If you would permit me to use an analogy for a moment, I would compare New York City to your house, your home. Midtown is the kitchen where the real business of the day is conducted, there’s your ma sitting at the kitchen table paying the bills. Wall St is your Dad sitting on the couch yelling at the TV with a betting slip in his hand. The Upper East Side a far off room where your very elderly Granny sits dozing in the window. The Lower East Side a teenager’s bedroom filled with rock posters and semen stains. Park Slope where your older sister sits and pouts all day long wishing she wasn’t surrounded by such worthless peasants and along a little path from the kitchen, at the bottom of the garden is a little potting shed where your dad’s older brother Tony sits fiddling with an old valve radio in his comfortable cardigan and talks about the Korean War. This is Maspeth, Queens.
It is the 1950’s in Maspeth, Queens. The streets are clean and tidy, the modest houses, families, shops and restaurants are clean and tidy, the bank manager knows your name, the flag is flying, no one is going to steal your bike and if it was they’d know who took it, Italian food is food and Chinese food is ethnic food. It is a fine, fine place.
I’ve been slandering Maspeth for years now, like every other self-respecting Brooklyner, without ever having visited the place. Actually I was there for a while; you see, several summers ago I ran around with a crazy ex-ballerina in her very early 20’s. Contrary to the popular saying I aged about 5 years during the 6 week fling. It was the summer of the blonde ballerina and also the summer of gin. My roommates and I would go through 3 bottles of Gordon’s a week. The ballerina introduced me to snorting pharmaceuticals which disagreed with me and we’d sit in her spartan kitchen melting in the heat, swatting away the flies, completely at loss for anything to say to one another. We’d walk to the first bar in Williamsburg and she would try to make friends with the junk yard dogs she met along the way. In an attempt, I suppose, to make myself seem as young, vital and crazy as she I hurled the tops of fire hydrants down the road and we’d watch the sparks fly before they’d smash to a stop against a store front or a car wheel. We watched Gummo together and it reminded me of the crazy stories she told me about the fucked up things she used to do with her friends upstate, the friends that wanted to come downstate to kick my ass for going out with their friend who was much too young for me.
I sat and thought that when I was her age I had just moved to Belfast and was chugging 3 litre bottles of Wild and White with Gordy and Ciaran Kennedy, I had not yet met the civilizing influences of Deirdre or Clive and since that time had completed Art College, bummed around Belfast for a few years, moved to Colorado for six years, got married, moved to New York, got separated and I had done all this spartan kitchen thing before and couldn’t really face all those hangovers again. Well I knew all that but it was exciting anyway and much of it was a lot of fun. And as I sat there so tired, so, so tired in the miserable heat in the shabby outskirts of Maspeth with nothing around to eat but bad pizza and Chinese food I could hardly disagree with the general consensus that Maspeth was a shit hole. If I’d just walked around a little bit more I would have seen the cute, varied little neighborhood, untouched by modern development (except sadly riven in twain by the Long Island Expressway) and the lucky people who live there, the cemeteries, the disused railroad lines and old factories. Except for that one corner of Flushing and Metropolitan which will always be Gummo.