Dec 26, 2007

Christmas In LaLaLandddia

Living in Williamsburg Brooklyn, NY, it's easy to corner yourself into one of the polar cultural extremes of the neighborhood. On the one hand, there are people "native" to the neighborhood--often Dominicans, Puerto Ricans or Hasidic. To a certain extent, Polish people given the proximity to Greenpoint, Mexicans, Chinese. Whatever the statistics, however, these cultural groups represent the working class of Williamsburg. And whether or not they are "native" to the neighborhood--in fact, many are probably new immigrants--they are certainly being pushed out (with the exception perhaps of the Hasidic Orthodox Jews) by the more affluent nouveau riche, the artsy college kid, graphic designers, real estate brokers, business men/women, etc. In short, the working class are being pushed out by gentrifiers who raise the cost of living in a neighborhood beyond the means of a working class person or family.

It's nothing new at this point, especially to those who have lived in New York City for a few years. The socio-economic class of people living in Manhattan has seemingly become less and less diverse over the 5 years I've been here; the rent is preposterous, and more than likely for a space of about 400sq ft. The same is now true to parts of Brooklyn--i.e., Williamsburg, DUMBO, Brooklyn Heights. In Bedstuy the new condos stick out like walled in fortresses while a silent battle is waged on renters of older property because their replacements can simply pay more money.

We take this gap for granted in some respects. Walking the streets of Williamsburg, it's easy to find oneself with loathing for the folks on their iPhones, and to a certain extent self-loathing when you reach into your own pocket to dial a friend for drinks at SuperCore, and of course a complete inability to bridge a gap between yourself and the construction worker. I call Williamsburg and the rest of Manhattan LaLaLandddia: the proximity of people does not prevent them from living in their own la-la-lands. The middle to upper middle classes have their money, their drugs, their stuff, while the poor have their language, their debt, their often confusing plights.

On Chrsitmas Eve I walk into my corner bodega to get some beers for dinner. I recognize most of the guys by now, but sometimes I see men I've never seen before working in the back stacking boxes, refilling the fridges. A guy with rasta hair and a boricua accent once sold me an old 8mm film camera next to the beer fridges; he had two boxes full of them, $5 each. A part of me on this night wants to be part of their ever-expanding world, to greet the old men, to call out Feliz Navidad! but instead I go to the back to select my beers. Shortly after a bald man with construction boots and a green toned flannel walks in and greets everyone in front of the TV and behind the counter in Spanish. One of the older men by the TV responds, to which he laughs and says--"There's nothing but silence outside! Back home people would be out, there would be music, people would be dancing. And here...?" Someone reiterates the silence.

Back home must be the Dominican Republic; the store has a little flag here and there, fotos of vacations taken in their home country. I wonder about the silence outside as I leave the bodega. It's true that in Mexico Christmas Eve wouldn't be the near deathly silence that we have on Bedford Ave. Christmas day is even worse. People stay inside playing with their new gadgets, their toys, their crap. Walks on Christmas day are certainly peaceful, but hardly joyous. I wonder about Christmas in LaLaLanddia, what money does to the spirit. I wish I was somewhere else.