Years ago while working at Trader Joe’s, I saw my friend D get in a tiff with another girl, both of them native Brooklynites. After the fight, D walked over to me and said, “That girl must be from Williamsburg or something because she is HARD.” She was of course speaking of the historical Williamsburg, once known as a rough-and-raw high-crime area, not so much the home of jokes about skinny jeans and PBR it had become. Of course, even in the years since that tiff, the fear in the neighborhood has changed: people don’t worry so much about being mugged, or being plowed under by a penny farthing, they worry that they’ve accidentally wandered into Midtown East, thanks to the chain-washing of Jay Crew, Urbo Outties, Hole Foods, Starsbuck and now an off-brand Microsoft store.
We can only guess it is this latest iteration that most terrifies Brooklyn native Michael K. Williams, who played Omar on The Wire, Albert “Chalky” White on Boardwalk Empire and now lives in Williamsburg. He said to the New Yorker this week, of the neighborhood: ““Sometimes, when I see, you know, antics on the weekend, I’d feel safer in the Vanderveer projects, where I grew up.”
Yes, that’s the Flatbush projects the New York Times described in 2004 as a place where “most of the front-door locks are broken,” and a resident noted that “in addition to crime and drugs, she frequently sees dirty diapers flung from windows,” is a more appealing option for the man who played the Robin Hood of Baltimore than the flush of people down Bedford on a Saturday night.
We can assume that Michael K. Williamsburg was being a bit facetious (Barbra Streisand lived in the same projects too btw). But he goes on to say:
I grew up. I understand that kind of crazy. When I see the people in Williamsburg get crazy, I’m, like, O.K., where’s this going? If they were black, the police would probably be pouncing on them. I kind of just go in the house.
He’s not totally down on the borough though. After all, he is playing Brooklyn’s favorite son ODB too):
I’m a huge fan of how beautiful Brooklyn has become, but I do have an issue with the gentrification,” he said. “I feel grateful that I’ve got a second chance at life, to be able to afford to live the way I do, coming from where I come from.” He paused. “If anybody should live here, it should be me,” he said, and laughed. But it feels “a little lonely.”
Is Williamsburg really less safe than the projects? You’re probably physically safer unless you are, say, a low-cost DIY venue, in which case Vice is coming to mug all your cred and steal your dancing shoes. And the fact that famous person Michael K. Williams can call the neighborhood home means something, when the rest of the weirdos have already decamped to Ridgewood, Jefftown and beyond.
But if he is talking about the true fear of Williamsburg, the bridge-and-tunnel bros who turn the nabe into Berry Hill every weekend, who are imbuing the Williamsburg waterfront with all the charms of Arlington, Virginia, then yes, we too also feel very unsafe.
Previously: That time there was a mini Wire reunion in Crown Heights.
A man’s got to have a Twitter: @timdonnelly.