In the late 1990s, Kokie's Place was a legendary Williamsburg, Brooklyn bar where a guy would sell you cocaine from a closet in the back. A few years ago, Vice magazine presented an oral history of this vibrant, strange Puerto Rican dive bar where salsa dancers, hipsters, bikers, and addicts played in the snow. It's a fascinating, funny article that also touches on the insanely-fast gentrification of Williamsburg. By the way, the name of the bar isn't a reference to cocaine but rather to the coquí, a frog endemic to Puerto Rico. From Vice:
JERRY P: The coke was stepped on like crazy. I think it was cut with meth, because it lasted so fucking long. I personally didn’t mind it.
BRIAN F: It was convenient living nearby because the coke was so awful. As soon as I did a bump I would run home, shit my brains out, and then come back refreshed and ready for more.
MEG SNEED: The coke there was pretty bad, true, but it was such a pleasant place to be. A real positive atmosphere and community feeling. I even thought about hanging out there without drugs once or twice. Of course I never did.
LUCY P: I don’t know if I ever talked to anybody there who I didn’t know, but I felt as though I could’ve. And it wasn’t just the drugs. There was a sense that everybody was there to enjoy some sort of desperate eked-out freedom. As though a line had been crossed into comity. You know, the purity of purpose people shared.
STEVE L: The first time I walked in there, I could see that all the action was in the disco room, where a crowd of mostly middle-aged Puerto Rican mamis were dancing around to what sounded like electro-Merengue. One of them, in a hot-peach tube top, bleached cut-offs, and espadrilles dragged me out on the floor to get down with her. I must have pranced with every orange-haired lady in the place.
Joly MacFie captured video of Charlie Stross's and my tour-stop at Brooklyn's MakerBot this week. We were there in support of our new novel Rapture of the Nerds, and did a talk, reading and Q&A that touched on the Singularity, its precedents, its discontents, and its inherent comedy -- all while 3D printers chattered in the background. And afterwards everyone got 3D printed miniatures of our heads!
Flexing, or bone breaking, is a mix of street dancing and contortionist movements mostly specific to Brooklyn. This video in particular is mesmerizing, almost ritualistic with this group of shirtless guys in gas masks all dancing together in the subway. Other riders seem to either not notice them or look on in a trance.
Two women in Brooklyn sat down on a playground bench to eat their doughnuts. They were issued summonses by local cops for violating the playground's "no adults without children" rule (because the way you keep children safe is to make sure that adults and children don't come into proximity with one another, unless the adults are parents or childminders, because those people never, ever harm children, and the only reason to want to be around children is to molest them). According to the women, the cops told them they were getting off light with a court summons because the official procedure called for them to be brought in for questioning.
This cop attempted to be sympathetic. He proceeded to tell us that he was trying to be a gentleman by just giving us summonses instead of taking us in for questioning, because that was what "they" wanted him to do. If he just gave us warnings and told us to leave, he would get in trouble for "doing nothing all day." He went on to say that all he did when he was growing up was "do Tae Kwon Do and go to school." "Are you trying to say that we are bad people for sitting on a bench in a park and eating doughnuts?" I asked him, just trying to figure out where he was going with this. "No, no, I'm just saying that I never got in trouble. Sometimes I play basketball," he said, pointing at the courts behind him. Not in that park, he doesn't. Not unless he has a kid strapped to his back at the time.
Finally, we were given our summonses and were free to go. Because we hadn't been drinking alcohol or urinating in public, we do not have the option of pleading guilty by mail. Not that I am planning on pleading guilty. But either way, we have to show up in court or a warrant will be issued for our arrest. My friend does not live in New York and I am out of the country all summer, so this is going to be an ordeal in itself, given that the summons has no information on how to contact the court. Nor do we know how much we owe. Because the cops had no idea about that, either. They were just "doing their jobs," in the most mindless sense of that phrase.
Here's an inspiring story about the Fixers' Collective in Brooklyn, a co-op that holds free open surgeries where people can bring their broken stuff for repair. The Fixers make no guarantees (they learned to fix stuff by taking it apart and trying to get it back together again), but they also don't charge anything; what's more, they'll teach you what they know so you can fix your stuff yourself.
"It makes people feel proud of themselves - a little less helpless," Ms. Pittman says. "Everything breaks. Everything. These days, and especially with all this electronic equipment, we have no clue - no idea at all - how to fix stuff. We are pretty much at the mercy of our computers, our cellphones. The Fixers' Collective helped us become a little more self-sufficient. It is an attitude as much as anything."
Pittman draws a direct line from the financial crash of 2008 - "which made a lot of people, and certainly us, less inclined to trust the experts" - to the creation of the collective. But it is also true, as Pittman hints, that many Americans worry that they have become more reliant on their belongings and more disconnected about how they work.
Brooklyn artist Kilroy III celebrated the snowmageddon by building a huge, magnificent Castle Grayskull (of He-Man fame) igloo. It's the artist's second attempt at a Grayskullgloo, the first being one he attempted in the 1990s in Ohio. The primary sculpting tools were a Korean soup bowl and a spoon.
Here's a video transfer from an 1899 film shot by Thomas Edison of a rail-crossing of the Brooklyn Bridge. As with all Edison films of the day, it ends spectacularly, with the electrocution of an elephant, the cursing of Tesla, and broad claims of credit for all the research performed by every researcher at Edison Labs. It originally retailed for $22.50 in the Edison films catalog.
I do a "useless lectures" series in Brooklyn, Adult Education, and one of my favorite talks last year was by the delightfully peculiar artist Gertrude Berg. Here are a couple of short films of her doing her thing: In "Waste Carrier," she stores the trash that she uses during the day in a specially designed dress that she wears all over town. In "Pick Up Artist," well, you just have to watch...