That would be the headline I’d use if writing about my street’s block party for The New York Post. If I were writing about the block party for Teen People Magazine, I’d probably go with something like BLOCK PARTIES ROCK! or BLOCK PARTY HEARTS ADAM BRODY. I don’t know, really. Teen People Magazine doesn’t cover the block party beat very thoroughly. In any case, last weekend was my street’s annual block party, and it did not disappoint in either the block or party departments. There were balloons.
There was also barbecued chicken and people eating weed brownies and a Brazilian man trying vainly to teach kids how about rhythmic percussion. My building was the main attraction for most of the afternoon, for reasons very closely associated with the aforementioned Brazilian and his large collection of drums and cymbals, which he seemed willing to share with any able-bodied child on the block. It was fun watching the musician teach his makeshift percussion orchestra. He would patiently tap out a beat on his large drum, then get small sections of kids to respond in kind. Once a beat was perfected by that group, he’d bang another beat, and a new section of kids would mimic it. He did this again and again, making sure each small part sounded great, as he slowly built his four-part rhythm. Then he would shout a four-count and all four parts to join in at once, creating possibly the most horrible, rhythmless car crash you could ever hope to hear. For hours. Right beneath my window. A window that separated the drum terrorism from me and my laptop, which I was using to meet a very urgent writing deadline.
Eventually, I allowed myself a break to join the party I’d been anticipating all summer. I was greeted by my upstairs neighbor, Daveâ€”a very nice guy who shakes my hand a lot. That probably seems like a strange thing to call attention to. I could have said, “my upstairs neighbor, “Daveâ€”he’s very tall, and I sometimes regard him as my physical protector,” or “Daveâ€”he looks like Heavy D a year or two before the news of his heaviness became officially announced.” But Dave really does shake my hand a lot. Sometimes he’ll shake my hand hello and goodbye in the same 30-second exchange, then he’ll remember something else and, after he’s told me, he’ll shake my hand a third time. He also mixes up his handshake styles enough to keep me guessing, and to keep me feeling very awkward. Hard, lingering soulful grip? Fist bump? Quick slap? I usually just extend my fist and allow it to hang in the air while Dave has his way with it.
Dave worked the grill, which had been dragged from our building’s yard out to the fenced-in area where we leave our trash. For the day, our trash cage was our party cage, and our party cage was block party central. Everyone showed up to bang drums and scoop pasta salad like a motherfucker. In addition to the grill, Dave and his wife set up a table covered with food and plates and cups and such. (literally coveredâ€”moving one thing required moving several others and you had to approach the table like a game of Jenga, with perishables.) Hot dogs and hamburgers were grilled, as was something else because the barbecue tongs were caked with some kind of unidentified, chipped and barbecued meat that made for a very awkward experience when trying to move Lisa’s veggie dogs around the grill. But we didn’t complain, since we both felt like complaining was for self-entitled gentrifiers; real neighbors shut up because they know a little bit of animal flesh hitching a ride on a soy dog isn’t enough to rattle one’s party cage.
Our block association got the usual permission to pop open a fire hydrant, and children frolicked in the cool water as a sidewalk DJ blasted “Slap Some D’s On That Bitch” loud enough for Jesus to have second thoughts. But other than a DJ set, some Brazilian instruments, and those pot brownies everyone was whispering about, the block party was relaxed and slow, and friendly. It didn’t compare to the party a block over, which Lisa and I visited the previous weekend. They had a full day scheduled, including a talent show, chalk drawings, and a double-dutch contest. Lisa and I caught the last half of an exciting musical chairs competition, set up in the middle of the street. Instead of a wobbly record player borrowed from the school’s AV department, they had a stereo system with massive cabinet speakers, an XLR mic input, and a live MC officiating the event while performing musical cues on a thunderous hyphy hip-hop soundtrack. (At one point, the MC announced that he “had to” play the same song for a second round of musical chairs because “that song was just too damn hype.”) When a young teenaged girl won the competition, everyone went bananas, jumping up and down and screaming and hugging. And the MC declared, as loud as history, “We have a new champion in the Leffert’s Avenue Block Association 2007 Musical Chairs Competition!!!!”
People often measure how long you need to live in NYC to be a “real” New Yorker. It’s a dumb game, because the answer is invariably “exactly as long as I’ve been here, and much longer than you’ve been here.” I find it’s very trivial stuff, not unlike the way toddlers proudly add fractions to their age to magnify their life experienceâ€”and as with those toddlers, the exercise is unintentionally funny. The whole discussion of experience as measured by time is moot to me anyway, because if you’re in the right place at the right time, you only have to live in New York for five excellent minutesâ€”just long enough to catch the thrilling end of the 2007 musical chairs competitionâ€”to feel like you’ve been here all your life.