While bemoaning Brooklyn’s yuppification, many say, “I miss old New York,” but the same way Germans idolize Native Americans they’ve never met, outsiders worship native New Yorkers without having any clue about how they act.
When I think of real New Yorkers, I think of Irish and Italians born and raised in Brooklyn. This borough is what keeps Manhattan alive. As far as I’m concerned, it saved the world from fascism. (Is there a soldier in a WWII film who doesn’t have a Brooklyn accent?) After getting to know some Brooklynites, I realized they are way weirder than I originally thought. Their customs and traditions are as unique as the Amish and their culture is equally untouched. Most of the purists would be totally uncomfortable around the lost tribes of Brooklyn they so staunchly defend.
For example, did you know…
1. THEY CALL PASTA SAUCE “GRAVY”
These are Italians who have been eating nothing but spaghetti their whole lives and they think tomato sauce is meat juice. When I ask them why, they usually say, “I don’t know why we call red sauce gravy but it’s always been like that.” What the hell is “red sauce”? They also call all forms of pasta “macaroni” even when they’re holding a box of clearly marked penne in their hand. Learning their language can take months, which most of their women find “’isterical.”
2. THEY IRON THEIR SOCKS
This applies mostly to older Brooklynites, but they all wear a very affordable uniform and maintain it with military precision: white sneakers, white socks, knee-length hemmed jean shorts, tucked-in white T-shirt, and assorted gold jewelry. None of these things require an iron, but each one gets it—sometimes even the gold jewelry. They don’t understand why anyone would stray from this perfect ensemble, and when you show up wearing anything different they laugh and say, “Where you goin’?” This is an abbreviation of, “Where are you goin’ with that ridiculous outfit on?”
3. THEY HAVE GREAT STORIES
It’s not unusual to walk up to an electrician named “Joey Makeup” (named so because his eyelashes are so big, he looks like he’s wearing mascara) and hear him telling his friends, “I told you my mother’s scared of midgets, right?” Everyone will already know this because they’ve all been friends since kindergarten and then he will add, “Well, guess who her new best friend is…the fucking midget from the Laundromat!” This person’s friends will tell him to get the fuck oudda here, and he will put his hand on his heart and say, “I swear on my life—BEST friends. They’re at the movies right now.” The more questions you ask about this story, the better it gets and everything will be almost entirely true.
4. THEY’RE RACIST IN A GOOD WAY
If someone from Brooklyn is talking about a neighborhood that has become predominantly African American they will touch their cheek the way you do when you’re telling someone they have something on their face—only in this case, the thing on the person’s face is a race. Breezy Point in Queens was a vacation getaway in the 50s but became home base for white flight when Brooklyn became multicultural. However, they still intermarry and hang out with blacks way more than anyone who reads The New York Times. To them, blacks are like Polacks or punk rockers. They don’t dislike them. They merely see them as different. One day you’ll hear some guy complaining about how “Da niggas, dey always late” and the next day he shows up two hours late with his black wife yelling, “Guess why we’re late? Guess whose fault it is! These people, I tell ya. They’re unbelievable.”
5. THEY’RE DUMB IN A GOOD WAY
Thanks to liberals’ fear of eugenics, IQ has become this delicate taboo you can only discuss when someone on the losing team has a surprisingly high one. Brooklynites don’t have this hierarchy of intelligence. They don’t even see it as a particularly appealing trait. When someone from Brooklyn tells you they’re dumb, it’s about as consequential as saying, “I can’t draw.” They don’t pretend they know what “parochial” means, and they’re not going to ask you where the West Bank is. They don’t care who invaded Gaza. They care who broke into their neighbor’s house.
6. THEY ARE PAROCHIAL
Few people in Brooklyn have a passport, and their idea of traveling is going from Bed-Stuy to Coney Island. (They spend all summer at the beach but still can’t swim.) Many of them have never even been to Manhattan, and the only ones to visit the Empire State Building are the ones who work there. In Brooklyn, you are defined by your city block and your union. During Christmas, the different neighborhoods have a Christmas-light showdown and the results are insane. Other tribes in Brooklyn are like teams in the league but as far as they’re concerned, everyone else is playing a different sport. I think this provincial lifestyle comes from the days when leaving your block meant entering someone else’s turf but even now that it’s safe, they still see exploring as trespassing. They can’t even ride a bicycle. In fact, if you show up on a bike they will laugh at you and call you a fag.
7. THEY DON’T DO FAG JOKES
Despite living in a place with a high density of gays and having plenty of gays among their family and friends, they’re still weird about homosexuality. Almost my entire comedy repertoire is gay-based and if I’m not telling a guy he has “blowjob lips,” I don’t have much else to say. They never laugh at jokes like these and often act like you just zapped them with a cattle prod. I like to end phone conversations by saying “Love you,” and when I do it to a guy from Brooklyn, it inevitably begets a “JESUS CHRIST!” from the other end as I hang up the phone.
8. EVERYONE’S BEEN SHOT AT
No matter how sweet and innocent an old lady in Brooklyn is, she’s seen someone get their head blown off and the bullet went right by her head. When you ask her about it, she sounds like she’s talking about someone getting their hair done.
9. BEING THEIR FRIEND IS LIKE JOINING THE MOB
Everyone in Brooklyn “has a guy” and can get you anything from a three-person stroller to an abortion. It’s handy getting whatever you want whenever you want, but that means you had better be available when it’s your turn. When making a new Brooklyn friend, he’ll usually ask you to do some random favor, and half the time it’s something he doesn’t even need. After doing some free plumbing work for me, a Brooklynite had me build a wood frame for one of his kids’ paintings. I don’t think he even used it, but now I’m in with that particular family until death. This tightknit behavior was particularly evident during Hurricane Sandy. The locals banded together and selflessly ripped out drywall and hauled garbage for days. Not only didn’t they ask outsiders for help, they didn’t even want it. Brooklyn isn’t a huge borough. It’s a tiny town.
10. THEY RUN NEW YORK
It seemed like nobody in New York had gasoline during Sandy, but all the union men in Brooklyn mysteriously had three full cans in their garage. If you want tickets to a sold-out show or you want to see a closed exhibit at the Met, it’s not a problem. They drink for free, eat for free, and renovate their homes with supplies stolen from a building site. In a multicultural metropolis revolving around money, this strange sect has maintained a century-old monoculture that exists under the radar and thrives on the barter system. It seems archaic when you first encounter it, but a quick glance at where America is headed makes it clear the Brooklyn way is our future. So instead of putting them on some nostalgic pedestal, go meet them. You could learn a lot from dese fuggin’ idiots.
Image of Coney Island courtesy of Shutterstock
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