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Subway sighting: the best socks in the history of the universe

Sunset Park is an immigrant community, half Hispanic, half Asian. The two groups slide against each other frictionlessly. They coexist but never mingle. They live next door to one another; they share the streets: They simply don’t acknowledge each other’s existence. For example, they never shop in the same stores. I suppose this is because they don’t speak each other’s languages and have not adopted English as the common tongue. You hear very little English on Fifth Avenue, which is the main drag through Sunset Park.

Fifth Avenue has this very Mad Max-ish vibe: People surviving, teeming, and sometimes thriving in the remains of a 19th century/early 20th century civilization. This is the only Mickey D’s I have ever seen in a repurposed 19th century building:

You know those churches you see all throughout the southern Mediterranean that are built on the remains of Roman and Greek temples? Fifth Avenue is kind of like that. Syncretism in action, you might say. Behold the temples of 19th century commerce conscripted to the era of branding and deep discounts:

Would you shop for a dress suit in a store that looked like this? I know I wouldn’t! But the store was crowded.

One might be tempted to philosophize here. Could be that brand sensitivity is only a defining characteristic of unmoneyed Americans who grow up in this country. (Just think about all those kids in the projects who buy price-inflated Nikes endorsed by famous basketball players. They cannot actually afford those Nikes without going hungry or pursuing employment opportunities in the underground economy that put them in physical peril.) Supplier-induced demand – also known as “marketing” – dominates their spending habits. They shun bargains that would help them extend their limited supplies of cash. They no longer know how to separated their physical needs from their needs for status.

Whereas immigrants operated outside the realm of supplier-induced demand.

Except that even in that hideous suit store, there’s an odd sort of branding going on. The name of the store is “George Michael,” the name of the popular dead pop star who was synonymous with excess and a certain type of conspicuous consumption.

So, obviously the mana of the Dead Pop Star outweighs the risk that you could be bitten on the ankle by a rabid rat should you venture into that store.


Fifth Avenue is a very busy thoroughfare! Business is good; everybody is out shopping.

This makes me wonder about the politics going on behind the scenes.

I have to imagine that at least half the population of Sunset Park – and very likely more – is undocumented.

But Sunset Park doesn’t worry itself about American politics.

Sunset Park only cares about the economy.

Which despite the odiousness of Trump and the dire warnings issued regularly by people who know a lot more about market volatility than I do, continues to get stronger and stronger and stronger.
In fact, despite Trump’s hard line on immigration, I imagine if you interviewed five people along Fifth Avenue at random, four out of five would tell you they like Trump. “Good for money,” they’d say.

They don’t give a shit about identity politics or about commanding equal opportunity and respect under the law. They just want to buy a lot of things cheaply.


There are numerous other fascinating details about Sunset Park.

For example: See this roof?

It’s not made out of wood. It’s obviously made out of some kind of cast iron alloy, maybe cheap steel.

Here’s another shot where you can actually see the roof rusting:

I don’t think I’ve ever seen metal roofs on 100-plus-year-old buildings before. It makes me very curious about the engineering specs.

Of course, the residential housing units in Sunset Park are not brownstones – though they use brownstone floorplans. No, they’re constructed out of some other kind of stone that I’m tempted to say is granite (although, of course, how would I know?) That stone, significantly stronger than the sandstone used in brownstones, has been supporting all that weight for well over a century.


Also, every Asian-owned business in Sunset Park has kiddie rides out in front. You could do an inspired post-modern photo essay on the Kiddie Rides of Sunset Park if you had the photographer chops:

Anyway, Sunset Park is quite fascinating, and if you wanted to make a long-term killing in New York City real estate, this would the place to buy. It’s only served by the N and R subway lines, and they don’t connect to anything. Literally! It took me three hours one-way to get to Flushing so I could say goodbye to Summer and Chris! That means Sunset Park is at least 15 years away from gentrification. I noticed a couple of bedraggled, lost-looking hipsters wandering about but nary an overpriced café to stash them in. Lots of guys with man-buns, though! It’s the ‘do of choice for swaggering young Guatemalan honchos.

By the end of my fourth day there, I found myself quite overstimulated: Other people’s vibes impinging on my always porous personal boundaries.

I was happy to get back to the quaint and scenic Hudson Valley where everybody – myself included – is bor-r-r-ing..

You must be getting old, I chided myself. And, indeed, my sense of my own antiquity was reinforced by learning Walter Becker – one half of Steely Dan – had died.

My musician pals have always made fun of me for adoring Steely Dan as much as I do, but adore them, I do. For their jazzy riffs, for their strange minor key discursions, for their lyrics:

Is there gas in the car?
Yes, there’s gas in the car
I think the people down the hall know who you are…

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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 5th, 2017 03:15 pm (UTC)
"Hey Nineteen, No we can't dance together, No we can't talk at all" I love Steely Dan. For the first 20 years I couldn't pick out most of the lyrics but honestly I didn't care I loved the music/the sound of them so much.

I keep wondering where the disconnect is in what we read/hear and what is actually happening on the ground in the average person's life. I feel like the angst of the middle American white male who is also suffering through a midlife crisis has been pushed as the "average American" narrative. When the average American diversified 40 years ago and these guys just missed the memo.

Edited at 2017-09-05 03:17 pm (UTC)
Sep. 5th, 2017 11:31 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure the inhabitants of Sunset Park qualify as "average" people. Not all of them are fresh off the boat, but they sure aren't interested in assimilating.

Charlottesville killed all the empathy I had for white middle American males -- and it was considerable all throughout the pre-election and even into the post-election. Now I just think, Fuck 'em.

Sep. 5th, 2017 11:21 pm (UTC)
I have toyed before with the idea of buying some cheap Sunset Park real estate and cashing in down the line. I think it will gentrify quicker than that, though--the N and R go straight to midtown and the financial district...

I love Steely Dan :)
Sep. 5th, 2017 11:27 pm (UTC)
I have toyed before with the idea of buying some cheap Sunset Park real estate and cashing in down the line.

You should do it. Seriously! Especially if it's gonna gentrify in less than 15 years. It's a sure thing.
Sep. 6th, 2017 02:45 pm (UTC)
Those kiddie rides are a wonderful thing. Unlike pricey movie theaters or the rides on the midway at the fair -- I could usually scrape up a few quarters for my kids to ride those. And the bribe factor -- "if you are good in the store, you can ride the ride when we are done"
bribery works
Sep. 6th, 2017 03:06 pm (UTC)
There's an amazing assortment of kiddie rides throughout this neighborhood. One of the few times I've wished recently that I had a real camera. :-)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )