The Recluse

The man never left his apartment. I swear to you, he never left his apartment. I sat on the stoop that summer, drinking gin and tonics out of a mason jar, the squeezed lime languidly floating in the clear effervescent liquid. The ice rattled as I swirled the perspiring glass around, mixing the drink. The Domino’s pizza man would arrive, and knocking at his door, would flush out my prey, the skittish animal, only to be exposed a second, before scurrying back into his dark hole. It was interesting to watch this man as the heat pounded down on me, the sun circling high above and a listless wind barely twitching a leaf with its frail blow. I sat there, knowing it would be hours before the Chinese food delivery man would arrive, to feed him his nightly meal.

I noticed the first week living in my apartment that the man was a shut in. What first drew my attention to his apartment was the television that was constantly on. Now I don’t make it a habit of peeking into neighbors windows, but it drew my attention. His television was directly in line with the front window of his apartment, and with the blinds not up, but the slats opened, I noticed it was on 24/7 and on ESPN. I found this odd for a few reasons. First of all, have you ever been somewhere and ESPN was on the television, set as a neutral programing for people to watch. I admit it is a good choice. Not offensive, easy background noise, no politics, no debates, no guns or violence, I get it. But, what becomes torturous, what grates on me, is the constant sports update, which is not so much an update, as a 7 minute long repeat the whole day, on every 15 minutes. It is hellish, because hell is repetition. Another odd thing was the television was on, constantly, every day. Now I know it seems like a stretch, but there were many hours that I was up at odd times, and always noticed the electric glow beaming through those open slats. With all that ESPN watching, one must build up an appetite.

After a while I began to notice my neighbor’s eating habits. Always pizza at lunch. Always Chinese at night. Always delivered. I just assumed breakfast was leftovers or the meat from the frozen dead corpses in his basement freezer, I don’t know. All I know is, he ordered take out everyday I was there. It was like clockwork. The kind you could set your watch to. I began to wonder if these two establishments didn’t have standing orders to deliver. I can imagine, at these fast food restaurants, the employee taking his order, again, everyday, again. What must have gone through their minds, as they wrote down his order for the thousandth time? And the delivery driver, what did they think? They never seemed to linger long enough to have a conversation. You would think that constant repetition would build up something of a rapport between them, but money exchanged hands, and they were on their way in opposite directions.

It was as if the sun would kill him. As if the world would snatch him up and devour him whole. I don’t mock him, or pick on him, but curiosity gets the best of me, makes me wonder what kind of life did he lead. You see him, and become used to this. He becomes a regular, a frequent character in your mind, but you know nothing of him, so you begin to fill in the voids. Maybe he is a shut-in with a dramatic and heightened phobia of the world. That if he stepped foot outside he would crumple into a ball of fear and anxiety. Then you wonder, could it be he is in witness protection, and so afraid for his life, that he deems it better alive and inside, then outside and possibly dead. Or, maybe, he is such a sports fanatic, he is a famous sports blogger, who is obsessed with ESPN. So many other options swirl through your mind, but in the end you are left wondering, with no answer to the mystery. But then again, thank god for characters like him, to pass the time on a hot summer day with a gin and tonic in hand.

Shock troops of Gentrification

While the hipster seems to be the unwilling and unknowing shock troops for gentrification, their intent is not malicious or deceptive. It is with great admiration that I begin to write about hipsters, and hopefully those reading this will understand that the media tends to stereotype groups with a banality that borders on neuroses. And what we know of the hipster stereotype is far from any truth imaginable.

In Portland, Maine we  see the current process of gentrification, as it has been and is occurring in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and how it is changing the city. Now what is occurring in Portland is what Sharon Zukin describes in her book Naked City , discussing the urban environment, and what Richard Lloyd discusses in Neo-Bohemia as he analyzed the culture of Wicker Park Chicago in the eighties to the late nineties. What they both notice in their work is that post-industrial areas seem to attract a bohemian crowd, a group of like minded individuals who want to come together, and form communities, neighborhoods, where they can be around people who share similar traits and qualities. To be honest I find this normal, and in no way out of the ordinary. If you are a liberal who is anti-gun, pro-choice, and pro- immigration rights you don’t choose to move to Texas thinking there will be a plethora of individuals who will share you passion for your beliefs. Instead you find an area that suits your needs better.

These artists, bohemians, hipsters, how about just plain people, see the attraction, appeal, and even beauty of these post-industrial complexes and in renovating them, create a community which brings mass appeal to others. In doing so, they begin to renovate neighborhoods that would be untouched before, and unaccessible to the general public out of fear of crime and lack of public services. By doing what all other people do, enhance their own surroundings and try and find affordable housing, they create an area that is livable again out of a wasteland that would otherwise have crumbled and disappeared into oblivion, as time seeped into the cracked mortar between bricks, slowing cleaving the old dilapidated structures in two. In creating a livable environment though, unfortunately the vultures begin to buzz overhead, unbeknownst to these homesteading urban pioneers.

