Sunday I went to my friend Laurie’s apartment to paint some walls for her, and she lives on the other side of Williamsburg, on Union Avenue. I took the L train there and when I exited the train the first thing I saw was the Kellogg’s Diner, a place I haven’t seen in many years.
When I was in my early 20’s I ate many a late dinner (or early breakfast) there after marathon poker games while I was at Pratt. We would go there usually after 4AM and the winner would treat. It’s always been a 24-hour place, and at 4AM in those days the place was filled with cops, prostitutes, and drug dealers, the denizens of the night. Oh, and us, the gamblers and club goers.
Of course if I went to a club the night before it was always in Manhattan, so Ratner’s was a better bet for breakfast; Kellogg’s was if you stayed home in Brooklyn and played poker. I can only imagine the new Brooklyn club kids saying, “let’s go to Kellogg’s” after a night of hard partying on Wyeth Avenue nowadays.
On my way to Laurie’s I passed the now defunct Dumont on Union Avenue. There were three Dumont’s; this one, the original on Broadway, and one sandwiched in between that I actually went to once. It was great, wonderful burgers and atmosphere in a loft building somewhere on Hope Street, I don’t remember exactly where.
The Dumont story is a sad one; the owner got into debt, then into money laundering, and committed suicide a couple of years ago.
Walking down Union Avenue I was amazed at all of the brand-new buildings, all glass and steel and concrete, a sharp contrast to the remaining wood frame aluminum-sided buildings that are the Williamsburg norm on Union Avenue.
I was not so surprised at the amount of impossibly beautiful young people strolling up and down the street in clothes that I couldn’t possibly ever afford.
They were mostly white kids, but there is a smattering of Black, Asian, and Latino kids that fit into the nouveau riche. They reminded me of the Eloi in the movie The Time Machine.
Besides being pretty, they also seemed blank, a real blank generation if you ask me. Their faces screamed studied insouciance, today belongs to me.
I saw that movie when I was 10 for the first time; and it starred Rod Taylor and Alan Young of Mr. Ed fame of all people.
If you are not familiar with the story it’s based on the H.G. Wells book about a man who builds a time machine and goes into the future. It was 1964 when I saw it on TV for the first time and I was in the grips of nuclear war fever.
There is a scene in the movie, and I remember the year it was supposed to happen because the machine had a panel that displayed the year it was stopping in and it said 1970. In 1970 in the movie George (the Rod Taylor character) witnesses a nuclear satellite explode over the city, I got the impression it was London because everyone had a British accent; and when I saw that I thought I had only six more years to live. That movie gave me nightmares.
George arrives in the year 802,701 and meets a race of impossibly beautiful people who exude insouciance (they are all white) called the Eloi.
He observes as one of them, a girl, falls into a rapidly moving stream and almost drowns, and none of the other Eloi do anything to help her.
Our hero jumps into the water and rescues the beautiful Yvette Mimieux.
The rest of the story is pretty standard Hollywood, the bad guys are the Morlocks, (not pretty) who breed and feed the Eloi so they can eat them later. A dystopian society if there ever was one.
George tries to warn them, educate them, but they have been so well bred for their passivity that it will take a lot of time and hard work to save them.
I don’t feel like I have to save these new kids from anything, they’ll either learn or end up the hard way like the owner of Dumont, who discovered there was a price to pay for his success.
At the same time I judged these kids I thought of myself 35 or so years ago, sitting in the Kellogg’s diner without a care in the world after a night of partying, maybe there was some old cop staring at me and thinking “he has no idea what he’s in for.”
But I think the difference was that we were not so blank, we tried to act nonchalant but inside we were full of anger, fear, and passion; and it showed in what we did artistically and destructively.
So, in the end it’s all relative. I think a lot of older people are unhappy because they don’t want to get old, I know I don’t; but there is no stopping it, except when you die. I don’t want to do that, either, but it seems I won’t have a choice in the matter.
Part of it is jealousy, I wish at times I was still young, but when I think of some of the pain I endured then I don’t. But I wish I could at least look like I did then.
But I can’t so the best I can do is appreciate what I have, what I’ve done, and not worry too much about what I don’t have and what I haven’t done, and let these kids find out for themselves.
At least I know now there wasn’t a nuclear war in 1970, and I do still have some years to live.