The Eagle Has Flown the Co-Op
by Micky Z
I recently learned
they were tearing down the old Eagle Electric plant near Astoria Park. Don't
misunderstand, I have no affection for such toxic eyesores but this particular
blot on the landscape carried with it an unexpected lesson for me. A lesson
that may be lost when that same slice of prime real estate becomes a co-op
to warehouse Astoria's sudden influx of yuppies. My humble neighborhood,
it seems, is officially hip. The same crowd that discovered Williamsburg
and Park Slope in Brooklyn has finally become aware of Astoria. So, what
do they do? Move in and ruin everything, of course.
There are hipsters everywhere. I haven't seen this much chin fuzz since I almost moved to Santa Cruz (I was gonna make a far funnier, yet sexually crude joke there, but chose discretion over pallor). Starbuck's, one-bedroom apartments going for $1700 a month, yoga classes, a community garden--I tried to ignore all the warning signs of encroaching hipness until one signal came through loud and clear.
Recently, while strolling home, I came across a group of film students shooting in Astoria. If those Jarmusch wannabes gathered the courage to venture outside of Washington Square Park, I am now willing to accept reality: Astoria is hip. So hip that my wife, Michele, wants me to get a t-shirt made up that reads "Born in Astoria," so no one mistakes my shaved head as a feeble attempt at modish credentials.
But, I digress. Let me explain about Eagle Electric.
I pass this yellowish-tan factory whenever I walk or bike to Astoria Park, a green urban sanctuary on the banks of the mighty East River (which is not really a river, but a estuary of the Long Island Sound, but don't get me started). I commence my trek by hiking past one of Astoria's abundant laundromats where I catch a fleeting glimpse of a television blaring a tabloid show featuring a woman with a split-personality who'd been arrested for stalking herself.
Alas, sanctuary calls habitually in Queens.
Up and down my block (an just about every block), I encounter squadrons of drivers seated angrily in idling cars; the resulting fumes threaten to turn my lungs into a prospective SuperFund site as the collective aura of the car-owners introduces a more insidious form of toxicity to the mix. For the uninitiated, Astoria lies smack dab in the middle of a high volume area that bears the burden of the merciless "alternate side of the street" complex. New York City, in its infinite wisdom, has a street-cleaning system that
forces its residents to park on a certain side of a certain street at a certain time or they are ticketed. The ostensible reason for this sadistic set of parking rules is to leave room for the street cleaners of the Sanitation Department.
Now, many of us could probably stomach this totalitarian salvo if the streets were ever actually clean. But, being that the Big Apple's cement carpet is just a shade above Calcutta in the hygiene department, it's even more inexorable to put hard-working plebeians in the position of fighting for a parking spot in an overcrowded, uncaring city (even if those plebeians were thoughtless enough to purchase a car).
A spot on the right side is a rare and valuable commodity in Astoria but, fortunately, the last time I had to concern myself with this conundrum, there were still five Spice Girls. You see, Michele and I no longer own a gas-guzzling, money-eating, pedestrian-threatening, bike lane-hogging, greenhouse gas-emitting, eco-system destroying vehicle.
This is a fine point to ponder our evolution. Our bodies did not evolve for millions of years to ingest exhaust fumes. Our respiratory system has been around for a while; the internal combustion engine is a relatively recent mistake and we've only just begun paying for it. Every seven seconds, an American is diagnosed with cancer. Some call it coincidence.
Another activity we did not evolve to engage in is riding in a car. We are walkers and runners and climbers. Our chemistry is in tune with the forces of gravity. Driving in a car (or riding in a plane, boat, train, or on a roller coaster, for that matter) is alien to our equilibrium. Sure, our amazingly adaptive physiology makes adjustments, but where do you think motion sickness or jet lag or Adam Sandler movies come from?
The delicate ballet performed by our retina and our inner ear is shattered by the conflicting messages:
-- The inner ear senses motion.
-- The retina looks at the stationery interior of the moving vehicle and tells your brain to ignore the inner ear, you're staying put.
-- Voila! You're puking up your breakfast which, if you indulge in the standard American diet, might be the best move you'll make all day.
Again, I digress. I'll return to my sojourn.
Upon reaching Astoria Boulevard, a swarming thoroughfare bordering
the (not-so) Grand Central Parkway, I must brave air that now approaches chewable. With commercial traffic barred from the highway, smoke-billowing tractor-trailers take to the city streets on their way to the copious cancer-causing plants on Long Island and the ensuing exhaust clouds could probably floor a computer-generated mutant lizard in full stride. Dodging the toxic clouds and flesh-burning souvlaki stands that dot the cookie-cutter landscape, I near my destination--but not before encountering the aforementioned Eagle Electric plant. Its motto: "Perfection is not an Accident" emblazoned in ten-foot-tall letters‹mocks its now-dormant status.
It is here that I am wont to contemplate a post-human planet Earth.
When the factory was silenced, its small square windows became an
alluring target for rock-wielding youths with good enough aim to knock out the glass roughly forty feet up (a favorite sport of mine, many years ago). Now, however, with not enough squares left to justify the hooligans' efforts, it is nature that steps up to take to the plate. Each of these glassless cubbyholes (about 8" x 8") is now home to a nest proudly guarded by a pair of chirping parents (usually starlings or sparrows). For these birds, this structure is merely part of the landscape‹not unlike a small mountain or immense tree; and thus a logical candidate for a co-operative form of feathered dwelling. A reminder, indeed, that when we humans have finally succeeded in exterminating ourselves, the world will not "end," there just won't be any more people with lawn mowers (each a suburban Sisyphus) to impede nature's tide.
On the subject of impeding nature's tide, this is where those co-ops fit in rather snugly. Sure, they'll break ground with much hoopla and sell apartments like proverbial hotcakes, but even this file cabinet for dot-commers will eventually face its own mortality and one day, the birds will return.
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