“It’s gonna hafta be a city-wide rent strike man. That’s what it looks like. Bloomberg puttin’ the rent up. People can’t pay,” explains Marvin Edgerton, 44, of Crown Heights, three days after the Rent Guidelines Board voted in favor of the largest rent increase since 1989 for the city’s rent-stabilized apartments. “I might hafta raise my prices,” he explains, pointing to the shopping cart lined with a garbage bag filled with ice cold water, which Mr. Edgerton is pushing along the pier at Coney Island. “I been sellin’ water at one dollar for seven years out here. I might hafta put it up man. Make it two dollars. But people need water. I’m not tryin’a have people dehydrated. But that’s what its comin’ down to.”
“Everybody’s leavin’ New York,” says Mr. Edgerton. “You can’t stay. That’s why I gotta give thanks. I gotta give thanks on still bein’ here. My aunt just took twelve thousand dollars from her landlord to vacate the premises. She was in that apartment 28 years. Now she moved to the Poconos. You ever been to the Poconos man? It’s all black people now. Everybody up there’s all from the Bronx and Brooklyn. Everybody born in New York’s gotta leave. That’s the new rule. You go to the Poconos, then Bloomberg replaces you with somebody else. That’s why they fired Willie Randolph. Bloomberg heard he was from New York, an’ he said this dude’s gotta go. A lotta people don’t know that. But that’s originally true. See Bloomberg started by closin’down Tilden High School a few years ago. That’s where Willie Randolph graduated from. Broke his heart. His spirit. Willie was never the same after that. The Mets started losin’. And you know the rest. I heard they got Randolph up in the Poconos right now. He coachin’ little league. His team’s in second place but they might make a run. That’s how it is though man. Everybody’s just takin’ buyouts from the landlord, then they go somewhere else. Head for the Poconos. Or maybe go buy a boat and go live out in the Atlantic Ocean. But they’ll get you there too. The boat guidelines board man. They raisin’ the price on boats. That’s why it’s gotta be a rent strike. That or two-dollar water. And we can’t have two dollar water.”
“ONE DOLLAR! COLD WATER!” Mr. Edgerton shouts as he pushes his cart on up the pier.
Marvin Edgerton is not alone in his dissatisfaction with the rising cost of rent in Mike Bloomberg’s New York. “It’s a goddamn emergency,” offers Efrain Irizzary, 34, of Bushwick, who is selling T-shirts out on the beach. “That’s why I got these T-shirts. ‘No Third Term.’ And then you got his picture right here. See that’s on the front. And on the back it says ‘Basta Con Miguelito.’ But see we couldn’t use his name. That’s a copyrighted trademark. Bloomberg. You know what I’m sayin.’ That man loves his own name. He named his company Bloomberg. He wrote a book an’ he called that shit Bloomberg on Bloomberg. You gotta pay eleven cents every time you say his name. That’s for real cousin. They take it right outta your paycheck. It’s a lotta people that don’t even look closely at they paychecks. And they getting’ hit on the Bloomberg fees. That’s why I work off the books. I gotta work off the books, ’cause I’m sayin’ his name all day long. Fuck Mike Bloomberg! That’s what I’m sayin.’ I call 911 every day. Sometimes twice a day. It’s always the same thing. The operator, she’s like ‘oh, well, sir, I’m sorry but this number is only for emergencies,’ and I’m like ‘that’s what I’m tellin’ you lady. It’s a goddamn emergency out here right now.’
“You know what I’m sayin’?” continues Mr. Irizzary. “They closed Empire Roller Rink. They closed the Roxy. They closed Bedford Bowl. It’s a war on memories. Man, they bulldozed the batting cages and the go-carts right here at Coney Island. You could go see it cha self man. It looks like they dropped a nuclear bomb on those batting cages. What’s the kids gonna do now, huh? Go to Starbucks? Drink coffee? C’mon man. You can’t have a buncha hyper ass kids. Don’t know howta play baseball. Don’t know howta roller skate. That’s an emergency. And I’m callin’ Bloomberg’s name. We waitin’ for that clown to retire. He’s sniffin’ all around about a third. They sayin’ he wants to be Governor, he wants to be Vice-President or whatever. Maaan, we just watin’ for him to retire. You know what I’m sayin’ kid? Somebody get that man a plane ticket to Florida. He needs to g’head and find the golf course. That’s why we all about these T-shirts right here. No Third Term. We know all about Bloomberg. It’s one million people in jail in this country, kid. You know how they got there? Back in 2004. When it was the Republican convention. He was lockin’ people up left and right on some fake Red Alert. He thinks everybody forgot. But we didn’t forget. Back when it was cool to roll wit’ Bush, Bloomberg was singin’ that Red Alert song all day kid. That’s why we wit’ these T-shirts right here. Basta Con Miguelito. Just twenty bucks. I’ll hook you up for twelve though man. That’s a ten and two singles. Strictly off the books though kid. I don’t trust these banks. You saw how they did each other. One bank gobbled up the other. Citibank and the other one. That was foul. Straight bank robbery. But these bandits know how it all works. They got the blueprints to the banks. That’s why I’m off the books. I’ll be out here with these T-shirts all summer.”
