By the time I got off work, I didn’t really want to go out anymore. Brunch wasn’t hard by any means, but it was brunch and that was enough. It’d been a while since I’d seen Ron, though, and even longer since I’d seen Danielle, so I decided to rally for the night. He said we’d be going to some kind of art/music/poetry/bar/whatever place called Hoover Damage. That sounded intriguing enough. The couple hours of downtime had restored my energy to the point that I even jogged to the bus stop for fun, but by 9 o’clock I was seemingly stranded due to a misread schedule. For a few minutes I seriously considered cancelling and going back to enjoy a quiet night in, but my adventurous side got the best of me. Thinking it wouldn’t be that bad of a ride, I called a car and was soon being driven northward toward Greenpoint.
The driver wasn’t familiar with the cross streets so I brought up directions on my phone, which he promptly ignored. After an unnecessarily circuitous route we ended up at what appeared to be a dead end in an industrial park. I directed him to turn down a side street where we bumped over unpaved roads without a soul in sight underneath the BQE. Were this a horror movie, someone would’ve died shortly after. All I could find at the supposed address was a bunch of warehouses across from an oil tank farm. Hearing from Danielle that they were almost there, and not wanting to rack up further charges, I decided to get out and wait. He charged me $17 for what should’ve been a $10 ride — likely because it was so remote — essentially depleting my on-hand cash. Already, though, it was a lot more interesting than staying at home.
While waiting for them to arrive, I noticed a couple hipster types come out of a door next to some slumped trash cans. On closer inspection, the door was painted yellow and red, with the word “SLAM” spelled vertically down it. Posted in the middle of it was a small sheet advertising none other than Hoover Damage. I looked up to see that the top floor windows were lit and began to hear the muffled sounds of microphone chatter. Once Ron and Danielle got there they seemed skeptical, but I gamely ventured up the stairs. We’d already come this far. At the top, a velvet rope blocked off the entrance and a young guy lazily asked for a $5 cover charge.
With all of us equally cashless I realized that we’d have no money for drinks once inside and asked him if they had an ATM. The question was apparently a perplexing one, because he barely knew what to say. During our ATM search there seemed to be an unspoken question of whether we should actually return, but my curiosity had only been piqued further. A little ways back into the neighborhood we found a gas station ATM to replenish our wallets and ventured back. At the very least it was nice to have some time to catch up without music blaring in the background. Back up the stairs we were greeted by a different kid, paid our fee and walked into a large loft space half-full with people. To the right, an elevated stage was filled with various equipment, and to the left, a makeshift bar had been set up. Near the bar there was another door which appeared to lead outside and to an endlessly confusing line for the bathrooms.
Intent on getting the party started, I ventured up to the bar, which also seemed to double as someone’s kitchen. Behind the bar was the typical scene of Brooklyn loft living — ancient fridge, overflowing sink, grease-streaked stove and haphazardly stocked cabinets. Numerous young girls staffed the operation, with menus taped to the counter top. For $2 you could get a Coors, and for $3, a variety of Coronas, a Whiskey Sour, a margarita or a shot. It’d been a long time since I’d had a Whiskey Sour and this one reminded me why. Granted, it was served lukewarm in a miniature Styrofoam cup, but the mix was a little too syrupy for my taste. Beer would certainly be the next step.
Since it appeared they were between bands, we went out to explore the roof and weren’t disappointed. As it was the roof of a warehouse, space was in large supply and it appeared that there were a number of neighboring perches to be explored. Aside from one guy running a grill, there was minimal activity. Everyone was content to mingle or lounge on the assortment of broken chairs and old furniture. On numerous occasions, guys walked past us to go piss in the back corners as if we were out in the woods, and it’d begun to feel like we were.
The three of us tried to remember if we’d ever been to anything like this and couldn’t quite place it. Sure the old MIT frat in Boston I went to was pretty cool and those house parties Ron and Danielle went to in Seattle were great (because apparently everything in Seattle was), but they weren’t quite like this. Hoover Damage, whatever the hell it was, had somehow cultivated an environment with the ease of a backyard barbecue and the hint of exclusivity sought by a club. Off in the distance, only obscured by a couple bill-boards, the BQE thrummed with weekend activity and the Manhattan skyline shone above it. It was the kind of image that feels about as real as the Grand Canyon — one that just looks like it’s painted on a piece of cloth. Nearby a trio of girls (one of them a bartender) were nervously practicing some type of coordinated dances together.
Curious about what else this place had to offer, we decided to go check out some music. On the way in, I asked the grill man about his wares and learned that hot dogs were $1 and Boca Burgers were $2, but they’d run out of hamburger buns. Back at the bar, the bleak stocking situation felt more like a party than a bar, but in an endearing way. Before taking a sip of my PBR, I sampled a free chunk of pastry from a large plate because I’m nearly incapable of saying no to baked goods. Not as dry as a scone but not soft enough to be cake, it was enjoyable nonetheless. Onstage a band was wrapping up their set underneath a blocky wraparound mural of the Manhattan skyline. Other décor choices included a stationary disco ball and numerous computer-printed signs with various phrases.
