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faucets and grey toilet paper you used to play Oregon Trail in for an hour on Thursday evenings after swim team has been replaced by a Total Recall-esque, so futuristic it already looks like it comes from the past, concrete, steel and green glass nightmare that no one plays games in anymore.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?

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