April 29, 2012

Things Have Changed In Williamsburg

In May of 2006, my friend Meredith and I moved into a small two-bedroom apartment on the corner of Broadway and Hooper Street in Williamsburg, across from what is now the line-around-the-block lounge, The Flat. The residents of our building were mostly older, Puerto Rican families. As two white college-aged girls we stood out a little, but not excessively, as the neighborhood was already gentrifying, and kids like us could be found downstairs at the restaurant Moto every night.

Moto is a very special place, and a permanent marker of the last six years of my life. Built under a flatiron-type building, it is small, dark, and gloriously intimate, lit by dim candles and bursting with the music of live jazz musicians. The place has literally been around since forever, far before Williamsburg was a scene or mason jars as water glasses were the norm. Having just finished “A Moveable Feast,” I was naturally drawn to everything about it.

Meredith and I spent many nights and mornings there, no matter how broke we were, drinking wine and eating their delicious, gooey date cake. So many potential boyfriends or just Union Pool morning-afters were brought to Moto as a test, or perhaps just to show off what we had found. Though some might say that even in 2006 we were late to the hipster/North Brooklyn game, to us it still felt new. At 22, we were the Christopher Columbuses of our group of friends.

I did not last long in Williamsburg, on account of being penniless. Having not yet figured out how to make something out of nothing (or one-week’s pay as a dog-walker stretch over a month), I had to return home to my parent’s condominium in Canton, Massachusetts. I began working at a Planned Parenthood clinic situated humorously close to the B.U. campus. My boyfriend at the time, also a Boston resident, had a job at a nearby camera store, and we would steal away to his Allston apartment at night, pretending we had some grasp on our post-college years.

We decided to save up and move to San Francisco. In January of 2007, after the death of my grandmother and the small, plane-ticket-sized inheritance she left me, we packed our bags and flew across the country. I could say a lot about California, but I will only say this for now – there is no place quite as beautiful.

Two years later I returned to New York alone, still broke, and very tan.

Williamsburg was still the same then, the mysteries and excitement of it still allowed me to think that anything was possible. One day I ate lunch alone at the Roebling Tea Room next to Maggie Gyllenhaal. At someone’s birthday party I watched an entire cabaret show in the backyard, complete with a stage and pyrotechnics. I woke up in friend’s apartments on Manhattan Ave, Grand Street, North 1st, Guernsey, and Berry. We ate at Motorino, Papacitos, taco trucks, Dumont Burger, and Juliette. There was always twenty-dollars for brunch because at the time I was subsisting on the refund from my graduate school student loans — impermanent money that is both in and out like a lion.

It would be wrong of me to not point out that at this time, I was actually living somewhere between Park Slope and Gowanus. It’s a fuzzy memory, partly because I was spending so much time drinking and hanging out in Northern Brooklyn. South Brooklyn is fun too, but it doesn’t have the same meaning for me, so sometimes I like to just pretend I was renting a room there to store my things.

I spent a lot of time trying to get into relationships because I wanted a boyfriend to share an apartment with. Looking back, I know that was foolish, and at the time I probably wouldn’t have admitted that was my goal, but it very much was. As a poor, somewhat permanently adolescent twenty-something living in New York, a relationship can be the golden ticket. It comes with a long list of warnings, and very careful instructions, but if used properly, it is a way out of a type of living that at some points feels more like dirty slush on the sidewalk than a cool McCarren Park margarita.

There was the boyfriend on Grand Street with the 3-month old pile of dishes in his sink. We dated in the early fall, when it was still very hot. I would sit at his desk while he was away at a freelance job and work on my graduate school papers. The city, in every capacity, would enter and nauseate me. I couldn’t get the windows open wide enough. The ugly cat he owned ran whenever I approached it, dodging furniture and hiding in the small spaces created by too much clutter. Its hair was hay-like and rusty from endless cigarette smoke and cheap pet food. It was a fat and miserable thing. Nothing about this Dickensian situation was appealing to me anymore, but at the time I did not stop to wonder why.

Then there were the two friends Meredith and I tried to date. They lived on Scholes and were trying to start a men’s clothing line. Their apartment was pristine, as was their shared history. They wore respectable J. Crew, had decent, old-man jobs, and hardly drank, smoked, or had sex. Meredith and I thought we were corrupting them, which we would laugh about as we blasted Regina Spektor from the stereo of her little purple car. How could we corrupt anyone?

In an apartment on Leonard Street I met a young man who loved The Red Sox, dinosaurs, Italian food, and dancing. Covered in tattoos and full of stories about when he was younger, he lacked that frustrated New Yorker mentality so many young men possess. He loved the city wholly, for all its flaws and all its slush. A year later, we moved in together, just a block away on Eckford Street. That was 2010.

Last Saturday a group of old friends decided to try some new places. We started at the tequila bar on Wythe, and did a pit stop at Nita Nita. We ventured to a new “dancey” place where at 1 a.m. on a Saturday, we were the only people on the floor. Eventually one of us made a suggestion that was both sincere, and ironic, “how about Union Pool”?

We found ourselves there for all of five minutes, as “the bathroom line was too long and we were having people over the next day and should be responsible and go home”. It was good to see it though, still packed to the brim, with a bouncer out front. Kids a lot younger than us had staked their places in the booths for the night, waiting for their moment to happen. I liked leaving them behind as much as I liked seeing them, knowing I could still go there if I wanted to but that I didn’t have to stay.

Many people say that Williamsburg is ending (if it isn’t over already), and that the Whole Foods and High Rises will turn it into the Brooklyn Heights of the North, but I am wondering if we have failed to recognize that many of us have changed along with it. Tonight we might go bowling at The Gutter, and tomorrow we might be out buying garden supplies at Sprout. We grew up here, and the town, just like us, can’t be expected to stay the same forever. TC mark

image: Presidente

Caitlin Abber

Caitlin Abber is a writer and marketing consultant, living it up in the heart of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. She has …