A Deli & Skyscrapers

November 30, 2010

Brooklyn waterfront skyline, Bush Terminal, 1920Brookyln used to be known as “The City of Homes,” the first suburb of the United States,  a seminal and horizontal stretch where hundreds of thousands people lived and worked.

Then Junior’s Cheesecake was founded in the 1950s, offering Skyscraper Ice Cream Sodas, in a borough that has no skyscrapers, because the foundation of this part of Long Island is sand, as evidenced by the number of old indigenous names for parts of Brooklyn that indicate the island’s rockless base.  Clusters of tall buildings would sink like candles into a slice of Junior’s cheesecake.

Now, in the “Borough of Churches,” hi-rises abound that are advertised to be “luxury,” but are not situated in close proximiBrooklyn waterfront skyline, Bush Terminal, 1920ty to a day-to-day streetlife.  The uniform glass towers on the coast of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, or the “Toren” and “Avalon” in Fort Greene, at the mouth of the Manhattan Bridge, offer scant opportunities for the livelihood of immediate communal foot traffic.

The tallest building in Brooklyn since 1927 was the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, standing lonely and classy, in a non-office district but situated just above an LIRR terminal.  It mostly leased its offices to dentists before converting to residential space last year, now using its high-arched Deco jazz-age bank lobby for weekend flea markets.

“The Brooklyner” is the new tallest building in Kings County, naturally residential, but unnaturally featuring amenities like a dog shower (for those whose New York fantasy is not complete without a dog left leashed to the parking meter while having lunch for an hour and a half at the gastropub); and Skee Ball machines, for those adults whose egos are padded like an actor’s fatsuit with the scraps of other kids’ nostalgia.  Skee Ball was popular in Coney Island when that boardwalk amusement land first budded in the last decades of the 19th century. Then Brooklyn was its own city, the third most populated in the U.S.  “The Brooklyner” postures the borough as an abstract lifestyle action, and maybe a TV camera is watching your every move and everyone watches.

The deli options in the Madison Square Park / Flower District area of Manhattan are generally of a low caliber. I found my favorite, Cherry Deli, on 28th and Broadway, under the scaffolding, the size of a shoeshine stall in Penn Station, and run like a whipsnap by the Korean owner and his wife.  The Latino guys behind the counter are fast and do five things at once, and they don’t put up with any of the weisenheimers who come in and bust chops, the Africans and Mediterraneans and Eastern Europeans that hang out around the cheap perfume and low budg electronics stores and whistle at chicks and smoke weed and conduct some kind of hand-off 28th Street and Broadway, New York, 2010entrepreneurial business.  I go to Cherry Deli not so much because the sandwiches are great or that they have great bagels, but because the personality of the deli is like the daredevil Philippe Petit walking between the Twin Towers on a tightrope.  Your identity shares appetite with the clientele of the place you regularly get lunch in New York.

Often the city forces its people to reckon things as if against the adversary of something worse: so to say that the pizza at Joe’s Pizza is good, is to say that the pizza at John’s Pizza is not.  The movie was amazing, because that movie sucked.  NYC is a big sports town, the home of Wall Street, and where 20th century popular entertainment in the United States was born.  It is a struggle then, this antagonized disengagement from the city, and if you give up on staking claims, you give up on the city, your home.  Get judgmental about things and at least you say you lived.