I’m in Williamsburg with a cold, which makes me think of the famous Esquire article Frank Sinatra has a cold. It’s one of these heavy colds that hover above your eyelids like an IPA hangover. I’m in Williamsburg, with a tote bag I bought at a modern art museum in St. Petersburg. That may seem self conscious, but you tell me where I’m supposed to store my expensively assembled cold medication?
My gaze is filled with a hazy shimmer, as if I’ve spent the last few hours staring into the sun through a filter of Williamsburg dust. But all I did before I came here was to lie passed out in an apartment on the Upper West side that I’ve borrowed from a friend’s sister.
People might look at me and think I’m yet another local trying to cure a hangover with an afternoon stroll in the sunshine. But I am just another Swedish visitor. With a chronic cold and a tote bag filled with American strength cold medication. It dawns on me that cold medication is the least sexy medication there is. I don’t know what to make of that realisation, so I discard it in a trash can together with a snot filled kleenex. There are way more trash cans in New York than in London.
At least I look the part of a Williamsburg local, in my ten year old tweed jacket, washed out t-shirt and worn out brown leather shoes. Wait a minute, these shoes are Ecco’s, designed for old people who pay a premium for comfort. I look down at my shoes. Except for the faded leather, which gives them a lived in and well-travelled aura, there is an unmistakable conflict between them and Williamsburg’s hipster hangover atmosphere.
But what am I supposed to do, find a store and buy a new pair of shoes? I look around, but trying on shoes with this cold is not an option. That I even consider buying new shoes just to blend in is too discomforting to consider in my current state, but I know I need to confront it at some point.
In the end I feel ok walking around in Williamsburg like this, with a cold that just as easily could come across as a hangover to the untrained eye. Perhaps everyone here has colds, which would explain the area’s fashion street photography kind jadedness.
I got off the subway from Manhattan at Bedford Avenue and slowly walked down 6th street, heading towards Music Hall of Williamsburg. I needed a target for my fake hangover walk and I’ve always liked the term “music hall”. There is something democratic and communal about it, unpretentious and unassuming compared to the pompous “theatre”, the impersonal “concert venue” or even worse, “arena”.
It was also supposed to be in the same direction as a second hand shop I found after one minute of googling things to do in Williamsburg. I used to buy second hand clothes but now I only browse the stores, as if trying to reconnect with a younger self by swiping my hands over second hand flannel shirts and corduroy trousers. I don’t need you to tell me there is a sadness in that.
Now I’m standing outside the Music Hall of Williamsburg, which is partly covered in street art that feel as expected and fleeting as a Snapchat message. I consider sending one to some friends, but I can’t figure out how to convey the feeling of fleetingness and it’s relationship to that medium. I put my phone down and take a right on Wythe Avenue.
Before I left London one of my colleagues told me I had to see Brooklyn Brewery. Since I need a target, and the map on my phone says it’s only a couple of blocks away, I figure why not? I blow my nose and throw away another tissue in another trash can. God, I love how many trash cans there are here. Who is in charge of these trash cans? I want to write a letter to the responsible party and thank them. In London I’ve walked absurd distances with banana peels, tissues and other discardable objects in search for one. The convenience makes me happy, which I suspect explains the comfortable shoes on my feet.
I reach the brewery after a couple of minutes. Just as I imagined it consists of a brick building in an area filled with venues brandishing exposed walls and industrial light fixtures. I consider having a beer but end up opting for another pill from my totebag. I remain on the street outside the brewery where I take a photo of the exterior, in case I need to prove to my colleague that I was actually there. “Beer makes you feel the way you ought to feel without beer” – Henry Lawson. That is what is says on the wall I’m taking a picture of. In cool black font of course. There are few surprises in Williamsburg.
There is a hotel across the street from the brewery. The entrance is on a diagonal corner of a multi story brick building and above it a sign that says hotel crawls up the facade. Two blond Norwegian girls in their 20s are taking pictures of it. A shit load of pictures. How I know they are Norwegian? I’m Swedish, I can tell these things. The Norwegians stand there, with their toned bodies, dressed in matching black outfits. I also want to take a photo, but it feels silly to take the same picture as these Norwegians, they make it feel banal. Why do I think like this?
I need a coffee, a positive sign since I never drink coffee when I have a cold. I swallow another red pill from my tote bag. The pharmacist who sold me the drugs I carry around told me when to take what pill. There was some kind of sequence to it all. But I kept nodding as she tried to explain the interrelatedness of the pills, as if it was a complex physiological process. I wished she would stop talking and just let me out of the store. When I finally made my escape, together with my pills and a shockingly large bill, I had forgotten everything she said. So I decided to randomly choose one pill from my bag every hour and hope for the best.
I walk down 12th street, past McCarren park, and up on Driggs Avenue where I see a tea shop called Tea Bar. According to the sign, which is handwritten in white chalk, they also sell coffee. When I enter I feel overheated and sweaty. For the past few hours the sun has been attacking my tweed like chlorine based detergent attacks colour.
The girl behind the counter looks healthy, not only physically, like the Norwegians, but mentally, as if she’s just returned from a yoga retreat. It makes me conscious of my cold and I almost walk out the door again. But I’m too tired to look for another place and it doesn’t seem fair to blame her for my cold-induced insecurity. I order a flat white and ask if I can use the bathroom. She says of course and hands me a key that is attached to a long wooden stick. It’s the first unexpected thing I’ve encountered in Williamsburg.
In the bathroom I look at myself in the mirror. Then I urinate and leave, demoralised by the distance between my actual appearance and the slightly hungover local I imagined myself to look like. I pay for my coffee and walk back to McCarren Park, where I sit down on a bench and watch some teenage girls play softball. Behind the strike zone a large man, who might be their coach, or just a man with a giant soundsystem, puts on an N*Sync hit. Some of the girls in the outfield starts dancing. At first I assume it’s ironic, but I quickly realise it isn’t. I make a note that it’s a sign of the times, that teenage girls in Williamsburg now dance to N*Sync. Perhaps they always did? Soon after I learn that extra strong lemon cough drops and artisanal coffee do not go well together. I throw away my coffee and a used tissue in yet another trash can.
I’m in Williamsburg and life feels sideways. Fortunately the man with the giant soundsystem puts on a Clipse track I really like. I tell myself that the cold will pass, but by then I will be back in London and all I will take with me from Williamsburg are these poorly written notes that I’ve written next to a man in a leather jacket who just finished an entire full-sized bag of crisps in one sitting.
Also that was unexpected.