As the bricks are mended and storefronts fill up with boutiques, coffee houses, yoga studios, used bookstores, bars, and restaurants, this creates an inevitability which is unfortunate and out of the hands of these initial entrepreneurs. Rents begin to rise, more new stores fill in, and older bodega’s, corner bars, and other small businesses which once filled these storefronts, begin to disappear. As Zukin notes, this isn’t a bad thing, it is the beginning of a cycle, the genesis of a neighborhood. But, this is where gentrification occurs. It is not at the hands of the initial urban pioneers who cleaned the neighborhood, bringing in art galleries and coffee shops, but at the developers and real estate investment firms, that we begin to see the neighborhood’s landscape altered.

Eventually rents raise so high that the boutiques and coffee shops catering to hipsters, bohemians, and artists begin to disappear, replaced by chain stores. Not chains like Wal-mart or Target, these still would have no market here, but chains that are regionally based, usually within the city, or specific stores that cater to that lifestyle. In Williamsburg, clothing stores from Manhattan have opened chains within the neighborhood limits, and in Portland, Maine hotels and restaurants seem to be the commodity of investors in the Old Port.

As the process of gentrification goes into full swing, housing begins to change the landscape, and older homes are bought up and torn down for development of luxury apartments and condominiums. In Portland this is happening on the East End and Munjoy Hill, while in Williamsburg this is happening right on the waterfront where the old factories have been torn down to make way for luxury riverfront apartments. This is an unfortunate matter of fact that was not anticipated by these urban pioneers who sought to create their own neighborhoods, and bask in their own created environment. What has occurred is the area is now desirable, and people from outside want to live amongst the hip, the cool, the tres Brooklyn. This is the unfortunate side effect of these bohemian hipster neighborhoods.

Eventually rents raises so high that the original bohemians, artists, hipsters, urban pioneers, can no longer afford to live there, and must move out of the neighborhoods they helped create and design. And this opens the door for super gentrification, as Zukin calls it. But that is another conversation all together.

 

The Corner Bar

I sat at the bar. The dark, dank, smoke stained and saturated wood panel walls, create an atmosphere of comfort, and I languish in its embrace. Over the old, poly’d bar-top, hang three stained glass lamps, Schlitz mosaically emblazoned in blood red, against a field of green and yellow glass, held together by poorly soldered lead–small streaks of the poisonous metal trailing down shards of glistening colored glass. Encased by these hemispheres, dull, forty watt, yellowish bulbs, strain to brighten the room, but it is as if the lost hopes and damaged dreams of the patrons, swallow the light, which struggles against the stygian gloom. In the corner, an old, outdated, cigarette vending machine still occupies a space lost in time, as if a temporal vortex has opened up a conduit, a wormhole, transporting this bar space to the 1970s. The only update, that makes this machine modern, is the dollar changer, which is affixed to the wood veneered machine. The handle’s clear, molded plastic pull knobs, are no longer transparent, but yellowed with age, as if the  nicotine, which stains so many white mustaches of habitual smokers tawny, has jumped from their tobacco stained fingers, to the knobs themselves.

This bar, which lives in two times, torn between the old and the ever changing present–the quickening technology of this age–has a digital jukebox attached to a wall, down and across from the bar. Its blue digital light, simulating neon, encircles the device which spits out heavy metal, 80’s rock, hair bands, and the occasional indie rock song. The small confine of the bar space echoes the music louder, as there is one volume, excessive. The patrons, all lined up on stools at the bar, sitting along the wall, and standing in any open space, don’t seem to notice the deafening sound, and instead their stentorian voices commingle with the music, creating a cacophony of revolting conversation and death metal.

A ‘Gansett in hand, and cheap shot of Old Crow sitting next to it, my writing ambitions wane away. Like an hour glass, my zeal for literary pursuits are grains of sand, slowly sifting, dropping into oblivion, one astringent sip at a time. Pen in hand, and composition book open, I spill a drop of amber colored liquid, of what passes for whisky, onto the clean, virginal, white page, lined by a pale, cornflower blue. No words to spare, I tap my pen against the empty space, the void of memory, the dearth of prose, which builds a frustration inside me.

Tipping back the tallboy ‘Gansett, the bartender comes over. Her wrinkled hand touches mine as she seeks my attention.

“Nother, hun.”

“Sure thing.”

I turn my attention back to the bar. The couple sitting in the dark corner practically fucking, the hipster picking music off the jukebox, the older woman sitting next to me, her flaxen dry hair cut to a bob, they are all rich characters. These are my people, my characters, they inhabit the pages of my notebook, and find their way into my stories. They may never know it, but they will be immortalized in words, and their essence, even if it is a small, superficial bit, transferred to some literary persona. Their actions are fodder for my work, and farmed like potatoes plucked from the field, but that is for later. Tonight, I drink.

As I tip back the can, I converse with the woman next to me. We drink, we commiserate, and I find a character, the lonely barfly, the empty vessel, the lost soul, and then I wonder, what character will she play?