Thursday, February 16, 2006

Gates of Heaven

There are so many behemoths being erected around McCarren Park. I can even see these new condos under construction from my part of town, their lighted skeletons lighting up the sky at night. They bother me for a reason that I cannot entirely put into words, but I find it troubling that church spires and church domes are no longer the things that poke out tallest above the Williamsburg skyline. That soon, that distinction, will be the residences of extremely wealthy people with track lighting.

This was already a changed neighborhood when I moved to it three years ago, but in those three years, I have been witness to a host of more changes. It's interesting to watch these slight modifications to the neighborhood, building by building. One of these, 702 Grand Street, a few blocks from my house, a toy/variety store, Children's Playland. It has been open since I have moved here and even then I wondered how it stayed in business. Some of the inventory looked as if it had been sitting on the shelves since the eighties. I bought an awesome pair of sunglasses there last summer, that must have been sitting on that sunglasses rack for a decent amount of years. They were covered in a thick layer of dust and grime, but they were awesome, eightiesish (probably because they were an unsold item still sitting around from the eighties) and again, only two dollars.

A month or so ago, I stopped in there with Adele, looking for Risk, and we laughed at the inventory, at the dust on everything, wondering how this store stayed in business. They had tons of board games that also seemed unsold since the Eighties. Trivial Pursuit, the original Genus version, a whole shelve of them in their original packaging. Stacks of Trump: The Game, from the pre-Apprentice Trump, from a long time ago, still sitting on their shelves. Outdated game after outdated game and no Risk.

Today, I walked by to see a "Going Out of Business" sign hanging from the front. The sign proclaimed that the store had been open 22 years and that everything had to go, that everything was half off. Even though I had made fun of the store with Adele, and even though the store lacked any seeming business sense at all, I was still sad to see the demise of another one of these grimy Grand Street stores. Quite a few of them have departed in the time that I have lived here. The Brooklyn Fish House, a fish and chips joint, near the toy store went out of business a couple months ago and held an open house two weekends ago, people wandered into the grimy place looking to buy it, the old menu still in the window, and something is lost and something will be gained and I am not sure what, and not sure if it is for better, or for worse. Better for whom? Worse for whom? Some bar, some vintage clothing shop, some coffee shop will probably step into these voids as they have been doing on Grand Street since even before I moved here. Places which I will probably end up frequenting way more than I did either the fish shop or the toy store. I made one purchase in each of the locations the entire time I lived here. It's disturbing to know that I play some role in these changes, that I am part of the wave that allows this neighborhood to be gentrified, and even more disturbing to know that this wave can't be stopped, that I could probably play no role in resisting these changes, that it just seems to be the way of the world.

I just finished watching Errol Morris' Gates of Heaven. It is a documentary about pet cemetery owners and people that have buried their pets in cemeteries. It is amazing. Morris either is an amazing interviewer or hit the jackpot by finding talkers as his subjects. These subjects will talk for such long periods of time, uninterrupted without the aid of any prodding questions, and yet still deliver the answers that Morris must have been seeking out. The subjects are so fascinating and God, this movie, is so good. If I recall correctly, there isn't one voiceover by the director in the entire movie, which is pretty rare it seems for a documentary, to be able to tell the story solely with the voices of the subjects shot and to not have to narrate with either on screen text or some voiceover. It's surprisingly elegant, this movie. In the beginning, I tended to laugh at the subjects, thinking their adoration of their pets bordered on something close to idolatry, but by the end of the movie, the themes Morris is touching on become clearer, that the loss of loved ones and how we deal with their disposal is pretty important stuff. There is a really touching segment at the end where a pet owner talks about what animates a body, that yes, the body of her pet is still there, but that that's not what she loved, that there was something that made that now inanimate body move that's gone, that the fact that the body is there and doesn't move is proof that there is another component to life besides the body, a spirit. Surely, my retelling of this sounds hokey, but to hear this woman talk about her dead dog, you really start to believe that their might be some afterlife.

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