By Jay Fox
Brooklyn, NY, USA
Perhaps the immobility of the things that surround us is forced upon them by our conviction that they are themselves and not anything else, by the immobility of our conception of them — Marcel Proust
The first time I went to Freddy’s (627 5th Avenue, Brooklyn) was a long time ago, back when the idea of building a massive sports/condo complex in the middle of Brooklyn was a controversial idea as opposed to a reality. The bar was at the corner of Dean and 6th Avenue. It was a weirdo bar, where the televisions played bizarre montages that looked like Atomic Cafe on mescaline, while the logic of the music selection was far too murky to follow; where you could walk in, see two drunk geeks arguing about the virtues of Ghost World at the bar and a group of lesbians arm wrestling at a nearby table; where the acts in the small venue in the back could be anything from a Hawaiian jazz trio covering Freddy Hubbard to a hillbilly jamboree. Sure it was a local bar, but the locals were strange enough to not concern themselves with visitors who didn’t fit in because no one really fit in.
That was Freddy’s. Unfortunately, that Freddy’s had to go when the Atlantic Yards project became a reality, and the entire area was bulldozed to make way for the new arena (and plenty of condos, naturally). Freddy’s eventually relocated on 5th Avenue just south of the Prospect Expressway. While it’s a fitting area for the new bar, which is now roughly over a year old, the original Freddy’s will always shadow any success the bar may have. So it goes whenever the present must battle nostalgia.
The first time I went into the new Freddy’s was last May. The first of May, to be more precise. My girlfriend and I had just finished getting our new apartment in order, we had eaten, and we had decided to stop in to get a drink. Like old times, the bar was a comforting mix of fairly normal people and a few geeks who were arguing about films enjoyed only by true film dorks. The televisions playing the quirky montages were gone (they were at the time, anyhow), and the music selection seemed fairly normal for a Brooklyn bar with a fairly young crowd. We talked to a guy watching the Red Wings game for a little while, who, oddly enough, turned out to have grown up a few miles from my parents’ house, who happened to know a lot of my brother’s friends, and who, less than a year later, would book my band to open for his band at one of those signless clubs for which Williamsburg is so infamous. (His drummer suffered an injury slightly before the show, and we ended up playing a Sunday night show to a raucous room of twelve.)
We didn’t speak to him for too long. He wanted to actually hear the game, so he left to go to South, the bar next door. Meanwhile, I wanted to smoke in the backyard. It was a nice enough night that Josephine and I weren’t freezing as we sat outside talking about all of the stuff that we wanted to do to the apartment and our backyard that we still haven’t done. Like our idea to open a restaurant dedicated to dessert sausages or a series of bed and breakfasts along I-80 in central Pennsylvania, it was more about enjoying one another’s imagination than anything seriously productive.
Like most places in Brooklyn, we were told that we had to come inside around eleven, which we did without incident. I took our empty pint glasses to the bar while she went to the restroom under the assumption that I would not be getting another round. The bar had cleared out even more by this point, since it was a Sunday, and the only two or three people who had been interested in the Wings game had by that point taken off. The televisions were on mute, but the station had been turned to CNN. I asked the bartender what was going on. He pointed to the television. The ticker at the bottom spoke of a very important message to come, one from the Obama administration that concerned rumors of Osama bin Laden’s assassination. I motioned to the television when Josephine returned to the bar looking perplexed as to why I had two full pints of beer in front of me.
Though everyone in America over a certain age will remember exactly what they were doing when they found out about the attacks that occurred on 9-11, even New Yorkers who had only been in the city for two weeks, as had I, lived through the event in a way that others throughout the country did not. I didn’t just see and hear the carnage—I smelled it, too. It’s one of the things that people who weren’t here tend to find weird, that the smell has proven to be so indelible. However, like some perverse, olfactory madeleine, the scent of a burning building will always have the ability to take me back to those weeks when the city choked under the cloud of debris left in the wake of the attack. It will always transport me right back to those initial feelings of panic and despair.
Suffice to say, the event represented a rather stark break from my life prior to that time. In fact, it did for the nation as a whole. Things were never going to be the same, we were constantly told. The PATRIOT Act followed, two wars followed, a second Bush term followed. The biggest scandal I had followed while living with my parents concerned an off-smelling cigar; the biggest scandals I followed while living in New York have concerned torture, the humiliation of prisoners, the aftermath of Katrina and the consequences of having a financial system that rewards making risky decisions, even when these decisions turn out to be wrong.
As the President solemnly told the nation about what had recently transpired in Pakistan, I got to thinking. Maybe this would finally bring about some closure to the War on Terror. Maybe the jingoism that has characterized the Republican Party since the start of this war would begin to wane. Maybe this represented some kind of calming period for myself, as I settled into a new apartment with a girlfriend for the first time. Maybe Freddy’s would become a quiet, cocktail bar that specializes in drinks that contain muddled herbs and fine liqueurs made from fruit you’ve never heard of and prepared in places that haven’t existed on any map for a millennium (“You’ll really taste the arrièreberries in this Merovingian cordial; Saint Gregory of Tours is said to have invented it”).
A few minutes after the President wrapped up his statements about the death of one of the most infamous men in the West, but before I had received a message from a paranoid friend from Toledo who had texted me something along the lines of “You’re not supposed to kill Goldstein”, television crews began to descend upon the front gates of the White House.
A celebration was beginning.
I looked to Josephine. Josephine looked to me.
“Feel like another round?”
Photo of Jay Fox by Ashley Sears