Thursday, July 29, 2010

72 Hours in New York: Welcome to The L.E.S.

Suspender-hinged hipster madness. On every block, the unconventional is the conventional. Forty's curl-cut poof men's hair, swirl of soft-serve ice cream. Slender body in mustard yellow over-sized wide-leg pants and matching suspenders over a white undershirt, leavs out toward us from the bar, a cigarette in one hand, a hand on the doorpost of the one-hundred year-old building. He gazes at us in invitation, his eyes, wide, brown relaxed. New york is fast. It's midnight and hundreds of people are walking to their party, bar, and dance destinations. Girls in groups and pretty summer dresses, short and flirty, one-piece sheer jumpsuits, sheer lace over underwear and theater make-up seduces scurtive glance from girls and guys alike. One-thousand chili-pepper lights hang from an Indian restaurant, lighting it up like an shrine or the palace of the gods, such that looking in feels warm, inviting. To enter is to lie in a red tent on a hot sunny afternoon, the red light a slew of platic coated chemical primary colors, filtering in to create a warm, surreal, unearthly existence shielded from the outside world. Here, in New York, businesses must out-compete their competitors. Being one of seven Indian restaurants on the block does not help business, on the a-typical American block where more businesses spring up in the fertile soil of New York's newly gentrified lower-east side, presenting more business and services than there are diners and shoppers. Bars come and go within months, independent restaurants and businesses stay afloat awhile, then die out quickly. The ones that survive do it best, producing some of the most unique and delightful products and services in the country. Butter Lane specializes in rich, buttery cupcakes, frostings in a a variety of lemon, hazelnut, mocha, caramel walnut, vanilla and chocolate on your choice of chocolate, vanilla, or banana nut cake. I got the lemon-frosted vanilla cupcake. It was so rich and sweet. Its homemade perfection is undeniable. Across the street, the used bookstore sells thousands of titles a basement store no bigger than my bedroom, in a rectangular shape, the Lower East side has transformed the blank, even ugly forms of tenement houses and transformed them into million-dollar suites and some of the catchiest, most culturally ingenious restaurants, shops, businesses, bars, and nightlife hot-spots in America, so recently gentrified that gentrification is at once the appropriate word, and not. Garbarge litters the street the night before trash pickup day, sending visitors and residents the welcoming stench of raw garbage, girls in nightlife mini-dresses, arm in arm with ladies and men, step carefully over the soggy white bags in their silver stilettoes, the thin city trees giddy with colored lights and the anticipation of the evening, hot and broiling, oil left too long on the pan, and leaping at the taste of water. Ready, willing, able. The city reaches out, bites, looking for and creating energy: the men are light, sultry humid, and alarmingly awake. I outline my torso in nylon spandex of rubber-glove tightness and he in a shirt of tooth-bleach white linen to join a tipping point on the cusp of cultural greatness: the young, educated hipster subculture newly erupting from the vestiges of deep-seated immigrant culture and (literally) overnight forming a newly marbled cultural, entreprenurial, and creative upheaval of old immigrant and new immigrant, gaudily frosted with academic wealth within New York's Lower East Side. Welcome to Katz's diner.

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