A writer’s very brief stay in the land of hookah.
On my very first night living in Queens, before I even went to bed, I was trolling Craigslist looking for a new apartment. I’d chosen a room in a three-bedroom on Steinway in Astoria with the same regrettable haste one decides to just fucking buy the ninth pair of jeans they try on in a store. That is to say I’d viewed a cat-pissed-upon apartment in Bushwick and a Harlem house for F.O.B. Europeans run by its owner like the orphanage in Annie, to name a few, before arriving at this relatively well-located, clean, and quiet abode. I handed over my security deposit check, relieved to be done with my search.
It was only after I told a few friends where I’d chosen to live that I realized the devastating extent of my misjudgment. Telling people you’re moving to Queens is like telling them you have a history of mental issues or that you have a cancer with a high survival rate or that you were in a terrible accident as a child. They’d be remiss to actually dismiss you or express repulsion, but the information has an interesting way of cloaking you in this very thin ick. I felt kind of gross after I told them where I was living, felt a little fat, a little sweaty, felt compelled to go check a mirror for new zits. I barely withstood their patronizing nods and smiles. “Oh, Astoria! I’ve never actually been there, but I’ve heard really interesting things!”
And it was thus inevitable that in my first few days living in Astoria, I should see everything through this lens of shame and self-pity. Had I been in possession of a better outlook, the New York & Company, Lane Bryant, and half a dozen 99-cent stories might not have seemed so tacky. The effort on business owner’s part to Medditerranianize their storefronts – we’re talking rough-cut sand-colored stone, faux-marble statues and fountains, every signed that sharp, jointed font that’s supposed to resemble Greek – might not have seemed so anti-stylish. The preponderance of men wearing wife beaters, girls wearing painful-looking tight clothes, and everyone wearing cheap clunky headphones might not have been so intolerable. Every borough in New York has its swaths of indignity, and we pass off the others – Harlem, Brooklyn, the projects of Lower Manhattan – as “funny,” “chill,” “real,” or “diverse.” Here it was inexcusable, but there was no actual demographic or geographical reason why.
Within five days I’d found a stunning, albeit more expensive, apartment in South Park Slope. I told my roommate some bullshit about a new job and put in my moving-out 30 notice not 48 hours after moving in. My parents had driven down for the weekend to move me and hadn’t even returned home yet.
It’s like a virus trying to destroy Brooklyn.
That left me 25 days to analyze Queen’s shittiness behind the comfort of knowing I was only there temporarily. It’s still hard to say why it sucks, but its suckiness couldn’t be more clearly discernible to anyone with an ounce of self-regard. Price-wise, it’s comparable with Brooklyn and the very upper neighborhoods of Manhattan, and it does have its posh spots here and there. Its commercial offerings probably exceed Brooklyn’s. It has parks, young people, good food, proximity to Manhattan. Its buildings and apartments are comparable to Brooklyn’s, if a bit newer. All in all, there’s no bullet point list of reasons why it attracts jocks and mama citas instead of hipsters and poor artists. There’s no clearly identifiable reason, on paper, why a broke writer who fancies himself intellectual but holds secret contempt for all things hipster wouldn’t be OK with living there.
Maybe Queens sucks because it’s always been Queens-y. Brooklyn, for instance, used to be a thriving industrial wasteland, then an empty wasteland, and now it’s a gentrified hipster wasteland. Its circadian rhythm of boom and crash is conducive to artistic settlement: creative people like to fill empty spaces and tranform shit into beauty. And those are two things – space and shit – Brooklyn has a wealth of.
Famous Queens’ residents include Paul Blart, Mall Cop
Whereas Queens was always just a suburb: the only reason people ever went there was to live cheaply. Its buildings always housed restaurants and apartments. There no deserted sugar factories to turn into condos, no storage closets to turn into cafes.
Maybe Queens sucks because its history is more boring. All in all it’s had a healthier life than Harlem or Brooklyn, but there are no dramatic turning points, no real declines or rebirths, no pathos.
Maybe Queens sucks because it doesn’t think of itself ironically. Brooklyn and Harlem are all shady. They’re like, “Look at the sadness and misery of this place, transformed and reborn! But not too reborn. We still maintain the sense of ‘culture.’ The buildings are still kind of shitty – don’t worry.” Whereas Queens just furrows its eyebrows and is like, “Right, well, I’m Queens, and I’m proud of who I am. I have lots of restaurants and great people. Swing by!”
Maybe Queens sucks because I’m an boring white guy with no real connection to my ethnic roots and I naturally gravitate towards others like me. Maybe my innate discomfort with Astoria is intuitively Darwinian. I know I won’t adapt, won’t feed, won’t mate. Defintely, definitely won’t mate.
Maybe Queens sucks because every fucking block smells like hookah.
Actually, yeah, that’s why Queens sucks.