Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Archive for June 16th, 2007

Ring my bell

Posted by digglahhh on 16 June 2007

My current next door neighbor moved in when I was still in college. Today I live there with my girlfriend and rambunctious pitbull/labrador mix, but back then, with my younger brother, two friends on a daily basis, a group of about five semi-regulars, and a group of about twenty any of whom might stay over on any given evening. Five was par for a weeknight, twice as many wasn’t uncommon on any given weekend. Those were only those who stayed over. My mother technically lived there, but essentially did so only in the eyes of the post office.

My neighbor didn’t take too kindly to the constant party scene. With his longish hair and relatively unkempt facial hair, he projected something of a hipster aesthetic. Occasionally, I would hear him playing acoustic guitar. But he also came off as cautious. When he would come over to complain about the noise coming from my apartment, he’d be apologetic about it, but not because he was seeking compromise, just because he feared confrontation. Rebellious and empowered with a sense of tenure, as a twenty-plus year resident of the building, I just ignored his complaints. Never did I give him a reason to be fearful of approaching me about the noise. I was trying to condition him to realize that his efforts were ineffectual, and lead him to stop on his own. Honestly, he did have legitimate beefs most of the time, but many times he did not. Two in the morning on a Tuesday, yes I should shut down the music. Ten in the evening on a Saturday, you must be trying to make enemies.

As time passed, the scene in the house mellowed out. A crescendo of drug use passed. I had learned what a courtroom looked like from the other side of the jury box, and I decided that I did not want to continue such a lifestyle, at least in the excess and with the regularity that I had been. By the time I was finishing school, my mother, who still nominally lived with us, was getting ready to officially move out and the crew was down to the two regulars and the occasional small gathering on the weekends – tame by comparison. Still, my neighbor badgered incessantly.

We would get wasted and talk about the things college students talk about, metalinguistics, how the hell Bert Blyleven isn’t in the Hall of Fame, which one of our old high school teachers would win a hypothetical no-holds-barred Battle Royal. The fact that our discussions always had value is something I was very adamant about, and I still am. It was this sensitivity that my neighbor offended in his first really inflammatory transgression.

One weeknight, probably around 11:30 or so, a couple of my friends and I had some music on and are engaged in a discussion, when the bell rang. I’m stating as objectively as possible that we were not engaging in an egregious feat of disturbance. My faux hipster neighbor asked me if we could keep it down. I told him that we were not being very loud. Again he displayed the paradoxical nerve to come to complain without the conviction to actually “stand up for himself.”. His tactic, tried and true, was apologetic pandering. He began talking about how often overheard our conversations. He told me how he would hear us talk about the Knicks sometimes, and that he is a basketball fan too, and he knows we can get passionate about our team. He was rambling (insincerely) about how sometimes he actually felt like he’d like to be part of the discussion, despite the fact that he never attempted to strike up conversation of any kind when I ran into him alone in the elevator or laundry room.

That got me pissed; I don’t like to be patronized. I looked back at him and calmly replied, “Well, right now my friend is claiming that looking back at some of Oscar Wilde’s work you can actually see a lot of the ideas put forth decades later by the Frankfurt School, particularly Benjamin and Adorno. Do you have anything to contribute to that discussion?” Then I slammed the door.

Currently, I have a very active social life but rarely have visitors. My girlfriend and I work opposite schedules and therefore, there is rarely more than one other person in the house, and when there is, at least one of us is usually sleeping. My neighbor recently had a baby. I don’t know who whines more, he or the child.

This past Sunday, at two o’clock in the afternoon I was cleaning the house and bumping some old school hip-hop, mainly Boogie Down Productions and Big Daddy Kane. The Mets game was on mute. I don’t recall Kane hollering “If you ain’t down with Neo-Marxism, ring your neighbor’s bell,” but lo and behold this motherfucker did. He asked me if I could turn the music down; it was the baby’s naptime. I told him that it was 2:00 in the afternoon. I really wanted to ask him why he thinks I should forfeit my right to listen to vintage hip-hop at the decibel level it is supposed to be played just because he forgot to slip on a rubber. Mid-nineties hip-hop was down with safe sex; too bad you slept, homie… The kicker is that I was just about to eject the disc and pop in a soothing and low volume Robert Anton Wilson lecture when he rang. So, it actually looked like I respected his impressively selfish request.

Last week’s entry in this space was a rant about an institutionalized sense of entitlement amongst conservative white males. Today, I have to confess that the most uppity bitch in my building is a Cuban woman approximately sixty years old who is fond of claiming that she’s descended from aristocracy. She’s head of the Co-op board; I, the white male, am one of the building’s last renters. That’s right, take a good look at the Fidel Castro shirt, keep your mouth shut. You wouldn’t want my pit to have herself a little snack in the form of your pocketbook dog, now would you?…

But the question that fascinates me is, what makes my neighbor think he is entitled to live a life of culture and access in New York City while maintaining a completely insular home environment? The interplay of art, culture, noise, and bustle in the public and private spheres is a big part of what makes New York City what it is. This is the birthplace of hip-hop, the world’s most dominant culture, and that culture was born from kids dragging sound systems to the block and duffle bags of spray cans to the train yards on a mission to blur the lines between the private and the public. Some consider the birth of hip-hop to be reverse-colonialism.

Were I to ironically use conservative rhetoric, I’d tell him that he should have studied harder in school, and then he would have been able to afford a nice house on a plot of land big enough to not worry about what his neighbor does. But that’s not what he wants. He, like so many of the new residents of this recently castrated city, wants to have his cake and to eat it too.

Cultural metropolises don’t come out of a box. New York City is an ecosystem. It is a set of complex interactions that produce a rich and historic sense of culture, diversity and passion. Crime and noise are like bugs, nuisances maybe, but necessary components to the whole. You can’t just exterminate them and not get reverberating effects. When you kick prostitution and drug dealers out of Times Square and buff the graffiti off the trains you aren’t just curing “eyesores” or “improving the quality of life.” You are redrawing the lines of a social battleground, you are making it safe for corporate rule, stabbing at the arteries of the city’s uniqueness. More importantly, as it turns out, you have traded local, small scale immorality for large scaled institutionalized immorality, replacing street wisdom with plastic values. The unattainable images of beauty put forth by Conde Nast and Disney, now occupying Times Square, has done more damage to women’s bodies and self image than any pimp or fresh john ever could! When those who create wealth off the oppression of others feel safe around those they oppress, the city has become dysfunctional.

You come to a place like New York City to find an alternative to the cookie-cutter structure of suburban sprawl and the glass menagerie of Middle American values (if you can’t buy a blow job at 8th Avenue and 42nd Street, where in America is someone from Utah or Missouri supposed to go?). So, while I try to respect my neighbors by any reasonable standard, I will not be shutting down the music in mid-afternoon on a weekend.

Can I turn down the music? See, I’d love to, but I can’t trust you to educate your child about the musical anthology of the Wu Tang Clan, so I’m just going to have to do my New Yorker duty and do it for you. The least you could do is show a bit of gratitude.

If I believed in God, I’d thank her that my neighbor didn’t live on 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the early 1970’s, next to Clive Campbell, Clive might never have become Kool Herc if he did..

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