As Mr. Irizarry and Mr. Edgerton sell their products on the beach, many thousands have gathered just a few blocks away to celebrate the Mermaid Parade, and fears and doubts about the remaking of Coney Island in the name of progress and development seem to be floating in the air. Reverend Bill Talen of the Church of Stop Shopping, this year’s honorary Mermaid King, is on a mission to see the character of Coney Island preserved intact. Says Rev. Billy, “We’ve been on our knees beggin’ for mercy from the forces of overdevelopment. They want to turn Coney Island into a shopping mall for tourists. They are determined to stamp out every last bit of originality in this city. Everyday we are seeing beloved institutions closing down and public spaces privatized, while reverence and respect for the past gives way to the logic of maximum profit. We haven’t seen people getting pushed around like this in the real estate market since the Dutch bought Manhattan from the Indians for a song. They want us on our knees. But we’ve still got a few surprises left for ’em. They’re trying to buy and sell this city to death, but we’re determined to celebrate it back into existence.”
One week later, another closing of a historic location is underway. Saturday night, June 28—the old and young are gathered together at 353 Flatbush Avenue to share their final drinks at Mooney’s Pub. “I can’t believe they’re closing,” says Brian Collier, 38, a writer, of Park Slope. “This was the first place I ever had a beer in Brooklyn. Fourteen years ago. They give free sandwiches at the Super Bowl in this bar. Can you believe that? Free sandwiches. On a day when everybody else is charging extra, they give free sandwiches. But they can’t handle the rent I guess. Progress right? I’ll probably move this summer too. Go to Queens maybe. I heard it’s a lot cheaper over there. But wherever the cheap-rent white people go, the luxury condo people follow right behind them. Ya know? I’ll move to a new neighborhood. Chase some people out. And six or seven years later somebody’ll chase me out. Wherever the backyard-weed-smoking-white-people go, the cocaine-in-the-bathroom-stall-white-people are right on their tail. Progress man. All in the name of progress.”
Architect Nigel Okoye, 36, of East Flatbush, is not surprised at the closing of Mooney’s. “This is something that is happening everywhere in New York,” explains Mr. Okoye, a founding member of COSA, the Coalition of Subversive Architects. “The need to constantly build in this city is a basic expression of capitalism. The built environment absorbs surplus in an attempt to avert crisis. And the result is a tyrannical architecture. Common rights give way to the rights of private capital. But that’s nothing new. We just happen to be in a period of accelerated building. Old structures are un-built. More profitable structures are put in their place. Look at all that park space in the Bronx that they got rid of to build the new Yankee Stadium. People have common rights to those spaces. Long-standing rights. But those rights give way quickly when the potential exists for more profit. What’s wrong with the old Yankee Stadium? Absolutely nothing. In fact, the new stadium is going to be smaller. Less people will get to go the games. But they’ll be able to make more money with more luxury boxes. That’s an amazing thing. They’re making themselves clear. The purpose is not to show you baseball—it’s to charge you money. Meanwhile, the Yankees organization, Major League Baseball, the New York Post, The Daily News, and all sorts of people are capitalizing on the nostalgia for the old stadium. ‘Come to the stadium, be a part of history. Buy this or that piece of memorabilia.’ All that foolishness. That’s incredible man. They’re sellin’ you your memories back. They’re asking you to hand over your money out of respect for history, while they reject history, and build a new stadium across the street.”
“Look at the Catholic Church right now. They have literally un-built structures that they themselves had proclaimed to be sacred. Some of them almost a hundred years old. Rather than maintain a half-empty church, they’d rather sell the land underneath it. In Iraq, when they blow up a mosque, a whole heap a people gotta get killed. But in Bloomberg’s New York, dismantling a church seems as natural as ever. Last year in East Harlem, a number of old ladies occupied a church to keep it from closing. But eventually they had to leave, ’cause they had to go to the bathroom, and they weren’t ready to piss on the floor inside the church where they baptized their children. See, something as unquantifiable as religious beliefs are no match for the New York City real estate game. Right down the street from here, this guy Ratner had big plans to block out the sun. We’ll see what happens. But that’s no joke, blockin’ out somebody’s sun. That’s the life-sustaining force. Can they block your access to water too? These people’ll tell you that it’s not a big deal. You know? The sun is not as important as it used to be. That’s what’s goin’ on in this city. Forget everything you ever remembered man, ’cause the sun is not as important as it used to be,” concludes Mr. Okoye, as he lifts his glass to focus on his pint of beer.
Throughout the bar people are taking pictures and saying farewell. Kevin Mullins, 62, of Bay Ridge has come to celebrate one last night at one of his favorite bars. “You look young, eh,” Mullins tells me. “If you’re still here in ten years, you tell the new people that come around that Mooney’s Pub used to be right on this block. At 353 Flatbush Avenue, eh,” offers Mr. Mullins, before he turns around to join in with his friends who are singing an Irish song. Out on the sidewalk the disoriented and the drunk seem unsure which city they are in. But they will wake up to find that they are in the city of progress, where every night is the last night, and every minute is last call.
So when you’re payin’ top price to buy back your memories, and you feel like a victim in the war on fun, just remember the man who loves his own name. He bought an election, he locked you up on a Red Alert, and he’s the guy that’s been blockin’ out the sun. We haven’t seen so much hustle since the Dutch bought Manhattan Island from the Indians for a song. So go ahead and occupy your favorite building. We’ll be out on the beach at Coney Island sellin’ “No Third Term” T-shirts all summer long. We’ve been down on our knees beggin’ for mercy from the steel and the glass, and from these bandits with the blueprints to the banks. Soon the citywide rent strike, then Bloomberg finds the golf course, and we’ll go down on our knees to give thanks. Call up 911, get Miguelito on the phone, and put a little somethin’ in his ear. Tell him Empire Roller rink is closed and there won’t be any free sandwiches at the Super Bowl next year. Tell him how the cheap-rent white people sang the old songs and cried in their beer. Tell him about 353 Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. Mooney’s Pub was once here.