Scenes from Graham Avenue



20 Graham Avenue, brooklyn, ny

Neighborhood: Brooklyn, Williamsburg

Phoebe’s is the local coffee shop, and it isn’t a bad place to be in the

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

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.

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