Magazine article The New Yorker

The Big Shoe

Magazine article The New Yorker

The Big Shoe

Article excerpt

In the windows of Freddy's Bar & Backroom, a neighborhood place at the corner of Dean Street and Sixth Avenue, in Brooklyn, the neon beer signs hang upside down, as if sending out the international distress signal for bars. Freddy's Bar & Backroom is indeed in distress, sitting as it does in the "footprint" of the massive, multibillion-dollar Atlantic Yards project, which hopes to turn an odd-shaped patch of land between Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues into a twenty-thousand-seat sports arena, etc. Sipping an ale in a corner booth by the stuffed swordfish, you can almost feel the giant shoe descending from above.

Machinery of the court system has halted the giant shoe for a couple of months. In the blocks and lots around Freddy's, however, it's clear that the shoe's agents have another strategy at their disposal; i.e., a sapping operation. Empty lots where the shoe has already stomped hold the siege engines, in the form of Dumpsters, pile-driving machines, dump trucks, spools of cable, huge concrete culverts, piles of sand, lengths of lined steel sewer pipe, and heaps of twenty-five-foot, two-and-a-quarter-ton steel I-beams that appear ready to leap into the configuration of the arenaan edifice shaped like a red bicycle helmet, to judge from picturesthe moment Freddy's Bar & Backroom is gone.

On the Saturday of Martin Luther King, Jr.,'s birthday weekend, Freddy's held a rally to protest the closing of a homeless shelter up the street, at 603 Dean. The shelter had also suffered the misfortune of being under the Atlantic Yards shoe; threatened with demolition, the building's owner lost his contract with the shelter's operator, which cleared out the eighty families living there, apparently relocating them, though no one at Freddy's seemed to know exactly where. The point of the rally was: Why kick them out now, in the middle of winter? The larger point was to raise a holler about Atlantic Yards in general.

Sixty-some locals packed the eponymous back room to ped-lock density. People wore T-shirts that said "Develop Don't Destroy," or fancy African-print gowns, or Snuglis with forward-facing babies who had protests of their own. The first speaker, City Council Member Letitia James, said, "Hey, Freddy's! Everybody hold your drinks in the air! All right! …

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