"I'm gonna go take a piss. When I come back, I'm gonna start shooting people." From behind the bar of what I thought was the coolest dive in all of Queens, I overheard some angry, bitter, half drunk, working class guy in his early 30s, stammer those words before taking a few awkward steps towards the unisex bathroom.
The angry guy, who looked like an "Al" to me, was addressing a pair of hipsters. In fact, everyone there minus me and "Al" was a hipster. Post college Upper Midwesterners (Wisconsin mostly) who emigrated to Astoria, Queens after pricing themselves out of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and before that, Manhattan. Despite being a native New Yorker and having met people from every corner of Latin America, Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Far East, I had never met any kind of Midwesterners, let alone Upper Midwesterners, until they started crossing the East River.
I liked them. Their liberal politics. Their eclectic music tastes. Their dry wit. Being that I'm incapable of waking up before noon, I also enjoyed tending bar. Something which was never a possibility in any of the old school neighborhood pubs due to the fact that I wasn't born in the same exact rural, Irish town that every other Astoria bartender seems to come from.
Then, while stepping towards "Al" to see if he needed to be shown the exit, I heard an unforgettable sound. Rather than react to "Al's" threats with a slight look of fear, menacing words of their own, or even something physical, the slightly younger pair just shared a condescendingly smug chuckle. Not a loud one by any means. Far from it. It could have easily been lost to the much louder alcohol fueled cackles coming from other parts of the popular drinking hole. Still, it pierced my eardrums. As "Al" huffed off to the bathroom, I continued to eaves drop on the two hipsters as they exchanged banter (in dry, fashionably dead pan voices) about how often "Al" must beat his wife. After a few more ha-ha's, they later made a bet on who would be the first to write a screenplay featuring "Al's" line.
Never having seen "Al" before, or since for that matter, I had no idea why he was so hostile. But, suddenly I realized why I was.
I wasn't working at the coolest dive in all of Queens. I was working at a safe house. A safe house for the shock troops who would begin Astoria's (once a working class neighborhood first made famous by "Archie Bunker" of All in the Family) transformation into a Williamsburg-North.
Ironically, I was born in Williamsburg years before anyone started calling it Bill's-Burg. I remember the drug dealers, burnt out lots, open fire hydrants, decrepit waterfront, and abandoned warehouses. Initially, I was ecstatic to see that old hood reshaped into a cool nabe. But suddenly, after this one brief exchange, one almost certainly started by "Al," I realized that I preferred abandoned warehouses to converted lofts. Lofts which I, or others who looked like "Al" would never be able to afford. While the DJ was spinning some obscure Nick Cave track, I realized that I'd rather be singing along to Brown Sugar at one of the local Irish pubs.
I also realized that I would beat these hipsters in using "Al's" line in a script. Writing that screenplay came easy enough. But actually making a movie out if it was, in a final twist of irony, only made possible thanks to my artistic D.P., Peter Olsen; my effervescent female lead, Emily Alpren; and my hard rocking original music composer, Tyler Jakes. All extremely talented, good people. All proud natives of the Upper Midwest.*