Monthly Archives: September 2004

“Is the Bus the New Black?”

“I’m not sure I’ll be of any help,” said Jane, a sculptor who lives in Williamsburg. “I’ve only taken the bus once, and it wasn’t even an arty ride. I ride my bike most places.”

It was a simple enough proposition. The B61 bus line connects all the major art enclaves of Brooklyn. It starts at the farthest reach of Red Hook, a neighborhood in the early- to mid-stages of gentrification; runs up through Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill, near Gowanus, all of which have a healthy share of artists and galleries; dips through DUMBO, which, like SoHo before it, is already in the late-gentrification transition from galleries to boutiques; shoots straight down Bedford, the main drag of Williamsburg, a stone’s throw from literally dozens of art galleries; and ends at Long Island City, where a number of museums, from P.S. 1 to, until recently, MoMA QNS, make their home. So was the B61 therefore the unofficial bus of the Brooklyn art world?

I thought it could be, but I was striking out left and right. Every Williamsburg artist I talked to, it seemed, if they didn’t own a car, expressly preferred riding a bicycle to get around the borough. “I just don’t think there’s any reason why anyone would need to go to all those neighborhoods,” said Molly, another sculptor whose studio happens to be right next to Jane’s. “The only person I could think of who’d need to do that would be an intrepid art collector. But then,” she said, “they’d probably have a car.” Molly commuted for years from Carroll Gardens to her Williamsburg studio–but she, like her hypothetical collector, preferred to drive.

“What, they don’t ever go to see shows at P.S. 1?” said Matvei, a small art book publisher who lives out in Red Hook. “Sure, you could take the G,” he said, “but the bus is faster.” He, like everyone who lives in that neighborhood, is entirely reliant on the B61, and was skeptical of the Williamsburg cycling aficionados I’d been telling him about. “It’s much more of a hipster bus than even eight months ago,” said Anna, Matvei’s partner at the press. She said that as Red Hook is changing, the ridership on their end of the B61 is changing drastically as well. “It lasted a long time as a place for eccentrics. But now it’s Smith Street, all over again,” she said, referring to the recent changes on the main commercial strip in Cobble Hill. “There’s a lot more babies and dogs. It’s the same white couples in their thirties, having the same conversations in the same backyards.” Is the B61 the art bus, though? I asked Matvei. The hipster bus? “I don’t think there’s any other buses that connect all these neighborhoods,” he said. “So I guess it is–by default.”

If they’re riding their bicycles everywhere, when do the artists get on the bus, if they ever do? I was curious to hear Jane’s one-time bus riding story. “It’s all quite dull, really,” she said. “I was off to visit a friend in the back of beyond, beyond Clinton Hill somewhere, and wanted to waste as much time as possible. So the bus was the answer. For hours I stared with half-focus out the window. And that was my Sunday, gone.” She added that she had also once dated a man who lived on the route of the B61. “So perhaps it’s that kind of bus,” she said. “The hook-up bus of distraction.”

A few years ago, a friend of mine, a writer who lives in Carroll Gardens, told me that he’d heard the G train was the new F. So was it possible that the B61 could ever be the new G? Not likely, said a photographer I know who lives in the East Village. “The bus isn’t cool,” she said. “It can’t ever be cool.” I came to the realization, then, that in any neighborhood in this city, and among all the different kinds of people who lives here, there exists an unbending hierarchy of transportation options, which might roughly play out like this: limo, car, car service, taxi, subway, bicycle, walking, and finally–at the bitter end of necessity–the bus.

So who does ride the B61? I asked that question of Andre, a dreadlocked and goateed bus driver who favors racing gloves and dark glasses when he’s working. “Yuppies on one end, Polish on the other, African-American in the middle,” he said. Yuppies meaning down in Red Hook? Where the neighborhood is gentrifying? “Well, not exactly yuppies,” he qualified. “They’re not that conservative–but these young types, you know, buying lofts, that sort of thing.” And where are they all going? “The yuppies all get off at downtown, the African-Americans are all off the bus by Classon Avenue, you get the Hasidim for a little bit, and then all down Bedford Avenue you get these SoHo types from there until–well, I guess, until here.” We were at the northern terminus of the line, at Long Island City, where Andre finally had a chance to chat, although he was distracted by an older Polish woman who was yelling at him about her confusion as to where the line stopped, and where it started. I asked him if I could quote him on that. “I didn’t say anything bad, did I?” he said. I assured him he hadn’t. I thanked Andre, shook his racing-gloved hand, got off the bus, and took the G train home.

