Last night I was supposed to meet a bunch of PPMB-ers at BARCADE to give a proper send off to our Canadian friend M.W., who'd been in town for last weekend's ERGS-travaganza. Barcade is located all of three blocks from my house, but I guess I've lived here long enough to fall under the pernicious influence of Brooklyn (Sub)Standard Time, which is the zone in which appointments, shows, whatever, start, well, whenever. Result: I turned up a full three hours late (hey, that's one hour per block; not SO bad, is it), which was still better than most of the PPMB, who didn't turn up at all.
The four who did, including M.W. himself, had already fled back to Queens and Manhattan by the time I came strolling in, which was a disappointment (to me, anyway; I don't recall any of them complaining). But while I may have acquired some bad Brooklyn habits (hey, at least no drugs yet), I'm not, and apparently never will be - in the minds of some, anyway - a Brooklynite. Let alone a real New Yorker.
I can live with that. I've called a lot of places home over the years without giving too much concern over whether the people who'd been living there longer than I had felt similarly. I've had the occasional snooty Londoner, and quite a few snooty San Franciscans, waylay me with some version of "But you're not really from here, are you?" But I've never thought of New Yorkers as being that provincial; in fact, the general rule seems to be the smaller the town, the more obsessed the locals are with whether or not you're "from" there.
Thus I was mightily surprised when a near-violent row broke out between JONNIE WHOA OH, the feisty CEO of WHOA OH RECORDS and JOHNNY B-BAGS, an aspiring lawyer who moved here from DC by way of Ohio a year or two ago, over whether B-Bags had the right to refer to himself as a "New Yorker."
Now even I've been here longer than B-Bags (and if we're going to be pedantic, I was here decades before Whoa Oh and his fellow traveler CHRIS GRIVET ever laid eyes on this city), and I'll admit it can be a bit off-putting when someone who moved in last week starts talking about "our" neighborhood and "our" community in a too-knowing and familiar way (not that I've ever done this myself, but actually, yes I have). But the longer I live somewhere and the more I feel at home there, the less bothered I am by newcomers, and the happier I am to see them feeling like they belong there too.
Not so with Messrs. Whoa Oh and Grivet. In their book (and a ponderous, well-thumbed volume of rules and regulations it is), you can not be a New Yorker unless you were born here. The Bronx's BILL FLORIO is a bit less stringent: he reckons you need to have been here "since junior high" to make the cut.
Whoa Oh gets pretty irate if you point out that while he qualifies under the "born here" rule, he fails abysmally under the "since junior high" addendum, since he actually spent most of his teenage years out on Long Island. He'll protest that this temporary dislocation doesn't count, since as a minor he had no choice but to follow his mother when she moved there, but using this logic, being born in the city limits should count for even less, since as far as I'm aware, most infants exert no choice whatsoever in where they are born and spend their mewling and puking years.
It would seem, in fact, that one's "home town" is really the place one chooses to live beginning when a person is old enough to have some choice in the matter. I've known New Yorkers who grew up here, didn't like it that much, and split for California or Europe or the Midwest as soon as they were old enough to leave home, and conversely there are kids all over America and the world to whom New York represents their spiritual destiny and can barely wait (in some cases don't even bother waiting) till they're 18 and can move there. So which represents a truer New Yorker? The one who was born here through no choice of his or her own and couldn't wait to leave, or the one to whom living in New York represents a dream come true and is willing to put with any sort of hardship or privation to make it happen?
Well, as I say, it's not a super-important issue to me, or, in my experience, to most New Yorkers. This has always been a city of immigrants, both domestic and foreign, and without the constant stream of newcomers, we'd be, well, Boston or something. But it has given me a good song idea for my hypothetical new band, and though I'm still missing a drummer and a bassist and maybe a guitarist, I'm already off to a good start with this half-rock/half-rap ditty about the blood feud between Queens chauvinists Grivet and Whoa Oh and Brooklyn-based B-Bags. In fact it starts out, "Blood in the streets of Brooklyn and Queens..." and I'm thinking of calling it "Gs On The G Train" in homage to the crosstown line that connects the two boroughs.
In fact, since the only other song I've written in recent years was also about the G train, I may just make this an all-G train-themed band, but that remains under consideration. True, neither Whoa Oh or Grivet would be caught dead on the G; provincial Astorians that they are, they don't consider a subway ride to be a "real" subway ride unless the train passes through Manhattan at some point, even if it requires going miles out of their way to do so.
I'm hoping that my song will, by highlighting the tragic futility of this dispute, forestall a potential blood feud, or at least turn it into an all-singing, all-dancing affair à la an outer-boroughs West Side Story. In the longer run, of course, B-Bags will finish law school and successfully sue for the right to be called a New Yorker while Whoa Oh and Grivet might conceivably move to Santa Monica and get their own sitcom which in addition to its obvious Odd Couple overtones, will revolve largely around the two of them trying to maintain their native New York-ness in the face of rampant, overwhelming Californication. Okay, not the most original premise (I think I Love Lucy pulled a somewhat similar stunt), but with this kind of show it's about 90% character and 10% plot, and these guys... well, they're a couple characters, all right. New Yorkers through and through, and we love them for it. Stay tuned, and in the meantime, let's hope no one gets shot.