After weeks of chasing phantom Craigslist ads, I finally moved into an apartment, out by the blasted industrial wastes between Bushwick and Williamsburg. No name readily sticks to the area. It’s not edgy enough for Bushwick and not cool enough for Williamsburg. East Williamsburg sounds like a ruse to raise rental prices. Morgantown refers to the local subway station, but there are other Morgantowns. I prefer to call it Cripplebush.
Cripplebush comes with a historical precedent. In the old Dutch colony of Brooklyn, Cripplebush was an outpost between the township of Bushwick and the river. A saline wasteland of blighted shrub and swamp, it was good for nothing except to pass over quickly on the way to the shore.
The original Cripplebush was probably a way south-west of my neighbourhood, but it’s here that the legacy lives on. Formally a part of the East Williamsburg Industrial Complex, these few streets were dezoned so that the old fabric warehouses could be converted into ‘artist’ lofts.
Within this wasteland of brick and smokestack an artists’ outpost was established. It was populated by second generation hipsters (the kind that dress like a po-faced American Apparel ad) and international students who quickly become second-gen hipsters, if they weren’t already.
Not much can survive out in Cripplebush. Newton Creek, one of the most polluted industrial sites in the country, slithers along its northern limits. Although the warehouses are being slowly pushed out, this is still an industrial zone. The only animal or plant life in the area is painted onto the sides of buildings. The only other species, besides the aspiring artist, to scratch out a living here is the bed bug. These two post-apocalyptic organisms will eventually consume everything else, and then turn on each other in a turf war for this blasted crust of land. For now, though, they exist in an uneasy truce.
Meanwhile a handful of bars and cafes serve the colony. There is an expensive sushi place and and organic mini-mart stocked with all manner of hot extravagancies (Marmite?!), but no bodegas, few delis, no laundromats or hardware stores. The fundamental needs of the colony are met by the street corner pop-up stalls selling vintage Playboys, and by the occasional events put on by the bars (ladies’ arm wrestling competition, anyone?).
It’s the rootlessness of the area that makes it so interesting. No one has lived here before; there are no layers and almost no history to the area – a rarity in New York. Like any good colony there is a sense, I suppose, that its future is a blank canvas to be written upon. If only we’d stop writing in ironic tweets and blogs, and start writing something worthwhile.