Wednesday, March 19, 2014


A newly-minted Upper East Sider
looking for ethically-sourced
coffee served with goat milk.
I can't remember when I was last accused of being hip -- probably because it's never happened -- but that's all about to change. The New York Times reports that the young hipsters are finding domiciles in the Lower East Side out of their reach, and have been forced to migrate to my area, the Upper East Side.  

Ha! After years of looking askance at me during my infrequent visits below 14th Street, suddenly they have no choice but to pack their belongings in their Whole Foods bags and, for the first time in their lives, take the #4 train uptown. In geopolitical terms, they're Crimeans who have been forced to live in Ukraine while yearning to be invaded by the Motherland -- in their case, Brooklyn.
The hipsters are already complaining about mothers pushing strollers in grocery stores and how their Lower East Side friends refuse to visit. As to the former, I remind them that this a family neighborhood, which means there are families. And as for the latter -- thank God. I don't want my pleasantly dull neighborhood being overrun by people in Warby Parker glasses, skinny jeans and porkpie hats while smoking Lucky Strikes and arguing over the merits of Infinite Jest vis-à-vis It's Kind of a Funny Story

These are the people who wait six hours in line to see the latest Wes Anderson release, gladly drop 40 bucks for high-grade vinyl LCD Soundsystem albums and secretly want to either date or be Zooey Deschanel. Guess what, kids -- we get studio releases up our way, our last record store closed about 15 years ago and Zooey Deschanel only plays a hipster on TV.

No. And don't call me "neighbor."
Then there's their ironic taste in beer. For a while, Pabst Blue Ribbon was all the rage. But recently, Narragansett has been giving it a run for its money. As a native Rhode Islander, I can assure you that Narragansett (or 'Gansett, as the locals called it) was what you bought when you couldn't afford panther piss like Schaefer. 

I never even tried it until last summer when I was given a sample at a bar. It can best be described watered-down water, possessing the kick of a one-legged mule with polio. If Narragansett Beer was a color, it would be "clear." If it was a movie, it would have been declared missing by the American Film Institute. A bottle of Sam Adams would probably put these people in a coma.

Me, February 1984: I was a hipster before it
was hip, goddammit! Note the tres belle drapes
and the unidentified junk in the corner.
Pioneers like me paved the way for these zooey-come-latelys with their Arcade Fire tattoos. I lived on 1742 1st Avenue (between 89th & 90th), apartment 5S, from 1983 to 1989, when anything above 86th was less safe than Kabul is today. (When I told my mother that recording artist Marshall Crenshaw lived around the corner, she asked, "Don't his records sell?") 

The day my roommate and I moved in, the New York Times ran a front page article about our next-door bodega which doubled a marijuana sales outlet. Welcome to the neighborhood! One morning I went down for some orange juice when the cashier nervously told me the place was closed. Thinking that he meant he was out of weed, I said, "No, this is all I want." The burly gentleman next to me in front of the counter made the situation a little more clear by pulling back his jacket to reveal a holstered gun. Those "freelance graphic artists" moving to my neighborhood would pee in their Pendeltons if caught in a similar situation. For me, it was just another day at the office.

My old block, February 1985. The businesses have
been replaced by, among other things, a winebar,
an organic food store and a Peruvian chicken
restaurant. The gas station on the far right
is now a high-rise with a Starbucks on the
ground floor.

As for entertainment, there were no post-modern burlesque shows or online memes to pass the time. All my roomie and I could do was sit on the fire escape on a summer's evening and watch the dealers, hookers and local lowlifes plying their trades. Like the kids who were stealing fruit from the bodega across the street. The woman who ran the place angrily chased them away. One of the junior thieves showed his displeasure by smashing her on the face with a long fluorescent light. 

That was almost as much fun as when my roommate spent a hot summer afternoon watching a mad dog, barking incessantly with foam dripping from his mouth, run around the block until it presumably either dropped dead or was shot by the police. I don't think the Wilco fans moving to my neighborhood would have known what to make of such a thing. 

By the way, the rent for our two-bedroom railroad apartment was roughly 800 bucks. Included were the junkies, criminals and winos who hung out in the vestibule, the hallways and the roof (which was littered with syringes). Now it's a steal at $2,395, presumably minus those colorful extras.

Anyone who knew me then would be stunned to learn
that this is the way my old kitchen looks now.
Now the only drama you encounter in my neighborhood is trying to find a space during the alternate-side-of-the-street parking days. My daughter can walk back from the subway at one in the morning and feel perfectly safe. This is the kind of thing hipsters find repulsive. 

But maybe what all this will mean is that some day in the near future, the real estate values here will skyrocket and we can sell our place at a jumbo profit. Then the only people who will be able to move here will be bankers, investors and other assorted yuppies. And echoing from 79th to 96th, across Lexington to York Avenues, will be the hipsters plaintive wail, "Why don't they stay on the Lower East Side where they belong?"


To read the original New York Times article regarding the bodega-cum-drug store where I lived, click here.

And just to prove that anyone is willing to do anything to make a buck, here's an old Narragansett Beer commercial featuring the voices of Mike Nichols & Elaine May:


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