Monday, July 7, 2014

Slackers, Hipsters and the Loss of Emptiness


Slackers and Hipsters
I was thinking back to the days when Williamsburg was slacker central (the early 90’s?).
Back then the L Cafe anchored slacker central and I would sandwich there.[1] Service always took forever so one day I called ahead to order, but no one answered the phone. Strolling over to Bedford I was surprised to find them open. When I told the slacker behind the counter that I had called several times she turned to her "coworker" and said "have you noticed that the phone has not rung a single time today"? To which the response was "excellent".
The sandwich took 20 minutes.
There weren't many places to eat at back then.

Campbell Cheese & Grocery
Yes the 11211 area code is now overrun with hipsters but the interesting thing about hipsters is that they are an unusually gifted group of entrepreneurs. Some such individuals recently opened a corner grocery store near me. A corner grocery store? Yes, Campbell Cheese & Grocery is not a deli, but a true corner grocery where quality staples can be found just a short walk away. Of course the cost of these staples far surpasses any convenience. After all these are artisanal, hipster staples: organic produce, craft beers, etc. Low cost is not part of a hipster grocery store. Graduate degrees seem to be though.

Park Luncheonette
There used to be an old school corner luncheonette near McCarren Park. It closed and somebody fixed up the place to "look like" an actual old school luncheonette, spending a tidy sum installing new “old” details that were never part of the original luncheonette. It looks like a hipster joint, however a recent visit to Park Luncheonette revealed that they are in fact casually resurrecting slacker central.
Pizza, burgers, beer, wine and fine spirits are among the offerings. I sat at the counter and ordered a burger (medium) and a Coke. Soda came first. It tasted off so I asked the bartender if it was Coke. He replied, “it’s cola” in a manner that suggested “isn’t that close enough”. I requested a seltzer.
The place had a staff that seemed like they had either not slept the night before or slept in their clothing (nothing wrong with that, I’m just saying). There were several individuals who seemed to be intimate with the place, but were not doing anything productive. One of the female intimates walked over with a burger on a plate, not really knowing what to do with it she offered it to the barkeep. He asked if it was a medium burger. She shrugged her shoulder as if to imply “don’t know, not my job” and handed it to him. He gave it to me in his “close enough” manner. The plate also had the salad I ordered, so I agreed, close enough. And it turned out to be just that.
Clearly, this was not a fully functional hipster joint; perhaps it’s in the beta launch phase.[2] I suspect it’s a revival of the slacker cafe, proudly foreshadowing a reincarnated slacker central.

The Loss of Emptiness
It seems like a million people move to NYC every year. There used to be such a thing as emptiness, even in Manhattan. Empty lots, empty buildings, empty spaces. Grand Central, Lincoln Center, Times Square, the East Village, all had vast spaces where one could wander about, and simply take it all in. Nocturnal wonders full of nothingness. Truly public spaces, undefined, unregulated and sometimes scary.

I lived in Times Square during the 80s and would seek out these places and their emptiness.
And Times Square, that lovely black hole, had its own quiet, dark and gloriously underused crevasses. Now filled with the masses, and restaurants, it has lost its uselessness.

Grand Central before it was "renovated" had fantastic, uninhabited balconies, public spaces that one could freely access and linger about. Unbothered by any sense of purpose. Now occupied by restaurants the purposelessness of these spaces is gone.

Lincoln Center, that bustling center of culture, had a marvelous, underused, wide travertine pedestrian bridge silently sitting there, open to possibilities. After a recent rehab it was removed. Of course there’s a restaurant now and in a nod to openness they’ve provided a small sloping green lawn that desperately wants someone to lie on it. Set off to the side is a spindly footbridge, ignored and equally desperate looking it would very much appreciate some foot traffic.

Upstate Alert!
The Susan Hartung exhibition is coming together. This 50 year survey of drawings and paintings will be at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, NY.
Exhibition dates: September 18 - October 25.
Opening reception: Thursday Sept 18, 4-6pm.
Spread the word.

[1] Yes, sandwich is now a verb.
[2] In addition to the use of sandwich as a verb, I have also seen the Beta Launch concept applied to the non-tech world where an enterprise is launched functional, but not quite finished (close enough), and is tweaked according to customer feedback. Or not.