A Rust Belter Reflects on a Trip to Brooklyn New York

I just came back from staying in Brooklyn New York. The borough alone has 2.2 million people. It is huge. So huge that I was only able to get a feel for some of its neighborhoods. Below are some of the things I learned and/or sensed along the way.

Williamsburg is the hipster capital of the world (and a target for other New Yorkers). Styles include girls wearing derby hats and many wearing pretty awful sweaters. Also, the sag is not in. Tightness rules. And if there is a little looseness it is accompanied by a waistline above the navel. (Note: upon returning a co-worker who lived in Brooklyn informed me there is a website called the Burg that shows the Brooklyn hipster scene via half-hour sitcoms and shorts. I like this one called Hip or Dangerous. [Before laughing too hard Rust Belters they got one for us too about two Western PA Poles called Greg and Donny–See pilot below).

Sleeveless Scorpion t-shirts with mass stains are going for 55 bucks a pop in the Brooklyn flea market scene. I am seriously considering raiding every thrift store in Cleveland of their shittiest shirts and driving them to Brooklyn to make profit—a profit no less proving that we have an economic system based on horrible amounts of vapidness and confusion. Occupy Everything indeed.

The Rust Belt diaspora scene is really strong in New York. I was there for three days and was stopped several times by enthusiastic passerbys regarding my Cleveland State shirt and Cleveland Indians hat. One dude asked if I was “actually an Indians fan” (reference to a lot of posers or a sign that the Tribe hat is strong in these parts?) I said yes. Asked if he was from Cleveland. He said no, that his dad was from Rochester? and loved the Tribe and so did he. He was wide-eyed, peculiarly so—but a lover of C-town no less. Good for him and god bless him.

There are scenes in South Williamsburg that make you think you are home. It is an area that is a bit in flux—some empty spaces and lots, abandoned factories like the Domino sugar plant that hugs the Hudson, parks that look half constructed, empty and quieted streets. It adds to the feel of the neighborhood—a feel less shabby chic than Rust Belt chic. Take this quote for instance from a New York times article entitled “Still a Warehouse Wonderland”:

Ms. Warr says that her family loves the water views…and that her 8-year-old son, Douglas, likes to look at the Domino factory. She described it as a ghost from the past, while a tower going up nearby was a ghost from the future. “It’s like a dark shadow at night,” she said. “It’s fantastic. I wish it would stay like that forever.”

To that end the décor of much of the Brooklyn scene is what can be considered industrial chic. I remember being at a patio at Spuyten Duyvil and looking at a cinder block wall that appeared willed to be crumbing if only for the aesthetic. The lesson I kept thinking to myself is that parts of New York in some sense are trying to create what flows naturally from our legacy and expirations.  Still, don’t take my word for it. Here’s what New York-based Gawker recently had to say about Pittsburgh (h/t Jim Russell):

The true unheralded urban gem of Pennsylvania, however, is Pittsburgh, a city that feels like what an American city should feel like. It’s gritty and pretty and shitty and they put french fries on their sandwiches. Whether you’re in the Strip or Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh is a place to be cool.

I wish our city marketers (no names please) would understand this. Instead they see crumble and cringe and get scared.

Lastly, there is a guy they call Sing Along that drives through Brooklyn neighborhoods singing somewhat ethnic-y songs with his windows rolled down. He is fat and bald and his car seat is his podium. My friend Allegra Felter (an Ohioan training for the marathon [the Rust Belt is rooting for you]) says he just does it and does it. I didn’t think much about him until I got on the Amtrak and was riding home and reading a New York Times article about the stage playwright/actor Spalding Gray who did up the underground New York theater scene with his monologues. He was tortured, lonely, eventually killing himself by jumping from the Staten Island Ferry. Here he journals about being needed to be filled up by the eyes of New York.

I’m coming apart and losing my center. At least I think I remember how to get back to it and will do it (can I trust myself to do it) when I need to . . . I do not like all the ACTING I do and that goes on around me. It feels like so much hype and I long to get back to a more simple state. I also feel a strong need to get back to writing and find no time at all for that now. I feel too much in the public eye. I love it but it eats me up and when I am left alone, I feel like a shell that always needs to be filled up by audience.

In the end that is both the beauty and danger of a place like New York.  And I will no doubt return for a visit.

Yet it was also nice to return to the feeling of home.

–Richey Piiparinen

(I also met a Cleveland diaspora resident/talented writer/Bloomsbury Press editor Pete Beatty on my trip. Pete has enthusiastically agreed [we met b/c he is an avid reader] to periodically contribute as our diaspora correspondent from the East Coast.  Considering his endeavors and successes we are smitten.)

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