I’m standing outside of Hank’s Saloon on the corner of Third Avenue and Atlantic Avenue in downtown Brooklyn on the Saturday before Halloween. I’m there to play some punk rock songs as part of Green Hell, the Misfits cover band that has somehow managed to have a few reunion shows this year.
Hank’s Saloon is a ramshackle dive bar that still hosts live music. It’s a miracle that the place is still standing as Brooklyn’s booming real estate market has created an almost non-stop construction zone all around it. There was once a Walgreen’s across the street. Now there is a luxury high rise, The Hendrik, being constructed. A two-bedroom apartment in the Hendrik will cost you nearly $2 million dollars if you want to slum it; the four-bedroom penthouse will cost about $4 million. The developers had the sense to list it as being on Pacific Street since Atlantic Avenue, the larger thoroughfare, doesn’t have the sterling ring to it.
Farther up Atlantic Avenue is The Barclays Center where the Brooklyn Nets and the New York Islanders play. The Barclays Center was the death knell for Brooklyn culture for a lot of New Yorkers. Local artists and musicians were among those who fought tooth and nail against this stadium, which is a big ugly mark against the city and exhibit A in the corrupt influence of large developers on government. So far I’ve avoided setting foot in that place (I’m a Knicks and Rangers fan anyway).
Because it’s Halloween weekend, lots of people are coming by in costume. One such patron at Hank’s is a man dressed in brown with what look like several blond wig pelts hanging from his body and a face mask and head piece that look as if a giant tongue has replaces his head. As he enters Hanks, someone from a car stopped at the red light on Atlantic and Third shouts to him, “What is your costume?” He doesn’t answer because he’s not sure himself.
“You’re getting a lot of attention from motorists,” I tell him.
“Yes I know,” he says. “I took the subway here and people didn’t know what to do.”
“Are you a giant tongue?”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I am. I don’t believe in being any existing character.”
He said he initially had some kind of Donald Trump costume in mind, thus his plentiful supply of artificial blond hair and emphasis on a large mouth. But he decided to do something completely unique instead. I ask him to pose for a photo outside of Hank’s and he obliges, crouching down and doing a strange dance like you’d expect a giant tongue-man to do.
There are still plenty of skels around to testify to the traditional low desirability of this area. Atlantic Avenue still houses several Islamic bookstores and places of worship. A few of these Mohammedans were in a heated discussion as I walked to get something to eat with Filthy Phill, lead singer of World War IX, one of New York’s finest punk bands. He used to live not far from the area in Park Slope, but hardly recognizes anything now. We were looking for a Halal cart for some dinner before the show, but didn’t find one and settled for Shake Shack; it was delicious.
We got back to Hank’s and the show started. People performed in costume and everything was fun. It was not a large gathering but a lot of longtime friends where there and the music was good. It was great to see many of my music friends.
Green Hell forgot to bring set lists but it was no matter. We figured out what to play and the crowd loved singing along to the Misfits covers. By the end of the night, people were happy to have seen us and we were glad to have played our two shows in the city for some appreciative friends and fans.
We loaded up my pickup truck with gear and brought it to Skum City’s rehearsal space on the Lower East Side. I dropped a truck full of friends on the Upper East Side before driving home. One of them asks me if I miss hauling people and equipment around the city at all hours of the morning. I do and I don’t. I can’t do this every weekend of course, but if I go a year without doing some music in some way I just don’t feel right. I told friends of mine on tour one time: The only thing worse than being in a thankless punk band is not being in a thankless punk band.
I got home at nearly four in the morning exhausted but extremely grateful that there are still places people can celebrate art and music, even among the construction of a future city we won’t recognize. We can go back to our regular lives a little better. As long as there is even some small critical mass of us, all is not lost.
There are now two National Basketball League teams within the borders of New York City. The Knicks have been here since 1946, the Nets moved to Brooklyn from New Jersey in 2012. Neither team is doing very well right now, but only one is worthy of your support.
The Knicks are the city’s loveable losers. We got to the N.B.A. finals in 1999 and lost in five games and haven’t come close to that level of glory since.
I was lucky enough to get to a Knicks game not long ago. It was for work and we had great seats. The baseball owner Bill Veeck said a fan’s knowledge of the game is inversely proportional to the price of their ticket and that holds true in basketball as well as baseball. Although Spike Lee probably knows – and I don’t think he was there that night – no fan within the first 20 rows could probably tell you who the Knicks all-time leading scorer is (Patrick Ewing—I had to look that up). These were valuable seats and I wouldn’t have sat there if they hadn’t been paid for by a corporate client that was footing the bill.
People showed up late and left early; that’s not how you should act when you can see the hypnotic pattern on Walt Frazier’s bold brown blazer and see the pained expression on Kristaps Porzingis’ face when he fouls out. If you’ve spent that kind of money on tickets, get there on time.
At any rate, we were lucky that night in that the Knicks actually won the game. It was in overtime and the game seemed to stretch on forever as the Utah Jazz repeatedly fouled the Knicks in order to get possession of the ball (this is a common basketball tactic that rarely helps a team win a game but succeeds in boring the shit out of fans). But the Knicks finished with the win.
The Knicks are New York’s loveable losers on the basketball court. They find new ways to break their fans’ hearts every year, but they are our team. Now some fair-weather fans are supporting the Brooklyn Nets. Since Brooklyn is trendy and the Nets play in Brooklyn, it is fashionable in some circles to support this farce of a team. That they have sleek black and white merchandise I’m sure helps.
Nowhere in sports, until ISIS starts fielding a hockey team, is there a better example of a team that deserves to fail than the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets play in the Barclays Center, which is part of the notorious Atlantic Yards project, a billionaire’s boondoggle that forced middle- and working-class New Yorkers from their homes. The State of New York invoked eminent domain to force people to sell their homes to shady real estate developer Bruce Ratner, who paid off local activist groups to support the effort. It’s a shameful chapter in the city’s history and the Barclay’s Center is an ugly eyesore that is a testament to our sordid age of corrupt politics and the worst kind of crony capitalism.
I don’t care how much the Knicks lose, wearing a Nets jersey is about the most un-New York thing you can do. The Knicks can lose every game between now and 2053, sacrifice puppies center court and I’ll still root for them over the Nets.
But don’t take my word for it. Watch a Knicks game on television and I’m confident you’ll be convinced of their authenticity. It doesn’t matter how much you lose, it’s how you keep fighting and show character that counts. That’s what real New Yorkers do.