Total Recall-esque, so futuristic it already looks like it comes from the past, concrete, steel and green glass nightmare that no one plays games in anymore. Even the toilet paper has caught up with the 21st century. Quilted two-ply all the way.

The 7-11 is a drive-thru espresso stand, the bank your godfather opened your first account in is now a Chase. The street is wider and there are seventeen Thai restaurants on the block that used to lead to your middle school, which is now a ten-story artist's vision that looks appropriately phallic for an institution of learning aimed at 11 to 14-year olds. You used to have to go downtown for a latte. Now they're practically delivering them to your house, along with sushi, which, when you were a kid, you thought was just raw fish. You did not have the first idea what nori was and would never have allowed seaweed to pass your lips, even if you'd known it was going to be FUCKING DELICIOUS.

But what about the people? Sure, like the streets, they're also a lane-width broader, bigger, brighter and pretending to believe in progressive issues like that they'd be totally cool with Mexicans if they'd just come over legally (almost universally a lie). But apart from that, they're mostly the same people as before, right?

When I moved to Neuk├Âlln five years ago, it was the part of town people were scared to have to transfer the subway in. Only the bravest would dare actually leave the train station in order to pick up some "ethnic" grocery item, and then, only in daylight, while accompanied by a bodyguard and a bulldog.

Shortly after I arrived, we started noticing that hip, young people apparently found it "ironic" to live in a Turkish neighborhood and "authentic" to clutch their computer bags while tiptoeing fearfully past groups of Turkish youth standing around drinking Coke in front of the internet store at 1 o'clock on Saturday night. But then, they found strength and safety in numbers, and now they're not scared of anything anymore.

You'd think this would be a good thing, but if you talk to one of them who took a culture safari here five years ago, they'll tell you how there was "nothing" here before they got here and turned it all into a hipster hellhole. "Nothing" like culture clubs, Turkish man hooka bars and other Turkish-owned businesses. But now there is "something" here. In Hipsterese, "something" means "yet another bar serving cheap beer for expensive prices, exploiting design students' thirst for minimalism by not bothering to go shopping for basics like furniture and forcing you to sit on empty beer crates instead of as if that's more edgy than sitting on actual chairs".

I like bikes and funny haircuts and exposed brick walls, but I also like Turkish boys standing around drinking non-alcoholic beverages on weekend nights and scaring the crap out of suburban white kids. But the former seems determined to run the latter out of the area by swarming the place, acting smug and superior, and being willing to pay twice what the average Turkish family can afford for an apartment full of "negative" space they couldn't possibly fill because as minimalists they don't even own CDs anymore.

Can't we all just get along?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cocaine and Jimi Hendrix

I was just commenting last night to some unwilling victims about how the internet has taken over our lives so fully and completely that I can't remember what we did before we had it.

Remember back in the day, way way back in the dinosaur ages, right around 1999 or 2000, when you'd wake up on a day off work, smoke a joint and/or snort a line of coke, make yourself some a bagel and/or listen to Hey Joe or Fell on Black Days ten times, take a shower, grab your smokes and house keys and be out of the door? When I was 19, I used to make it out of the house by 11.30 every single day. Where did I go? What did I do? Back then there was a neighborhood in my hometown that was infamous for being home to gays and junkies, and so naturally I insinuated myself into the scene as much as humanly possible, as I was convinced then, as I am now, that no one knows how to party like a gay or a druggie.

So I'd go up to Capitol Hill--now a lame mecca for hipsters and tourists, sadly--and do... what? I suppose most of the time, I'd do at least one lap up and down Broadway, drop in on some friends and acquaintances (remember that? Before you had a cell phone? When you sometimes didn't even have somebody's home phone number? And would just show up to their place and knock on the door? And they'd actually let you in because they were actually home and they'd give you something to drink and have a conversation with you and there was good and contemporary music playing on an enormous thing called a stereo? And other humans would be there too, and one of them might have even been reading a newspaper? Made of actual paper?), then stroll down for about seventeen cups of coffee at Bauhaus and write in my journal. Or, depending on who was in the smoking section, I'd pretend to read one of my many banned books written by political prisoners, communists and conscientious objectors.

And after I was done with all my dropping-inning and coffeeing and chain smoking and trying-to-be-cooling I might go down to Indy Media and pretend to learn something, attend a solidarity rally or an anti-capitalism march, then get back on the bus home. At this point in my life I neither drank alcohol nor had a television. So now I rack my brain to remember what I did at night. I think, I didn't spend a lot of time at home--basically went there to sleep, shower, and host drug parties. No, wait--my roommate and I, when we were both at home, would sit on the sofa and talk.

And well, now, I'm old and fat and married and I have a television and I eat meat and I don't give a shit about politics and I have several paper journals in which I rarely write anything, and I no longer see the point of leaving the house when I have everything I need here. On a day off, I can eat three meals in front of the computer and go to sleep while watching a movie. Take now, for example. It's a beautiful day. Sun is shining, annoying fucking noisy birds are chirping, the temperature is just right, but instead of laying in a park somewhere and trying to impress someone with my newest Chomsky acquisition, I'm using wireless internet while sitting on my patio, hoping none of the tenants in the building across from us can see that I'm not wearing any pants.

Anyway. I've decided that 2011 is my year to finally get back to basics, to kick my internet habit. I mean, I had the internet in 1999 as well, but back then it was too slow to be of any real interest, you could check the weather in Moscow 24 hours a day but you couldn't watch movies and blogs were basically drawn-out status updates from people you knew in person and could ask face-to-face what they bought at the grocery store last night.

Ironically enough, one of my solutions to kicking my internet addiction is to spend a similar amount of time on the computer, but more time offline, like writing these gems for you four people on Word then blindfolding myself and posting it to the internet, without checking to see if Whatshisname has commented on my super witty retort to his status update although I have not seen nor spoken to him in twelve years.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

We're all so predictable

I think it must have been the first, or one of the first episodes of 30 Rock--a show I just now started watching--where Jack can predict everything about a person just by determining which demographic group they fall into. And while he's talking to a woman roughly in my age group he mentions that she picks up knitting every two years, halfway completes a project, then puts it down again. How does he know us so well?

I mean, it's just so hard to know what to do. A couple of things come naturally to me--arguing, for one. Cooking is a no-brainer as everyone has to eat (although evidently there are many different ways of feeding oneself that permit a 30-year-old to make it their entire lives without having the faintest idea of when to put salt in boiling water, how to use sugar to reduce acidity or how you can use butter to emulsify a sauce).

Anyhootles. It occurs to me that only a rare few of us are naturally driven to do creative things, and of those, only an even smaller percentage have got any shred of talent. Anyone can knit, sure, but how many people can create a pattern? Anyone can write a blog, but how many people can write one worth reading? (Believe me, I'm not counting myself among the talented few in this regard... at the moment.) Anyone can pick up a pencil and paper, draw a circle and some squiggly lines and call it a cartoon, which is what I did today.

Boah, nothing illuminates you to your own total lack of talent like trying something new. In my head, the concept was genius, even though I had no idea what any of the characters would look like or how to make eyes. But I was determined to be more proactive in my artistic pursuits, so I sat down and pounded out some of the most inane drivel even I have ever seen and my standards are not that high.

Sigh... I wish I could figure out what I could do that would make me even remotely interesting, but it always seems to come back to my excellent powers of perseverance when it comes to arguing you down to a bloody pulp until you realize you are wrong, wrong, WRONG.

Anyway. It's back to watch ten more episodes of 30 Rock followed by a light marathon of Father Ted for me. Back into the masses of mediocrity I go.