Food and Self-Loathing in Bushwick

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Regalo de Juquila, Bushwick, BK. Photo: Mor Weizman / www.morweizman.com

Monday, August, 24th
Ramen in a basement

Monday morning @ 7am. The regular people were all going to work, hustling on a 9 to ­5 tip. I had a breakfast of ramen from Best Deli—which is in fact the best deli—with my friend Anthony. We met at New School, both part of the Higher Education Opportunity Program, like so many of my good friends. We were both in our late teens, early twenties. So filled with exuberance.

That morning, we were both filled with melancholy. The struggle is real.

I hadn’t seen Anthony in a couple of years. We crossed paths again at the end of July in front of 1207 Myrtle Avenue; I was hosting a demonstration, a turn up, a something, outside of my apartment to bring attention to the fact that my landlord had illegally evicted all of the tenants from the building. Via fucking text message. The building will be gutted, the rent will double; the words “Work In Progress” will be adhered to the scaffolding that will come up, along with a picture of the new and improved apartment to come. I’m overjoyed for the new tenants. Really.

No.

I had been running into Anthony more and more since. We’re both creatures born and bred in New York City, creatures of the night. It’s strange how once someone is on your radar, they start to crop up everywhere, like a new word, or a reflection of what it means to be part of a community. That word feels weird to say in Bushwick, as the community here seems to be evaporating just as quickly as I began to engage with it.

Tuesday, August 25th
Homefries

Cooking for myself is really hard. I much prefer to cook for other people. Thankfully, Bobby and Kim were around that afternoon. Bobby was with me through every step of my eviction and if he hadn’t been, I wouldn’t have had an ounce of fight in me. My gratitude is endless. I could not express this in words so I tried to do it with potatoes.

Three days before payday and one cannot subsist on ramen alone. I know this. I tried this winter and those little salt­-death packets really do make you fat.

A bag of potatoes is generally only two bucks. It’s easy to forget this sometimes when there are more convenient things to get for $2 in the neighborhood, like a beef patty—a New York bodega staple—or a slice.

People tell me my homefries are on point. I am sure they are right. I normally get two peppers, one green and one red, but as per the recent advice of my mom, I got one. Economical decisions. I knew that I’d probably spend the leftover dollar and change on Coors later but I didn’t mention this to Mommy. She probably already guessed that this fact went into my decision-making process.

I left the potatoes in the oven for two hours. I have always been fascinated by anything that can sit in the heat for that long and still not burn.

All around the neighborhood, graffiti tags read, “Gentrification is Whitewashing BK.”

Wednesday, August 26th
Hungry/pizza

Sometimes I find myself far too unnerved to eat. Sometimes, I’m full of songs.

“Hunger hurts, and I want him so bad, oh it kills//’cause I know I’m a mess he don’t wanna clean up//I’ve got to fold//’cause these hands are too shaky to hold//hunger hurts, but starving works, when it costs too much to love.” ­ Paper Bag, Fiona Apple

That night, a band called Whitewash played at Silent Barn, the volunteer-run, DIY, all ages art collective I joined a little over six months ago. It was hard to feel anything but numb about it. I blew off steam with Bobby and my homegirl, Jazz, a Brooklyn native, a pillar in the community and also a member of The Silent Barn collective; all three of us PoC frustrated by oh so many things pertaining to race in the space and far beyond.

All around the neighborhood, graffiti tags read, “Gentrification is Whitewashing BK.”

I very much wanted to be at the space that night, not to see the show but to talk about how bad it sucked that it was happening and try to wrap my head around it; to stare into a well with my comrades and look for answers deep within ourselves. Bobby ordered us a pizza and we ate it in the treehouse of The Barn’s yard. We ate and smoked and talked (and yelled) until we all got tired.

Thursday, August 27th
Mango coconut tofu fried rice @ Silent Barn

On my days off, I like to eat the yummy stuff that one of the collective members cooks up for us at Silent Bar—the Barn’s bar—each week, think about my feelings, and do computer work. In spite of how I felt about Whitewash playing the night before or all of the other racially-based transgressions that occur in the space, supporting a space that supports me has been one of the realest opportunities I’ve ever had.

When I came in to get dinner and do some computer work on Thursday, the vibe was business as usual—until someone mentioned Whitewash. We mostly just had to crack jokes at their audacity. They left a sticker in our bathroom, which was promptly removed by the member of the collective that had the pleasure of serving them at Silent Bar that night. They didn’t tip. Surprise, surprise.

This was my first time working with a production team where the people sincerely cared for each other outside of the obligations of financing the space and ourselves. Even if one or two of the bands that played last night were #problematic, our efforts are always motivated by love. That’s enough for us to keep doing our jobs everyday. The show must go on, right?

…Right?

