So I got robbed. In Williamsburg. On Saturday. And it was my own damn fault.
Let me paint you a very shitty picture. It was a bright, sunshiny day in Williamsburg, and yours truly was in the process of moving into his new loft-style apartment. Struggling to lug a full-sized mattress up a flight of stairs, our hero momentarily left a few valuables outside the doorway, unattended. He returned two minutes later to discover every bag had been rifled through, and gone were his laptop, Xbox, his shiniest shoes, and for some reason, every sock he owned.
Needless to say, I was piping mad. What brazen hipster has the swollen-ball audacity to jack someone’s most expensive belongings in what may very well be the safest neighborhood in Brooklyn? So I got to thinking, which led to drinking, which naturally led to hangover.
I awoke the next day, hungry to make sense of it all in my mind. In order to do so, I donned my research pants (a.k.a. sweat pants) and dove into the history of crime in the Big Apple, attempting to understand how this foolishness came to be.
And because, prior to this incident, everything I know about crime originates from pop culture, I decided to frame my analysis of crime via the three eras that culture has deemed most interesting.
1.) Gangs of New York
If you’ve never seen Martin Scorsese’s disturbingly violent film, Gangs of New York, it’s worth a spin. The basic plotline involves turf wars. Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day Lewis spend two and a half hours hacking each other to pieces with machetes, because they were broke Irish immigrants, and evidently, that’s what the Irish did in mid-1800’s. Fair warning, it’s a hatchet-filled bloodbath, one that will leave you incapable of eating a steak cooked anything less than well-done for about a week.
The movie is based on the legendary Irish gangs of the Five Points, following the influx from the potato famine of the 1840’s: the Bowery Boys, the Dead Rabbits, and the Plug Uglies (yes that last one’s totally real). As it turns out though, that’s pretty much where the historical accuracy stops. In fact, it honestly wasn’t all that violent back then.
According to a National Geographic Article, during the period Gangs of New York took part in, there was hardly a murder per month, meaning Scorsese’s orgy of destruction was a…metaphor?
Prostitution, on the other hand, was alive and kicking.
2.) The Godfather
If you haven’t seen The Godfather, you need to stop reading this and watch the Movie of All Movies now. The history behind this one is also steeped in waves of immigrants. Italians, as it turns out, only numbered about 20,000 in New York, that was, until the decade between 1880 and 1890, where the population jumped to 250,000. These pasta masters reached half a million in number by 1910. It stands to reason, of those drove of newcomers, at least of few of them had to get into trouble. And when Prohibition came about, slanging illegal booze became a very lucrative trade.
I never knew how much of the Godfather was unoriginal until I examined the history. Unlike Gangs of New York, the film is essentially completely stolen from history, based around the Castellammarese War. This was the Mafioso battle that raged on when the cunning Salvatore Maranzano, a native-Sicilian, pronounced himself the “capo di tutti capi,” which translates to the “mac daddy of all mob bosses.” Naturally, all hell broke loose and lots of men in fedoras were gunned down in the streets. Also, much like the movie, it culminated in a meeting of the five major families, who divided turf, and came to a flimsy, ill-begotten peace agreement that only criminals are capable of.
But once the American government came to its senses and re-legalized alcohol, the Mafia shifted focus, concentrating on labor unions, gambling, drugs, and of course, prostitution. But the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, passed by congress in 1970, put the kibosh on most of these activities, and the New York mob is now a mere shadow of its former self.
3.) 1980’s -1990’s Hip Hop
Seeking out a cheap alternative to cocaine, people found that they could kill themselves even faster by smoking a diluted, far more poisonous form of the drug that literally rots you from the inside out. This was called crack, and it was a big deal.
Peddled by the Bloods and the Crips, there were reports of people lining up over a hundred at a time for a fix of this highly-addictive substance. In 1996, 60% of the new inmates were in jail on drug charges. Many sociologists attribute crack to be the number one cause of 1989’s record breaking 2700 yearly murders (which equals out to something like seven and a half killings per day).
And then somehow, things changed. New York has, in the last two decades, become profoundly safer land, helping America to see a 64% decrease in crime since 1990. In the last year, the murder rate in New York dipped down to just under one a day, and the incredulous New York Post recently wrote a piece entitled “NYC on Track to be Nation’s Safest City.” Perhaps a bit of an overstatement, but you get the idea.
You can see the change everywhere in the city. Jay Z used to write about selling crack in Bushwick, and now it’s overrun with rich trust-fund wannabe hipsters. A few decades ago, Time Square was a dangerous locale – now it’s saturated with bewildered tourists and chintzy Iron Man suit wearing dudes.
So, crime on the whole, is on the decline. For yours truly, however, it took a sharp spike. And when such tragedies befall a man, there is only one thing that makes me happy.
Thank God it was Burger Week.
Week 18: Barkogi
Last week, Delivery.com launched a bold promotional sales gimmick known as “Burger Week,” in which they featured specialty burgers at top burger (and non-burger) locations that were ONLY AVAILABLE via Delivery.com. I tried calling and placing an order for one of these wild burgers via the phone, but they shut me down and demanded I order online. Delivery.com had them by the balls. What a marketing ploy.
There were a wild assortment of blue-cheese ridden, smoked-salmon-infused, fruit-laden burgers available, but, like that strikingly beautiful lady in a scarlet dress across the room, one sandwich stood out above all the rest. A Korean fried chicken burger from Barkogi.
As I am recently recovering from a minor (major) obsession with Korea, you have to understand why this chicken burger so very significant. This is not some factory produced, grease-laden KFC snack wrap. To wrap your head around the awesomeness, you have to comprehend the majesty that is Korean fried chicken.
It differs from its American counterpart in several ways, perhaps the most significant of which is that it is fried not once, but twice. The result is almost counter-intuitive – it becomes less greasy. The crispiness of the skin is exemplified, turning nearly translucent, and the flavor has nowhere to hide. Also, instead going the American route (using jumbo, hormone loaded, economy-sized cows disguised as chickens), Koreans opt for smaller, tenderer birds, producing a superior fried-skin-to-poultry ratio. Koreans just do chicken better. Less is more, people.
And yet, in three years living in South Korea, never once did I ever come across such a creation. Perhaps it’s because Koreans fail to understand burgers. Always, in Korea, burgers are created too small, too cute, too bastardized, forming an American burger that never really existed and doesn’t really want to exist. Burgers are about size and dominance. Burgers should be feared.
Here’s where it gets existential. A fusion of these two things (Korean fried chicken and American burger philosophy) is, for me, indeed a fusion of my two selves, a combination of my two homes. And so, sitting in that Midtown pavilion by the fountain, sinking my teeth into this hodgepodge of two different lands, with chunks of double fried Korean chicken in a soy garlic glaze, loaded with lettuce, red onion, tomato, and kimchi topped off with a fried egg and a dirty house sauce stuffed between two buns, lightly toasted, I experienced something ineffable and special.
Such things put minor tragedies, like some douchebag jacking your PC, in delicious perspective.