Easter Eggs Are for Kids

A brief and most excellent excerpt from the new Lemony Snicket, borrowed from the fabulous Ms. Daphne’s post of a couple days ago, here [N.B. Link removed; no longer extant].

The elder Baudelaires sat quietly for a moment, looking at the cabinet in the sideboard, and then, without a word, the two siblings stepped onto the wooden table so they could open the highest cabinet. Inside was a small stack of books on such dull topics as child rearing, proper and improper diets, and the water cycle, but when the children pushed these books aside they saw what they had been looking for.

‘Elizabeth Bishop,’ Violet said, ‘Charles Simic, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Franz Wright, Daphne Gottlieb—there’s all sorts of poetry here.’

—from The Grim Grotto: Book the Eleventh, p. 265 – 266.


My current favorite nerdy distraction: trying to figure out exactly the etymology of the acronym TK. Chicago‘s online Q & A quotes a dictionary of abbreviations as saying that it stands for “to kum” and is “a printer’s expression.” But does that mean it originated as a misspelling? And if so, a purposeful one? Were these printers trying to be funny? I’ve always assumed that it was a way of making sure the acronym was distinct in a manuscript from TC meaning table of contents, much the way I’ve always assumed the K in CMYK stands for black to distinguish it from blue. It’s kind of a difficult thing to Google, since TK is both a TLD and has something to do with WYSIWYG. (And further complicating matters, it seems to be an abbreviation of the Dutch word “toekomst” meaning “future.” So does that mean everyone who used to work in publishing used to be Dutch? Or vacationed on the tiny island nation of Tokelau?) Further complicating matters, the OED says that “kum” is an obsolete form of the word “come.” But if I’m reading this right—and I’m probably not—it’s been obsolete from since before the invention of the printing press. So was TK how the protojournalists and ur-editors of our distant past consoled one another around the hearth, as they drank mead, and told stories, and didn’t worry about fact-checking, and dreamed of the dawn of print, TK?

Yes, Yes, Yes

It’s a patchwork. Like ice floes sliding and then becoming solid, and locking. Because once the story started, the engine of the story was Brooklyn itself…

—Paula Fox on Desperate Characters in Paris Review #170 [N.B. Link removed; no longer extant].

In the dressing room afterward, I asked Rawlings how he would describe his playing, and he said that he simply has a fondness for certain notes and he finds ways to play them. When I asked which notes they were, he shrugged and said, ‘The ghostly ones.’

—Alec Wilkinson on Gillian Welch and David Rawlings in last week’s New Yorker.

Those of us who caught [Wild Things] (a delightfully sleazy picture […] ) may welcome Campbell’s performance here—the sudden unaffected smile, so knowlingly put on; the slyly underplayed verbal thrusts; the catlike gaze—but won’t mistake it for anything new.

—Stewart Klawans reviewing When Will I Be Loved in The Nation.

My Acceptance Speech

I’m still working out the kinks, but here are some excerpts.

Some of my opponents have gone on the record as being against babies and puppies. Time and time again, they have voted against babies, and have speechified and slandered against cute, little, defenseless puppies. Let me make my position clear: I love babies, and puppies, and you, and I will never allow babies to be puppies, and puppy America will never be a safe harbor for the antibaby of love. […]

Some people say that people shouldn’t be educated. Some people say that people should be kept in wooden boxes in my basement and fed only ground-up cold weed soup once a week. I have never failed to let you know how I feel about wooden boxes: they are not for basements. Nor are they for attics, or garages, or carports, or Russians. This is not Russia. America is not Americastan. Nor is it Woodenboxistan. And boxes must be allowed to be wooden. […]

Make no mistake. The world is full of evil people. And people make mistakes. Mistakes get made. I make mistakes. So does evil. Let liberty not be misunderstood: I have been mistook. One of my opponents has said that communism “didn’t sound like such a bad idea.” He even went so far as to say that Hitler, like all mistakes, was once “a baby.” This is a position on top of a big mountain from which I will never climb down: Hitler was never a mistaken baby. And evil was never communism. And all living, liberal babies, in my America, must breathe liberty. […]

Some people say that people shouldn’t be allowed to vote for other people, even people with money. Some people spend money dangerously. This is America, where danger is not free. Some people, perhaps even my opponent, like to drink forties, shoot off guns, and gamble their girlfriend’s disability check on Lotto. That’s their right. Some people, and my opponent might not not be one, make bathtub meth, poke fun at veterans, and want nothing more than to be allowed to make the moves on cute, little, defenseless puppies. Let me be as clear as guns: cuteness, in my America, will never be defeated.