This is what I thought the other night, driving down Flushing Avenue. It had been a wonderfully transtemporal Brooklyn evening, eating dinner with two youngish musicians, Shilpa Ray and Vin Cacchione, at David’s Brisket House on Nostrand Avenue, which is run by Yemeni Muslims who learned how to make pastrami from the Yemeni Jew who used to own the place.
Both from Jersey, Shilpa, a harmonium-playing Indian-American singer, and Vin, a guitarist whose father used to be a stand-up comic in the Pat Cooper mode, were vets of the Brooklyn music scene. They’d each lived in half a dozen apartments throughout the hipster belt from Williamsburg to Greenpoint and Bushwick, played the various clubs like the desolate Shea Stadium, named after the ballpark that was named after one more New York fixer. Vin wasn’t that far removed from the days when his drummer slept in the kitchen, and Shilpa occasionally used to push her harmonium across the Williamsburg Bridge on a hand truck. But things were beginning to happen. Vin’s bands, Caged Animals and Soft Black, were gathering speed; he was renowned as a local producer even if his studio was in his front room on Willoughby Street, where the recording process was often halted to allow the Mister Softee truck to go by. Shilpa was putting out discs, sang with Nick Cave, toured the country in a van. They were both real artists, making cool, interesting music, hoping for the best, but, like Bruce Lee tells his student in Enter the Dragon, expecting “nothing.”
The Brooklyn Brand was what you made it, I thought, passing through the warehouse district near Metropolitan Avenue. It was after midnight, no one was around, and as I sometimes do when I’m in the area, I wondered which one of these shuttered buildings once housed Rapid Needle. It was a sweatshop where I used to pick up junior-miss dresses when I drove a truck in the garment center back in the winter of 1969. An incident on the rickety freight elevator stood out.
“There’s no button, you gotta pull the rope,” a fellow worker told me. We tugged together. The elevator rose to the second floor, halfway to the third before it began to shake and fall like a stone. “Shit,” I screamed as the car plummeted, only to hit a large spring at the bottom of the shaft. Boing. The elevator shot upward again. I thought I was going to die, but the other guy was just pissed.
“That’s the third motherfucking time this week!” he steamed. “Cheap bastards.”
This event lives indelibly in my Brooklyn back pages, but as for the exact location of Rapid Needle, I can’t remember. A recent visit to the Brooklyn Public Library to look through telephone books from the late sixties and earlier seventies revealed no listing. All mention of Rapid Needle seemed to be swept away. I look for it regardless.
It was about then I noticed the skateboarder. He was maybe 25, coming toward me, picking up speed on the Flushing Avenue decline. I only saw him for a few seconds but could tell by his markings, the pegged pants, the inscribed arms, that he was a representative of the New Brooklyn. A lot had happened to put that kid in that spot, for him to be confident and/or oblivious enough to soar through a deserted, once-scary neighborhood in the middle of the night like it was his personal playground. Could he possibly know how lucky he was, to be so free, to have this Brooklyn to remember?