Earlier this week, I came across a blog post called “Too Old to Live In Williamsburg”, after it was picked up by The L Magazine (and its sister mag, Brooklyn Magazine) by way of the blog Brokelyn. The first-person piece was published on Purple Clover, which describes itself as "a new site for people who hate being referred to as Generation X or 'baby boomers'." So far, it doesn’t seem to have gotten too much further traction beyond some chatter on Reddit and Twitter, which is encouraging, as I strongly suspect the post -- which was for the most part taken at face value by The L Magazine and Brokelyn -- is bunk.
“Too Old To Live In Williamsburg” tells the story of a (presumably) affluent, empty-nest couple who, bored with the Upper West Side, hightail it to the presumably younger and more exciting Brooklyn. They hastily buy a Williamsburg condo with a view, on "the top floor" of “that building where we saw those two goth girls sitting on the sidewalk, smoking pot” on a recent visit to the Smorgasburg waterfront food market with their son, Jesse, who is now off at Syracuse.
Author Nellie Alexander goes on to first extol the hipster-gawking virtues of living in Williamsburg, but before long, the magic is gone, and if we are to believe her story, Nellie is eventually bullied right back to Manhattan by inconsiderate skateboarders and ageist mean girls. Along the way she is humiliated by the only friend willing to visit her in Williamsburg, after the silly rabbit forgets to change out of his work clothes into hipster regalia before traversing the East River.
Then the fish-out-of-water moments started. None of my friends would come to visit us. They weren’t up for spending 40 minutes at midnight on a platform full of drunk kids waiting for the L back to Manhattan. Eventually, I harassed my friend Josh into making the trip after work to have BBQ with me at Fatty 'Cue. I met him at the Marcy Avenue station, and when I saw him walking up the stairs to the street in a tie, I cringed. We went to Pete’s Candy Store after dinner and I could feel the stares.
First of all, unless there is a service delay or interruption on the L train (which, granted, isn't unusual) no one is waiting 40 minutes for a train back to Manhattan at midnight (4 a.m.? maybe), least of all the “drunk kids” who probably just got to Brooklyn an hour ago. Next: Your friend Josh from Manhattan is not going to be “walking up the stairs to the street” upon exiting the Marcy Avenue station, because the Marcy Avenue station is elevated. Josh would be walking *down* the stairs. (H/T to the redditor who pointed that out.) Fatty ‘Cue (where the BBQ is kind of implicit) is very close to the Marcy Avenue J train stop, but Fatty ‘Cue, like Pete’s Candy store, is nearing the outer limits of Williamsburg – the opposite outer limits (depending on where you think the ever-evolving boundary dividing Williamsburg and East Williamsburg lies.) In any event, Fatty ‘Cue and Pete’s Candy store are a mile and a half away from each other, with no subway connecting them -- to get there you would have to take a slow and inconvenient bus, a car service (in fairness, pretty easily done), or a very long walk.
But more importantly, no one at Pete’s Candy store is going to give a sideways glance to anyone on account of his (or her) necktie. As in the majority of NYC neighborhoods, pretty much anything goes, attire-wise, in Williamsburg. Many people do, in fact, have office jobs with dress codes, and some even go straight out after work before changing into “goth” uniforms and applying fake tattoos in order not to get laughed back over the bridge. And while Pete’s Candy Store may have been a destination in the '90s and early aughts, when the nightlife options in Williamsburg were limited, it’s hard to imagine anyone going that far out of their way for a post-Fatty ‘Cue nightcap, unless they are going to see a friend’s band play, which Nellie didn’t mention. There are dozens of bars within far more convenient walking distance from Fatty ‘Cue.
Another excerpt, from happier times:
Restaurants and bars were packed with kids trying to be artists or musicians, or just biding their time as baristas or working in bike shops trying to figure out where they fit in the world. It reminded me of the way the Lower East Side felt when I was in high school and my friend Edie and I would each tell our parents we were going to the other one’s house for a sleepover and then take the PATH into the city with our fake IDs to go to CBGBs. Manhattan hasn’t felt like that to me for decades.
