Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'


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It took a bit of looking to find it, alone along empty streets of no-man’s-land bound by train yards and highway cloverleafs. Highly rated on Yelp – a dubious pedigree, considering the crossed purposes of for-profit standard-bearers – this supposed venue boasted a critically acclaimed mixologist (strike one) and otherwise acceptable if ill-defined atmosphere. She was curious as to its provenance, so off we braved the lack of 7 train service past Queensboro Plaza, owing to the East River being under construction or some such; those station loudspeakers are still rather garbled.

The only marker amidst the darkened empty warehouses of its existence was a spartan neon sign flashing BAR, BAR, BAR in that manner evocative of cheap faux-wainscoting, shot & beer combos and ubiquitous AC/DC on the jukebox. Perhaps at one point it was exactly that, but at this day the inside could not be more different. We were immediately confronted with a line ending at a surly black bouncer, beyond which lay the skinniest possible false-nostalgic impression of a steampunk gin joint under which the brightest light could not have been more than 40 watts. Perhaps this was to hide the prices on the primarily vodka-based fruit juices on offer, or the fact that the bar could not be more than six feet from the opposite wall. It was hard to estimate how packed it was because all of two people together would have made it difficult to pass by.

The uniformly white, upper middle class transients that comprised the venue’s clientele hammered the point home well enough: It was the best bar in the neighborhood because it was the only bar in the neighborhood, which is just as well, because it wasn’t a neighborhood. Stuck near the bathroom with the choice of getting on a separate waiting list for the tiny seating area or pushing to the bar, we took the third option and left. The bouncer took notice of the expression on her face, a fellow traveler shocked by this Brave New World, and with a shrug commiserated: “I know.” We made our leave to a night lit up by harsh blue lights dangling off of cranes hooked to half-finished 40-story condominiums, a surreal world in Long Island City made possible through Bloombergian downzoning of just about everywhere else and the fact that empty warehouses don’t vote. It was the kind of place you could spend well over a million on a shoebox and not have a supermarket within a mile of home. Buy stock in FreshDirect and Seamless while you still have the chance.

She talked of a mutual friend who had sought to buy into this new edifice of artifice, which required necessarily doubling up to afford the egregious costs but came with a surprisingly long laundry-list of restrictions: Leases which stipulated approved pets, approved usage of the advertised amenities, approved guests. One would think of meddling petty-bourgeois landlords as described by Kafka, haranguing the hapless protagonist for returning home at odd hours, or perhaps of the board members of West Coast suburban subdivisions that enforce fence height and house paint. The property manager’s ideal tenant must presumably be a cypher of the everyman, with no friends or hobbies or interests except paying on time, and indeed preferably absent altogether.

Actually, that describes 432 Park Avenue perfectly.

We reverted to a night on the town in Jackson Heights, the perennial opposite: The land of casual racism between social equals – equally disenfranchised – the bubbling burps of the American melting pot, the drone control of the corporate underclass. Sitting in a Midtown elevator listening to a white-haired Puerto Rican elevator man tell a black porter that Obama had just hosted Puerto Rican leaders at the White House so he could announce his extermination pogrom, to which the porter replied that that’s not what he heard: He heard Obama was a closet Puerto Rican and the black thing was an act. Then off to drink in Queens listening to a Filipina complain about how offensively super-macho Colombian men were.

It’s all very Avenue Q “we’re all a little racist,” at least if you ask white people – well, more than a little if you mention the Hasidim – but such mutual enmity disappeared earlier when we were eating at a Polish restaurant in Greenpoint, witnessing the theatrical haranguing the waitstaff were administering to one over-loud large group of neighborhood neophytes. Then, there were only two races: Yuppie white, and everybody else.

It also describes how Brian Williams got such a large ego that he could bend reality to his will. After all: Look at where NBC’s offices are – the Rockefeller Center complex accessible through a warren of corporate tunnels, lobbies of major firms stitched together to the point where one need not take a single step on a public sidewalk with the uncontrolled. Even in this, the ungovernable city, sections can be walled off to their own unreality, provided one has enough money – an indictment of the current Gilded Age if ever there was one – Long Island City becomes the complement to such a bastion: The non-neighborhood for the shadow district. The blank slate that can more simply and easily be cleansed.

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