Monday, May 17, 2010

I Left My Brain in Williamsburg...

Williamsburg, how much do I hate thee? Let me count the ways…

I wouldn't waste the shedding skin cells on my stubby little fingers typing up every reason why I despise that particular section of Brooklyn. In fact, I'd happily managed to avoid going to that vile patch of organic mustache wax, $6 vegan muffins and body odor that exists in its own la-la land off the L train for the past three years.

Like a fool, I went back this weekend. I spent about 2 hours total there and was completely reminded of why living there was such a baffling and frustrating experience. I'd forgotten how gross the people are, how you are charged a fortune for total garbage and how narrow and hot the streets are with hateful jerks selling crap on the completely overcrowded sidewalks.

Some jerk selling books out of a van tried to sell me a copy of Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying" for $8. The book was earmarked, written in and smelled like it had been used for compost. I offered him five. He scowled at me like I was Mr. Potter from "It's A Wonderful Life."

But let me begin at the beginning.

In 2006, I found a 1-bedroom apartment on Craigslist: $1400, 6th Street bwt Bedford and Berry. The girl who was leaving the apartment had a skill for decorating. She had used some kind of cloaking device to mask the fact that the place was extremely tilted, had no bathroom sink, had sharp n' pointy stucco walls, one large heat pipe in the middle that would only occasionally wheeze out warmth. But she and I totally bonded over the fact that we had the same necklace and the same LeSportsSac bag. OMG! Was it stupid for me to think that because we had these superficial things in common, that she would tell me all the things wrong with the apartment? Of course it was!

The place was a disaster, but a cheapish one. Sure there were problems. We lived next to a seafood "shack" and every few days, our apartment would smell like The Frying Dutchman. One of our neighbors had a screaming parrot. When I called Animal Care and Control over cat that was lying half-dead on 6th Street, my neighbors called me a "cat killer."

So we knew we weren't living in the Sherry Netherland. But we had each other. Then the bed bugs came.

The woman who lived above us, who I believed designed Scandinavian clothes and accessories for dogs, called to tell me that she was sneaking out in the dead of night and not to tell the landlords where she was going. She was sobbing and told me that if I was smart, I would run for it.

But I was so tired. I was working an overnight shift and we'd spent all of our money moving. I didn't wanna pack up again. So I told her, thanks for the warning but we were fine. This would be the first in a series of huge mistakes.

I cannot describe the psychological havoc that bedbugs play on your brain. It does not matter if you have two or two hundred. You will become suspicious of inanimate objects. You will find yourself screaming at your loved one to spackle the window shut. The itchy red dots are a mark of failure. Every time your landlord sends some cousin of his to spray your apartment with baby powder and chlorox you will have HOPE. Then, two weeks later, after you've dry cleaned everything, tossed your furniture onto the street (which people will take, despite your sign that says "I'M INFESTED WITH BED BUGS!"), and finally, dared to get a good nights sleep, you will awake with bites again.

Imagine your apartment has crabs. And you cannot get rid of them. Because your neighbors just don't care.

Side note: Not everyone who lived in Williamsburg is a trust fund baby or a hipster. Some are malevolent junkies and cretins who have been in the neighborhood a loooong time and pay a very small rent. This, I realized, is why they do not complain when, say, the basement, where all the frayed fuses and dingy wiring are, becomes overwhelmed by the smell of spilled oil. Why no one cared about busted stairs. The water that trickled through the light fixtures when someone above had the nerve to take a shower.

After the bedbugs, came the mice. They feasted on the steel wool we used to block up the holes in the wall like it was delicious nom noms. They shat everywhere. We put down glue traps. When they did not die in the glue traps, my husband had to put them out of their misery. He would not let me see what he was doing but I assumed he would bash them in some way. I suggested tossing the mice out the window for the feral cats to eat. Tim said that was gross and inhumane.
Of course it was. I'd lost my mind.

One night, a raccoon appeared at my window sill. It's paws were tiny and human-like. I believe he and his gang of palswould have killed and eaten me if I hadn't come at him with "L'il Tapper" the small novelty hammer I used to use to protect myself when Tim was away.

