WHEN ENGLISH GENTLEMEN WENT HUNTING A LONG TIME AGO,
they would occasionally cry at the top of their lungs, "Soho!" (I'm not sure why. Maybe Soho was Tallyho's brother or something like that.) Much later, when some fine hunting grounds near London were paved over to build shops, theaters, and nightclubs, some real-estate genius decided to call this cool new neighborhood "Soho."
Rather later still, a derelict bit of industrial New York just south of Houston Street was being rebuilt with shops, theaters, and nightclubs, and yet another real-estate genius decided to rebrand this cool new neighborhood "SoHo," meaning "South of Houston."
Soon everyone was getting into the act. The folks north of Houston said they lived in "NoHo," lower Broadway went by "LoBro," and the area North Of Where Holland's Entrance Removes Exhausted Suburbanites began to be called, fittingly, NOWHERESville.
So many real-estate geniuses, so little dengue fever.
These days, when young, cool types are hunting for shops, theaters, and nightclubs, they have been known to cry out, "Dumbo!" which stands for Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass, a landscape of crumbling factories and industrial vistas that is the last refuge of the truly cool. This week.
Here's how to get there:
We rode the F train to York Street, the cutting edge of Brooklyn. The train was pretty quiet, just the usual coolsters carrying guitar cases and laptops, decorated with tattoos and metal and all coming home from their jobs as designers/writers/artists/fashion designers. I even recognized one of them from our coffee shop, probably one of those guys writing a first novel set in a coffee shop.
Jen and I climbed out of the station and walked up York. To our left, the span of Manhattan Bridge stretched back over the river. For once I didn't have that vague discomfort of not being in Manhattan. Given that the anti-client was made up of renegade cool hunters, it made sense that the hunt was winding up here. Most of the obvious hipsters on the train had gotten off with us, lighting up cigarettes and cell phones as they disappeared down the old streets and into restored industrial buildings. I earnestly hoped that this neighborhood would still be cool when I moved out from my parents' place, but I doubted it. I would probably be letting out a hunting cry of «NewJerZo» by the time I could afford a place of my own.
York Street curled to the west, leading us to Flushing Avenue and past the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the home of Two-by-Two Productions.
I'd seen old pictures of the yard in the Museum of Natural History, during my time among the meteorites. The giant hunk of space iron that had concealed me had spent a few years here about a century ago as people tried to figure out what to do with thirty-four tons of extraterrestrial souvenir. I wondered if it had pulled the compasses of passing ships toward it and if this corner of Brooklyn was one of those mystic spots that had always attracted weird stuff. It was named after a flying elephant, after all.
These days the Brooklyn Navy Yard has no meteorites, no navy, no ships at all. The huge ship-construction buildings have been turned into film studios, offices, and giant open spaces for the companies who create sets for Broadway musicals.
"I wonder why the anti-client needs this much room," Jen said as we walked along.
"Scary question. You could hide anything out here. A fleet of airships, a plague of locusts… a suburban house and lawn."
"Jesus. And you think I'm wired funny."
We wandered into a security office and asked how to find Two-by-Two Productions. The guard pulled his eyes from his tiny TV and looked us up and down.
"Are they casting again?"
"Thought they were moving out on Monday."
"That's still the plan," Jen said, nodding. "But they said they wanted to see us right away."
"Okay." He reached for a stack of photocopied maps of the navy yard, scrawled a red X on the top one, and handed it over as his eyes drifted back toward the television.
Outside, Jen was incensed. "Casting? I can't believe he thought we looked like actors." (Most Innovators don't like actors, who are, by definition, imitators.)
"I don't know, Jen. You gave a pretty convincing performance in there."
She glared at me.
"Of course," I added, "they could be shooting an ad for the shoe."
"Well, I'd be into that, I guess. But the thought that we came over from central casting…" She shivered.
The navy yard was almost empty on a Saturday, the open spaces dizzying after the narrow streets of Manhattan. We walked under giant arches of rusted metal speckled with flaking paint, crossed paved-over railroad tracks that raised long ripples in the asphalt. We wandered between ancient, empty factories and prefab metal hangars lined with the growling butts of air conditioners.
"Here it is," I said.
The name Two-by-Two Productions was stenciled on a huge sliding door set into an old brick building you could have hidden a battleship in.
I felt my nerves starting to tingle: this was the moment where Jen would take over, leading us through some roundabout, dangerous, and probably illegal means of entry.
But there was no point resisting fate.
"So how do we get in?" I asked.
"Maybe this way?" Jen pulled at the huge handle of the door, and it slid open. "Yeah, that worked."
"But that means…"
Jen nodded and held up her Wi-Fi bracelet, which sparkled. She fingernailed a tiny switch to douse its light and whispered, "It means that they're here, probably packing up for the move. Better be quiet."