Introducing The 40-Year-Old Hipster. He’s returned to his stomping grounds of Williamsburg after several years away.
We’re subletting Henry Miller’s childhood crib in the burg, the wife and me. While I’ve read too much Miller (if you know his work, you’ll understand what that means) there’s something anti-Miller about this. For the record, we didn’t seek it out, it just happened to be the most economical.
My wife and I live in LA these days, but she’s in town for work. I’m her bearded son, essentially, tagging along. Still, it feels touristy. A neighbor told me he’s been accosted by Miller fans on the stoop. Given Miller’s family lived here from 1892 through 1900, I suspect the dead writer’s spirit, like a 19th Century beer fart, dissipated many moons ago.
I used to live in Williamsburg when being a hipster mostly meant being broke. This was during America’s “innocent” era, back before Global Warming or Terrorism or Mark Zuckerberg existed. When News anchors talked more about presidential fellatio than, say, some sociopath with an AR-15 entering an elementary school. When the Towers, visible from my old tenement building on Maujer Street, still loomed financially from across the river. When you could make fifty bucks an hour doing something called HTML. When tats were for people in AA. When getting your song picked up by a Microsoft commercial wasn’t something you bragged about at a rooftop party. Back when creatives got paid, basically.
Feeling bulbous, I go for a jog, remembering how I used to listen to “indie bands” whenever I ran around the track in McCarren Park, then a dirt soccer field. Now, as I stare up at the penthouses in the condos above the park, I’ve got Katy Perry’s “Firework” blasting — yeah, I do feel like a plastic bag sometimes . . . But the sight of the gangly condos standing over the track depresses me for some reason, and so I take to the (revised) streets. There are so many twenty-somethings, bars, restaurants, cafe’s, clothing stores, even a bowling alley, that it’s like a college campus without classes.
Running past the Wythe Hotel, I stop as a group of wealthy looking hotel guests spill out of the lobby. Catching my breath, I suddenly feel left out. The hood’s grown up without me. I wander over to my old haunt on Bedford, The Abbey, only to spot that same dude from my era over a decade ago, still sipping a Brooklyn Lager at the bar like some hipster reenactment sketch gone awry.
Always in a white T-shirt and jeans, 27, long hair, with a cigarette dangling, my friends and I seemed to own these streets. Back then, Williamsburg was a diorama of booze and sex that crouched quietly in its own designated, mostly Polish area from an otherwise colossal Manhattan. Black Betty, a cover-free hip-hop closet on Metropolitan — Where Horny Hipsters Meet — was the best kept secret in the world. Even then we knew we were part of something too good to be true. I even met my wife there. It’s gone now. Oddly, its softball team is still playing. I saw a bunch of aging hipsters in McCarren Park smoking analogue cigs in their Black Betty jerseys as they warmed up. When I asked one dude what the bar was now, he said, “I don’t know — I’m too afraid to look.”
I turn 40 next month. My hair’s still long (thinning a little). Still working a job I resent. Hopes about the future have dimmed to intermittent thoughts about NOT making it. Had some success along the way, if you could call it that, most of it so fleeting that your novel on the shelf starts to feel less like a book and more like a framed pic of yourself and Mayor Giuliani taken at a fundraiser that ended 16 years ago.
Last week, packing in LA, I found in the closet a framed cover of a magazine in which I’d published an essay. It was literally like some bad metaphor composed by a hungover MFA writer, covered in cobwebs. Nowadays I’m gearing up to direct my first film, something I’ve always wanted to do, but lacked the balls. That’s the beauty of getting older as a creative. People stop asking what you do. And you stop giving a shit.
But when it’s 4 a.m., and my wife’s asleep, and the sarcasm subsides and fear enters and takes a seat next to the ancient fireplace (did Miller sit by that thing, as a boy, dreaming of something more profound than this?) I wonder if I’ll see his ghost. What would old Henry think of the burg today? He’d probably call the skyscraping buildings along the waterfront “tombs,” the kids with ’40s beards “imbeciles,” the streets becoming sterile hallways of commerce, their arteries pumping with coconut water . . . or something.
Last night we were awoken by a strange knocking. Was it Miller’s spirit, arriving to offer me some tips on my writing — or, in more Miller-like fashion, to slip a ghostly hand up my wife’s nightgown? Nah, just the neighbor’s cat. “Go away,” I whispered. The cat gave me a look, like, “Let me in, asshole. I wanna rub myself against the furniture.”
“My wife’s allergic,” I said.
“Fuck her,” he seemed to say, leaning down to lick a paw.
Some are fans of writers because they feel a kinship. I never had that with Miller. If I met him, in some strange universe, and told him I’d admired his work, he’d probably rob me blind and call me a hack. I feel the same way with Woody Allen, not that he’d rob me, but if I asked for advice, he’d most likely say, “Look, kid, life is about luck. And, uh, [clearing throat], you ain’t got any.”
“Thanks, Mr. Allen.”
“No problem. Oh, and kid?”
In bed, my wife inches over, throws an arm over my chest. “No,” I say dryly, “I don’t wanna have sex.” “Whatever,” she mutters, and then rolls over and shrinks into sleep again. She doesn’t laugh. She’s heard all my shtick before. I can’t sleep. Miller’s childhood home, it’s a strange thought. Suddenly, some dude yells something on the street below, it’s followed by laughter, probably kids strolling between bars. That used to be me, I think.