Thankfully Danielle’s eyesight was better than mine and she pointed out the best signs. They ranged from the hilarious, “Those drunk bitchy texts you sent last night probably didn’t help,” to the suggestive, “No exchanging glances,” to the nonsensical, “No knobthievery.” Someone must have felt pretty clever that afternoon. Once the band died down I went out to buy a $1 dog. After chatting with the grill man I learned that Hoover Damage was a collective of sorts and this was just one of the spaces they used. His story of small staff but promising growth sounded quite familiar, but I refrained from busting out a business card. Better to survey undetected. Based on tonight’s turnout he hoped to have more events in this location during the summer, and I heartily encouraged the idea.
Back inside, a dance track had come on to fill the gap. In the middle of the floor, the same three girls began dancing vigorously and everyone spread around them to watch. Soon another five or more jumped in and started executing some clearly choreographed moves in loose unison. The song itself could’ve been anything, but watching them glide and dance-punch was the most fun I’d had in a while. Judging from the looks of my fellow patrons, they felt the same. Everyone from the middle-aged African taxi driver guy to the weathered Asian mistress in her electric blue dress seemed to be having a good time. The rest of the crowd was as nondescript as us, or perhaps we’d become like them. It didn’t seem to matter.
After a while of watching a new band play off to the side and taking turns going to the bathroom, we found the direction to have fizzled. Their neon blue light accessories were pretty great, but not enough to make up for Danielle’s dislike of the bathrooms. They looked no different than those of my time living with boys over the years, if not a little more heavily trafficked, but I could understand her feelings on the matter. No one ever feels that comfortable amid the neglected grimy film of someone else’s daily functions. I used to tolerate it in my own apartments and that of my friends over the years, but somehow it felt like a museum exhibit rather than a person’s house. The placard would read: “This is how a tribe of young, white disaffectives lived in the Greenpoint region of New York.”
Despite the calmness of another rooftop retreat, Danielle and Ron decided to head out. I knew I should probably follow suit and end on a high note, but somehow it seemed wrong to leave so soon. Sure I’d already witnessed a dance-punching flashmob but what if there was another one? I vowed to stay, not just out of curiosity but out of a responsibility to my youth. Back inside I ordered more beer, listened to some music and even danced for a few minutes. Nearby, someone told their friend, “I don’t know anybody but I’m gonna dance,” and I smiled knowingly. I’d been to my share of solo concerts over the years but had forgotten the closely held pleasure of anonymity.
Driven with new energy, I took my beer outside and climbed to an adjacent roof. Nobody seemed to notice, and if they did they certainly didn’t care. Walking all the way down past the billboards I looked up at the looming BQE, somehow much bigger now than out my office window. I called Swoboda out of party-going habit — a drunk dial of nostalgia. We talked briefly but there was only so much to say. Yes, that’s right only Boca burgers. Yes, I would be writing a piece on it. With what I’d seen so far, how could I not? Making my way up a wooden ladder to the tallest of all roofs I called Jeff out in California. He was at an equally weird barbecue with his buddy’s fellow Starbucks employees, so we kept it brief. It was only 12:30 or so, but already my practicality was kicking in. It’d probably take at least an hour to get home and Katie would be out of work soon. My youth had been indulged for an extra hour but it was time to venture back into civilization.
No one paid any mind to my thump down from the roof. No one was in line for the more worn out of the two bathrooms. The stage promised more bands to come, but the crowd was ebbing now. A full-figured older woman in sunglasses and mom jeans danced encouragingly. Of the six young lads up on stage (plus a scantily clad tambourine player) one was likely her son. I wondered if my own parents would’ve come to an industrial park warehouse at 12:30 to see me play a show, then realized I never would’ve asked them to do such a thing. Had I remembered my Realcity stickers I would’ve plastered a few around on the way out, but instead my presence went unnoticed.
Trudging back up the pockmarked road in search of the subway, I resolved to return here. Last time I came as a gawky tourist, looking cautiously down the alleyways. Next time I’d be the guy who knew what was up and had walked these piss-soaked riverside streets before. I would lead us in past the sleeping truck fleets and hastily stacked piles of pallets, underneath the BQE’s overpowering wash of sound. I’d bring stickers galore and hand out business cards with purpose. Just like us, Hoover Damage had established an outpost in the wilderness with the city in their sights. If they couldn’t provide us with a partnership, they’d at least have this escape where we could go and enjoy the familiar feeling of slow-burning progress.