Wednesday, December 08, 2010

It's a Brooklyn Thing

My friend Bruce Cahn, who's turning his photographs of black women into a book, sent me this photo yesterday in advance of our weekly meeting at the Peter McManus Cafe.



Fearing my loss of the upper hand, I responded with a "see you at 4:15" and a file of The Annotated Ratner. Of which this is just a cross-section:



All being well and good, I made my appearance at 4:20--a mere five minutes late, which wasn't so bad given that I'd had to account for a stopover at Pearl Paint to buy some canvas in computing my ETA. Truth be told, if the weather had been a bit warmer I'd have been right on time. But it being what it was, namely cold, I took a revised route:
R Train from 9th St/4th Ave in Brooklyn to Canal St in Manhattan.
Buy canvas at Pearl.
Re-board R Train, taking care to head uptown.
Choose NOT to exit the train at 14th Street and walk the seven or eight blocks required to get from Union Square to McManus.
Exit R Train at 42nd St/Times Square.
Wander around underground until I find the 6 Train.
Board the 6, taking care to head downtown.
Exit the 6 at 18th St Station.
Eschew the 18th St. exit; walk north to 19th St.
Exit station at the north-west corner of 19th and 7th Ave--the exact location of the Peter McManus Cafe.
All this done, I entered the bar and pulled up a stool next to 20th St Dave (as differentiated from Grumpy Dave and Dave with the Attractive Girlfriend), who was sitting next to Bruce.

"Where's the painting?" he leaned across Dave and asked.
"What painting?"
"The Ratner one."

I then explained that while I had sent him the photo, I hadn't planned to exhibit the painting at the bar (something I regularly do, by the way).

"Nobody in Manhattan knows who he is," I said.
"I do."
"Really. Who is he?"
"He's that financier who became the Car Czar."
"No. That's the other Rattner."

So we took a quick poll of the denizens. Plenty of people had heard the name Bruce Ratner but not a single drunk, when polled, could identify who he was. I rested my case. Then today, a member of the commentariat named "Annotation 1" left a comment. It read: "Never heard of him."

I continued to rest my case, understanding that this whole Ratner thing is a Brooklyn thing. Go to Manhattan and they don't know the guy from hunger.

But in Brooklyn--well, that's a different story. There's even a play about Ratner and the Atlantic Yards (which would be a cool name for a band, assuming The Yardbirds remains spoken for). It's called "In the Footprint: The Battle over Atlantic Yards."

The review in what I think is the website of New York Magazine goes like this:

Ideals aside, we all know we're puppets of forces much larger than our little selves. So it's comforting, when Big Money rips a big hole in Brooklyn, to see docu-theater troupe The Civillans rush in like avenging macrophages, to fill the bleeding void with smart art. In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards is a thoughtful, head-and-heart history of the mostly-disastrous Nets stadium development project, and the latest work of Civilians artistic director Steve Cosson, co-writer Jocelyn Clarke, and composer-adjutant Michael Friedman (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, This Beautiful City).

Deploying their time-tested techniques--i.e. performing in spoken-word, scene and song the unexpurgated text of interviews conducted by company members with a wide variety of citizens, civil servants and partisans on all sides--the Civs sort through the fallout from the largest eminent domain seizure (and mass relocation of city residents) since the Robert Moses era: The half-shadowy, half-hapless, distinctly Iraq-era push to bring the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn and restore "dignity" to a borough that's been scoreless since the Dodgers bounced in 57. (Oh, and plus: Condos!)

Footprint is social theater at its querulous best, picking up the significant slack left by a vitiated journalism. (At one point, BK's bloggers form a literal Greek chorus: All of them clad in bathrobes.) Switching roles and accents at a dizzying clip, the company forms a kind of collective Brooklyn Oversoul. Ratner, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg come off the villains of the piece (they're played by a backhoe, a basketball, and an empty suit, respectively, if not respectfully), but there's precious little demonizing going on here. The Atlantic Yards debate was and is monstrously complex, turning black political leaders against black community coordinators, white liberals against progressive city fathers, and made unlikely bedfellows of ACORN, Jay-Z and Frank Gehry. (The entire ensemble is uniformly sensational, but look for Donnetta Lavinia Grays as Bertha Lewis, the pro-stadium ACORN chieftain who becomes a sort of tragic hero over the course of the evening.) In the Footprint leaves you not with a rant or a slogan, but with a wistful riddle of urban living, set to Friedman's sad and simple pop: "You are only entitled to the space that you have / You are not entitled to the space that's all around you."

In the Footprint is playing at Irondale Center in Fort Greene through December 11.
Click here for the website.

So I am reasonably confident that most people wandering through the "Gentrification" show at the BAG Gallery (138 7th St, between 2nd and 3rd Aves) will know who the guy is, since it's clearly a Brooklyn thing and we are in Brooklyn.

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