The Self-Loathing Gentrifier: Spring 2011

Illustration Marcos Chin

Dear SLG,
The other day I was in a restaurant and noticed that they didn’t have a single locally grown vegetable. That seems horrible to me. When I moved here five years ago, there were lots of local garden enterprises. Do you know if Big Produce consortia have forced them out?
–Up Rooted

Dear Up Rooted,
I don’t know where to start. Lots of restaurants are locavorous. Is that the word? Locavorious? I think that’s a company. Anyway, lots of restaurants use local produce. I won’t name them, but maybe you should just go to a different restaurant. Your problem seems like a non-problem.

Dear Mr. Greenman,
As a Brooklyn writer, how do you feel about the fact that other Brooklyn writers like Jonathan Lethem have decamped for the West Coast? Do you think that they are betraying their home borough after it nurtured them for years?
–Pining in Prospect Heights

Dear Pining,
I have been asked versions of this question a number of times. I cannot disclose the number but suffice it to say that it is a large number, uncomfortably so. You may even be the hundredth person to ask me this question, in which case you win a prize: an honest answer.

Your question, best as I understand it, is predicated on the theory that Mr. Lethem, because he wrote a novel with Brooklyn in the title while living in Brooklyn and then another novel set in Brooklyn and became, as a result, associated with Brooklyn, was somehow acting traitorously when he moved to California last year.
Is that your question? I know that you have no real way of answering me, since I am directing my question to a printout of your question. It seems like that’s what you’re asking, though, and it also seems like you’re referring obliquely to comments that Lethem made in a recent article in the Los Angeles Times about his complex relationship with the borough. Here’s one excerpt:

“Brooklyn is repulsive with novelists, it’s cancerous with novelists. That can sometimes be too much when you need to also be inside yourself, exploring your own meandering feelings, not dictated by your environment, but dictated instead by what you read that day, or something else.”

When I first read these comments, I went through them at a rather high velocity, unbothered and even comforted, because they seemed to me not only entirely defensible, but indisputable. Brooklyn has too many writers, too many professional observers. If you are in the business of expressing yourself, Brooklyn can be claustrophobic, so much so that those two words, “expressing” and “yourself” are sometimes squeezed all out of shape.

For years, when I have been on book tours, I have told a joke that goes something like this: “Brooklyn is lousy with people who write books. You can throw a rock and hit a writer. And the next time you’re there, I wish you would.” People never gasp with horror. They usually laugh. The more like Brooklyn their town is, in fact, the more they laugh: the joke gets a warm reception in Portland or San Francisco or Cork. Most of the people who hear it understand that the survival of any creative endeavor depends upon both the presence and the absence of like-minded people. A thought is not a plant but it can be vegetative, and as a result it needs to be watered but not overwatered.

Brooklyn, because of all the wonderful things about it, provides especially fertile soil for many horrible things. One of those horrible things is people needlessly judging the behaviors of other people. Where I come from, we call these people “busybodies.” And when those busybodies interpret the behaviors of others as personal injuries, we call those busybodies “self-styled victims.” A man has the right to move from one place to another and take his business with him, whether that business is a dry cleaner or a novel-writing concern. That man, I would imagine, suffers the decision before making it, feeling both excitement and worry. Then he makes it and… oh, what’s the point in explaining basic human processes to you, Pining in Prospect Heights? If you want to feel bad that Mr. Lethem deserted you, go right ahead. Turn his books to the wall if you like. Brooklyn is repulsive with busybodies.

Send your questions to SLG@BKLYNMAG.COM

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