Meanwhile, I was becoming disgusted by the neighborhood. I'm not saying that all the places were run by grifters pretending to be fine artists. There was some good coffee. I greatly admired the used section of Spoonbill and Sugartown. Bagelsmith on Bedford was always open when I crawled home at 730am after work.

But I saw things that made me gawk with disbelief:

* Someone paying $8 for a smoothie, tasting it and then throwing it violently in a trash can, its contents splashing all over the sidewalk and myself.
* Someone ordering $50 worth of vegan food from a restaurant and then, upon examining it, said they would not pay for it because it had wheat in it.

* A group of 30-something white men, dressed like Das EFX cirxa 1989, loudly and drunkenly referring to people they were apparently doing business with as "niggers."

* A girl singing into a telephone receiver rigged up to a microphone. She was blocking the entrance to the subway.

* A yellow Maserati blocked my street for hours at a time.

* A woman didn't like the looks of what was in her baby's bottle, so she poured it on the floor. Of a coffee shop. No one said anything.

* I was chased by a lunatic at 8am on a Saturday morning who was calling me a dirty something who deserved to die in a river of blood or something. No one said anything. Why would they? No one wakes up before 11am there anyway.

It all felt like a big con, where the irony was so ironed that you couldn't figure what the fuck you were buying or looking at. Everyone was selling something. All of it seemed really expensive and overpriced but you weren't supposed to mention it. Why would a person spend $1200 on a table made from the burl of a graciously harvested Wonkaberry tree but take my bed bug ridden couch? I didn't understand anything. To ask made me feel even more hopelessly out of place.
I found myself muttering to myself, "$45 for a Belinda Carlise lunchbox? Fuck you!" and "You want $250 for what? Fuck you!" And the ever-popular with the young people, "Get a job, asshole!"

To raise money for our move (we'd spent at least $2000 on dry cleaning and laundry and new, crappy furniture since most of ours had to be tossed) I sold stuff. The bitches at Beacon's Closet pawed through my valuables with a stick but I snatched up their $75 like it was money for meth.

I went to the flea market where they sell "vintage" clothes and books and jewelry on 6th street. I saw a woman who was selling leather bags and I approached her. She seemed very nice, in a Stevie Nicks-could-be-28-could-be-48 kind of way. When I asked her how much she could give me for them, she recoiled in horror.

"I thought you were giving me these items out of them goodness of your heart," she said. "I have a daughter to feed."

She then switched tactics and offered to pay me in jewelry. The kind with antlers.

I recall standing on North 5th, crying into my boyfriend's arms about how half of the ceiling caved in from the rain, the bugs, the mice, the nonstop booch-ta, booch-ta, booch-ta sound of my deranged neighbor hitting his speed punching bag. "I can't take it anymore," I sobbed.

Then a rat ran over my feet. I was wearing sandals.

In the end, we lived there for a year. The landlord finally did a real spray of the apartment building (much to the chagrin of the other tenants) and we packed our shit up and moved to Queens with the rest of the old folks.

So why did I return? Again, I had some stuff I wanted to sell. The nice ladies at Buffalo Exchange felt bad that they couldn't sell my clothes for whatever reason but took pity on me and bought a few things. The store was filled with kid clothes: bright colors, cheesy fabrics, hightops... pretty much everything that was the rage in 1991.

The streets were clogged. It seemed 10 degrees hotter than it was back in Astoria. You could not walk down Bedford without walking into a stroller (why, why have a baby in that neighborhood?), a gaggle of tourists, piles of books, sunglasses, old vinyl. A fancy eyewear store sold Chanel glasses. Everything was "adorable" and "wee." Tiny necklaces with tiny birds. Everyone was eating brunch and shopping. It seemed like East Village-land. A fantasy of artsiness and bohemian attitudes.

I wish I understood the concept of sitting out on a stoop eating an artisan pizza with breast milk cheese, wearing someone's repurposed prom dress. But I can't. Maybe the bed bugs rotted my brain. Maybe at 32, I'm fresh out of whimsy.


  1. I'm using this line: "It all felt like a big con, where the irony was so ironed that you couldn't figure what the fuck you were buying or looking at."

  2. Perfect summation of that vile, vile neighborhood. Be so glad you got out!

    I swear, when I find out I have to go there for anything, my stomach just turns.