It was one of those peak Brooklyn moments, she supposed, entering some Puerto Rican-run shoe repair store that was actually just a front for people, ideally fellow Puerto Ricans, to imbibe in–some of those people eventually getting wise to the trend being what was once blithely in its derogatoriness toward whites called “hipsters.” Of course, people are more reluctant to use such a dated word in the present epoch, and considering that there are no areas left for Caucasians with an “artistic” pursuit (this now includes Instagram “art”) to infiltrate apart from, say, East New York and some parts of the Bronx, it is less freely used. But in this time, it was. And Erica felt shamefully as though she was one upon being led into the space by Cliff, exuding the same unwarranted confidence he always did no matter where he entered. In this case, and mildly in his defense, he was merely following one of his co-workers down the rabbit hole. Her name was Jeanne. She was turning but twenty-four years old and was one of those “early” twenties sorts that was endlessly pleased with herself for having a job at all. The type that might say something like, “I should be traveling right now, you know? While I still can.” As though you can’t do it in your thirties and forties if you take good enough care of your skin and can pass yourself off as “youthful enough” for a hostel.
It was because of her lust for being a voyager, among other reasons including a waifish physique, that Cliff had an overt crush on her. One barely concealed from the jealous eyes of Erica as she watched him verbally tease her, at one point even “playfully” grabbing her side in a way that only misogynists flirting do. It was adding to the sinking feeling in Erica’s stomach as she felt increasingly out of place in a milieu where she knew they weren’t supposed to be. And though the Puerto Ricans weren’t patently hostile about their area being invaded (at the very least, they could now upcharge on the beer), Erica could sense the subtle vexation in how they carried themselves toward Jeanne and the lot she had brought in, as though she was not only showing off her vast knowledge of the Williamsburg “underground” but also displaying this shoe repair shop/bar and the people in it as some zoo-like spectacle. But again, people will always put up with exploitation if it means they can profit from it, and whitey was heavily into flexing his purchasing power that night, as Jeanne’s array of new and old friends from work and college failed to recognize that BYOB was the better employed option, but instead, in their laziness, paid five dollars a can for the Rolling Rock and PBR the Puerto Ricans knowingly kept on hand for such potentially lucrative occasions as these.
Cliff was in his element from the moment they arrived, having transferred from an actual bar down the street where the less “adventurous” of Jeanne’s party guests had remained. He was the sort of person who couldn’t be made fun of, because it didn’t bother him no matter what you said, case in point being when Jeanne’s own boyfriend, Sam, clearly threatened by their rapport when finally introduced to Cliff in the flesh, commented, “Your name’s Cliff? Who the fuck is named Cliff outside of 1959?”
“I am,” Cliff said without any trace of irony or offense.
Sam had made a statement in choosing to remain behind at the “real” bar to keep hosting the friends of Jeanne’s who were intimidated by brown skin. It had undeniably caused strife between them that Jeanne wanted to go to the shoe repair place when taking into consideration that most of her friends and acquaintances were extremely vanilla. Except, of course, Cliff. Though not really, as he only liked to put on the airs of being brave and undaunted for the sake of preserving his own self-image. And Erica, hopelessly attached to him at this juncture in their relationship, a midpoint in which the flip had occurred in their emotions (with Cliff being initially the more ardent one, ergo only leaving the door open for Erica to become such in the wake of his spent fervor), was too determined to show Cliff she would do anything, go anywhere for him–a classic mistake many females make in becoming too available, hence less desirable, to the men whose affections they seek to stoke. Erica was clearly doing the opposite as she stood in a corner by herself and watched the sexual tension of the dynamic between Jeanne and Cliff unfold without any sense of abashment on either of their parts. She could at once intuit that she had flushed two perfectly viable years of her remaining twenties down the toilette on Cliff.
A leering and stout man that could have been in his thirties or sixties (just one of those types, as it were) seized upon Erica’s aura of loneliness, going so far as to finger a tendril of her dirty blonde hair and whisper something indecipherable to her in Spanish, baring his crooked teeth at her as though they were familiars. The fucking balls some dickless men had. Did he honestly think she was going to swoon over his attempt at coarse conversation, that her panties were going to spontaneously drop to the floor? And where the fuck was Cliff in all this, he who should be defending her goddamn honor or some shit? Oh right, he was licking Jeanne’s asshole without any sense of shame or compunction. What the hell was Erica doing in this “bar” anyway? Why was she catering to the already annoyingly accurate perception of white folk like Cliff–just seeing fit to take up residence wherever they wanted for the sake of feeling “bohemian”? As if that lifestyle could ever exist in New York again. When its cutoff was, at best, 2005. Taking stock of the sudden swathe of flannel that surrounded her, also appearing simultaneously to her as patches of subversion amid those who actually belonged in the shoe repair shop, they all fused into one sort of beige entity for her. A cluster signifying wanting to embody a moment of “cool” that could never be recaptured by subsequent generations–the ones who would never even know a Williamsburg without the rampant presence and constant construction of condos.
Feeling as though she might vomit not from drinking too much–which she most assuredly had–but rather, this unbearable vision, this flannel acid trip, she practically fell out of the doorway in her state of hyperventilation. No one in the joint seemed to notice, and if they did, they didn’t care. She was an eyesore now, fucking up their illusions and delusions of living as “free thinkers” with the increasingly less casual obligation to a corporate job. Erica worked in a bookstore and spoke more often than most could endure of George Sand. She had no berth in this environment. And that night, it became solidified in her mind that it applied well beyond the stifling confines of being forced into this beacon of faux “subculture” by her own boyfriend.
She broke up with Cliff the next morning, not bothering to ask if he had done something with Jeanne the previous night, knowing full well that they, at the bare minimum, had kissed. She was also quick to offer to move out of their shared loft space on the south side of the neighborhood, where she could, with a chill up her spine, feel another wind of foul change coming. Cliff was somewhat shocked by her abrupt need to flee from their apartment and relationship, but played the role of understanding ex to perfection, even offering to help her move her things out (or at least pay for a Man With Van to do so). She declined, not wanting to inform him that her true intent was to leave the city altogether. Go back to her ostensibly banal Ohio town…theoretically beige yet somehow more colorful than this false portrait of what “Eccentricitia” was supposed to be. When she was forced to come back to Brooklyn about three years later for a book convention, she couldn’t help but notice that the former “bar” was now occupied by a modestly sized H&M. With the mannequins in the display window sporting flannel, naturally.