“I’m like you,” he says. “Right now, I’m thinking Brooklyn’s where it at, word.”
Simon waves his joint toward Jefferson Street. “Look here,” he says. “You got them wide streets so the kids can play. And there’s no drugs—just a little weed, you know. And, I’m not paying rent right now so I don’t know, but most of the people around here, they Dominican, they work in the factories. Keep ’em close, the owners like to keep ’em close, word.” He laughs, getting excited. “And you know they ain’t getting paid much, so these places gotta be cheap!”
That’s when it hits me: I’m finally here. Simon’s gesture toward Jefferson takes in brownfields, industrial sprawl, derelict yards, and buildings that contain real working factories rather than raw loft space. There are no baby stores, soy products, or 24-hour delis. There is nothing to buy, no apartments not to afford. There are no Manhattan-bound commuters. There isn’t an ITHACA IS GORGE-OUS T-shirt in sight. Even Simon himself defines the line, which is exactly why the state has placed him right on top of it.
All day, I’ve been searching for the cliff edge of gentrification, and Simon has just casually pointed it out with a burning joint.
He pinches out the roach and lights a Newport, then flexes his knees to scratch his back against the bricks. “I used to spend some time on the Lower East Side,” he says. “Lived there, too. And yeah, I enjoyed it. But man, can’t live there no more.” He shakes his head. “See, they only two kinds of people in the Lower East Side anymore,” he says. “Either you a millionaire, or you a bum.”
Simon starts to laugh. “Millionaire or a bum! You ain’t one of those, you got no business living in Manhattan anymore. Word.”