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Photo by jo

Friday, August 28th
Hungry / tacos + beer @ 5am @ Regalo de Juquila

To soothe the pain of Whitewash playing in the space, there was the Homewreckers release show. Thank the holy heavens. They were queer/Latin@ as fuck; I floated on cloud nine. There were so many brown people in the space! I promised myself to stay around and try to make this happen more. Whenever I work the door, I get to talk to really dope people about random shit all night. Tonight I made a new friend, Damarys, and we talked largely about being Cuban American—in my case, Cuban/Dominican—in New York. We talked for less than ten minutes before both of us started crying.

Cubans are so proud of their culture; it’s so insular, densely loaded, and reflective of how its far-reaching diaspora. It’s also a country on the brink of imminent change, and that’s palpable to all of us children of immigrants.

Here in the beautiful Estados Unidos, we put a big blanket over everyone from South and Central America as though we’re all just one big other, the folks that need to press two for Español. And pocket immigrant communities aren’t always as blatant as one might think. My high school, Mother Cabrini, was located in Washington Heights on 190th Street by Fort Tryon Park, home of the Cloisters Museum, the Unicorn Tapestries, etc. The top of the park is primarily Jewish. At the bottom of the hill it’s Dominican as fuck and it’s obvious. I don’t know if there is a neighborhood so densely populated with Cubans. I think it has a lot to do with how limited Cubans are in terms of emigrating or even visiting. It makes it tough for us to find one another here.

Both Damarys’s and my dad left Cuba around the same time. Within 30 minutes of meeting, we were already talking about planning a trip there with other Cuban Americans—the queer kids, the artists—looking to find some of themselves in the barrios there. I haven’t been there in over ten years. I’m going to need to brace myself.

When there is too much to consider, I can’t eat. I held out all day.

We got out of The Barn @ 5am. I finally let myself indulge in two tacos at Regalo de Juquila, the Mexican spot next to my old apartment. I still find myself eating at Regalo regularly, perhaps more often than when I first moved into 1207.

Being there hurt; salt in a fresh wound. I felt the walls that used to contain me crumbling to the floor. Not literally, but you know what I mean.

There’s nothing like an existential crisis to catapult you into a pot of boiling water with potatoes that are a touch too soft.

Saturday, August 29th
Pizza & birthday cake in Cole’s dad’s new apartment

Had it already been three months since Miss Charlie passed away? The summer without her flew by. Cole’s mother was such a guiding force in our lives. All we have left are the things she taught us, the memories, the ability to laugh in the face of any adversity. Cole’s dad had to move one floor up.

They lived there for 25 years. How does one put that number in boxes? I thought Cole would hate the new room upstairs but it was so filled with light and Papa Ron’s efforts. Familiar furniture filled the living room, reminiscent of the home we all knew, but with a dash of hope. We spent the afternoon setting up the bedroom and by 5pm, we were ready for pizza. Us young guns, me and Cole and Elijah, all HEOP alums, thought we would be set with just one pizza. Leave it to the father in the room to remind us that each of us could probably have one to ourselves. We nearly blew through two.

Cole’s favorite flower is sunflowers. She is my sunflower, my dearest friend, a sister. I so badly wished that we didn’t have to do this before her birthday but such is life. We stopped by the Amish Market by her place to get a Caesar salad; I insisted, because it would make me feel less guilty about eating so much pizza.

There was a sunflower cake in the display window. I like to think Miss Charlie left it there for us. I kept Cole from noticing it while we were in the store so that I could surprise her with it. Even if she was smiling through the pain, I’m thankful for any smile I see on her face these days.

So thanks, Miss Charlie, really. <3

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Cole’s sunflower cake. Photo by jo.

Sunday, August 30th
Kim’s crispy fried egg

I woke up in the afternoon. Thank goodness Kim asked me if I wanted a fried egg. She had been watching cooking tutorial videos on Youtube all night and morning. I wanted to take myself out to eat at this one vegetarian brekky spot on Bushwick Avenue called Champs to celebrate meeting a savings goal, the song of myself, not being as broke after a good weekend in tips, whatever. But what can I say? I couldn’t refuse love in the form of a perfectly crisped egg.

Shit is so dark in Bushwick, in New York, in America. I had been planning on skipping out, far from my hometown The Bronx to do another BA in Ghent, motivated by my partner in life/love/small crime, Rik. He’s from Holland, where it’s a lot more chill in terms of housing security, healthcare, quality of life. All that gushy stuff. But is jumping ship in lieu of the Low(wonder)lands really the choice I’m meant to make as a native New Yorker? Should I stay and fight? Should Rik just fucking move here? Should we move to Berlin and get matching film degrees because school there is free? #yolo?!

There’s nothing like an existential crisis to catapult you into a pot of boiling water with potatoes that are a touch too soft. There’s nothing that onions and love can’t fix. Kim sung praises over my half-mash and I over her crispy, olive oil fried eggs.

I got ready for work and arrived with over an hour to spare. I considered all the things and then some from The Silent Barn, from the little booth that has reset the direction of my whole life. I’m doing something right for the first time in a long time…even if it feels like I’m doing it all wrong.

jo was born and bred in the Boogie Down Bronx so she reps the Yankees really hard even though she doesn’t know shit about baseball.