First, CBGB was not on the Lower East Side. It was in the East Village, or NoHo, which is an abbreviation for North of Houston. The Lower East Side is south of Houston. Also, “trying to be artists or musicians”? What is that? It’s one of several condescending, mean-spirited, gross mischaracterizations of both young and old in “Too Old to Live in Williamsburg," that's what it is. It bores me to have to say this, but anyone who has spent any time in Williamsburg obviously knows that there are plenty of *working* artists and musicians living there. Even if said artist does supplement his income by working as a barista, putting “trying to be” in front of anyone's career path is a put-down of the smugest, most patronizing order. If this woman is real, and had the nerve to characterize the artists living in Williamsburg that way, then it’s no surprise she didn’t feel welcome. But I don’t think she is real. Even if she is, and even if the rest of the story is true (which it definitely isn’t), the following account of her final straw, a humiliating night out at Bowl Train, is pure fiction:
I went upstairs to the restroom and went into a bathroom stall. No sooner had I shut the door behind me when two girls walked in. ‘I don’t get it,’ one said. ‘Why don’t they just stay in Park Slope with all the other stroller people, where they belong?’ ‘If I see one more suit in my building, I’m going to throw up,’ said the other. ‘If they’re trying to prove to the world that they’re still cool, it’s not working. I mean, last week I saw a f**king gray-haired grandma at Pete’s. Do they not know how ridiculous they look?’
So...are we supposed to believe that Nellie is the same “grey-haired grandma at Pete’s” these mean girls are poking fun of? Way to neatly tie up the narrative. Once again, this passage implicates the author as having gotten most of her (or his) impresssions of Williamsburg from back issues of Not For Tourist guides and out-of-touch New York Times style section trend pieces. Pete's Candy Store, again? Park Slope "stoller people"? Come on.
When a google search for Nellie Alexander turned up nothing beyond an obituary of a woman with that name who died in April of this year, I emailed the Purple Clover to see if they could put me in touch with her. No response. I followed up, and again, no response. If “Too Old to Live in Williamsburg” is meant to be satire, fine. But journalistic standards require that this be pointed out. Taken at face value, this story serves only to perpetuate dated, ugly stereotypes about Williamsburg, and also paints a picture of its baby-boomer author as an entitled wanker, giving way to even uglier stereotypes about people of a certain age and station in life. (I'm inclined to agree with a skeptical commenter who suggested that the author was closer in age to the bitchy girls in the bathroom.)
Normally I keep my mouth shut when people outside of Williamsburg dismiss it as a playground for tattooed twentysomethings with trust funds. The last thing I want is for more people to move there. (What was once a sprawling view of the Manhattan skyline from my building’s rooftop is now on its way to being cemented in on all sides by new, taller buildings.) I’ve been over 30 for a good chunk of my time living in Williamsburg, and the only time I ever feel over the hill when I am kept awake by a neighbor’s loud music. That can happen anywhere in New York. And incidentally, the only place in Williamsburg I have permanently sworn off because of possible age-related difficulties is Brooklyn Bowl, because it is just too darn loud in that place. (Then again, I can’t hear a co-worker who sits in a neighboring cubicle over the hum of the air conditioner.) Brooklyn Bowl was the scene of Nellie’s bathroom stall incident -- she and her husband were there for a standing Thursday night party that kicks off at 11 p.m.
Both my parents are big fans of Williamsburg. The last time my Mom visited, she stayed quite comfortably at King & Grove and had a ball at Nitehawke cinemas, where she and a woman close to her age had a pleasant chat about the movie and the exit strategy for beating the long bathroom lines. Just this past weekend, my Dad enjoyed pigs in a blanket at Smorgasburg, where he blended in just fine. If either of them were multimillionaires, they would probably be perfectly happy living in a waterfront condo overlooking the East River. But I can guarantee that neither would be going to Brooklyn Bowl at 11 p.m on a weeknight to see Questlove spin.
Just because “Too Old to Live in Williamsburg” is probably fake doesn't mean ageism isn't very real – in Williamsburg, and elsewhere. Tattooed twentysomethings certainly do exist in Williamsburg, and probably in a higher concentration than most NYC neighborhoods. But the kind of ageism that exists in Williamsburg is more insidious and less hostile than the essay presents. It is not an ageism of skateboarders running over gray-haired ladies or bitchy girls complaining about old people in the bathroom of Brooklyn Bowl. Patching together a bunch of half-baked, recycled stereotypes for some kind of artificial “commentary” that paints most of its characters – especially its "author" – as spoiled brats isn't elevating any kind of worthwhile discussion, and it's not doing anyone any favors – except for delivering an uptick in pageviews to a blog most people hadn't heard of before. I apologize for giving it any more attention.
Ellen Killoran is the Media & Culture Editor at IBTimes. She previously contributed to The L Magazine, Brooklyn Magazine, and The Daily, and co-produced the HBO...