Phoebe’s is the local coffee shop, and it isn’t a bad place to be in the summer.
The patio in the back hosts a leafy tree that sprawls between the fire escape above and the duplex behind, shading the tables and chairs and making it cool. A rusted watering can props open the screen door.
There is a sink off to the side where dirty dishes are washed with a hose. The plates are painted with red and green flowers and blue stripes. They are the same as I have in my apartment, probably bought across the street at the dollar store, where I found them.
On weekends couples chatter softly over brunch and generous cups of coffee, usually about the latest in literature or film. Their course of conversation often betrays, to anyone that might be listening, that the time being shared is a first breakfast, a fresh breakfast, a morning-after breakfast.
Not all girls wear bras here.
But, for girls who don’t wear bras, they certainly spare no layers. Layers the girls wear with flair and on strange places, like around their calves or wrists or misshapen under loose shirts that fall off one shoulder.
Everyone is skinny and quite pale.
Service is slow and a bit sullen. But you don’t come here if you’re in a hurry. You don’t come here if you’re the kind of person that has somewhere to be by nine. The other night a girl sitting next to me said, "I can't do 9-5. I don’t have that kind of tolerance for boredom. People that do just don’t have as much appreciation for life as I do." Later, “I chose dysfunction for three years” although I don’t know exactly what she was referring to at that point.
It is not uncommon to catch patrons reading something like “History of Art and Critical Discourse”. I was reading a history book once at Phoebe’s and the girl next to me felt okay to excuse herself from her conversation, wipe her lips with her napkin, lean over to me and ask, “ How is that? That looks interesting.”
In the winter the inside is nice. The windows up front fog up and lend an air of mystery to the passers-by. Upon entering, there might be a Stevie Wonder song playing. The music is good, sometimes obscure; the workers take great pride in their selections.
I like Phoebe’s. I know the best tables, the ones with the plugs accessible for laptops. I know that I can grab a menu on the way to my table, and I know that the spoons aren’t given to you but sit in a canister on the counter. I can help myself if I need to. But you can’t get too comfortable. It was inside that my roommate once said, in a complimentary fashion to the guy behind the counter, “This is a great song!” The guy scoffed and replied, “It’s the theme song to Who’s the Boss”. And it was - the theme song to Who’s the Boss.
Leaflets next to the cash register scream “Down with Bush!” or “Trust the Media” or other themes of discontent and I get the subtle impression that the layer-wearing artists are rebelling against something. I leave with that bitter after-taste that I don’t want to wash away.
Across the street is The Nines. It’s just a small second hand store. The music is in there is good, sometimes obscure; the workers take great pride in their selections.
You can find great things for under 20 bucks. There is usually a dog walking around. Sometimes the owner is sewing and mending in the back; other times she is giving a friend a haircut. »
You can try on clothes in the corner if you can get over the fact that the curtain doesn’t completely close or that the dog might nuzzle his way in at any second and get a glimpse of you at a compromising angle.
The other night there were some heavy winds blowing through the neighborhood, and I came home to see that one of our garbage cans was missing, which upset me because we’ve had some trouble with people stealing our garbage cans in the past. The wind was blowing east so I ran that way in search of a lone, lidless can rocking about and bumping into curbs. I came across some layered people on the corner and asked if they had seen my can.
“No,” they said, “we live right upstairs and we’ve seen things fly down the street all night.” I hesitated to run further, because, in Brooklyn, the chance of getting mugged doesn’t really depend on the neighborhood so much as the block. Just the other night there was someone mugged right outside our door.
My roommate called the police and on Craig’s List the next day there was a warning: “Mugged on the corner of Devoe and Humboldt, thanks to whoever called the police”.
I heard a band practicing somewhere when I decided I would venture no further and ran back home, surprised at the struggle in fighting the wind. Luckily, when I opened my door the can was sitting inside. I was pleased and, if they had been standing there, I would have given my roommates a high-five.
A block from my apartment and two blocks from Phoebe’s is the Pourhouse, a nice gathering spot if you’ve just come from a gallery opening or a movie, or a biker rally or a dinner at the White Castle across the street. It is the best bar in Brooklyn. A lounge in back, a pool table, a Pac-Man machine, a pinball machine – the works, the best bar in New York City. You can play the Clash on the juke box, if you want. We usually play The Smiths’, Hang the DJ. I don’t know, it has kind of become a tradition. I also like to play Songbird, just to piss everyone off. They have buy-backs, which is nice.
The hipness of Williamsburg and its exact point of descension are always in contention, on the pages of the Village Voice or on the chat boards on Craig’s List. The girl who chose dysfunction for three years also said: "That's one good thing about having a boyfriend - I don’t read Craig's list anymore."
All I know is that people discuss politics, and if they don’t I can always find something to talk about because this person is going to school or that person worked for Greenpeace and who isn’t writing a screenplay? I know that I see signs strung to trees that say things like “RECYCLE” or “Lost: Parakeet. Please call 718-333-8677” I know that I went out of town the other weekend and found myself ambling down the aisle in a Target on a Sunday and felt like I should buy something and cringed.