The Hottest Bar in Philly Is on Top of a Shuttered Public School

From public school to gastropub to makerspace

New York City, September 2, 2015

weather review sky 090215★★ The haze was starting to resemble a cheery fog, one invulnerable sun. A woman reached through the fence around Sherman Square to pull seeds out of a withered sunflower head. The heat of the heat wave was present but somehow abstract; what registered instead was the dirtiness of the air. Only down in the subway did things truly swelter; the eight-year-old voted to hop into the air conditioning of a local train rather than waiting on the platform for an express. From the Flatiron, downtown was a gray blur, but in the other direction, the ray patterns on the fins of the spire of the Empire State Building stood out. By evening rush hour, the middle ground had sharped, but the smudginess persisted in the distance.

I'm Becoming a Slack-fingered Idiot and I Guess That's Fine

If there’s one thread running through the dozens of app updates I consent to each week, and the updates to the operating system beneath them, it’s this: it is becoming easier, over time, to get things out of my phone, and to put things into it. Various apps and services have become either more demanding or more compelling, and software and interfaces have learned how to get out of the way.

Autocorrect’s extreme assertiveness mostly eliminates friction. Gesture keyboards remove a thumb. Beyond typing, you can dictate into your phone. You can mash emoji. Much more easily, and perhaps more often, you can express yourself without language: double-tapping a photo, liking, sharing, retweeting. No time, or desire, to type? You can make a face, press a button, and hit send. You can heart a group message and leave it at that. Savvy services recognize that software is both a conduit and a bottleneck, and do whatever they can to make space and remove friction. And so our inputs and outputs increase; at least, they transfer to the phone.

This, I think, has had a strange effect on my computer use. I spend most workdays in front of a keyboard, typing into a variety of boxes: a CMS, social networks, email fields, instant message windows, group chat apps. Group chat use in particular has ballooned—I used Campfire and Hipchat in other workplaces, and with friends, but Slack has absorbed a surprising amount of utility, time and output. Chat, like instant messaging, seems to allow for a looseness not always permissible over email, where you can’t immediately jump in with elaboration. It also encourages volume. Typing into a chat is less like sending a message than jumping into a stream, or chiming in to a verbal conversation. A point is made or a purpose conveyed through a dozen short messages and responses instead of a single encompassing email. Timing matters as much as anything.

Some WeWorkers Are More We Than Others

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In late August, nearly one hundred office cleaners at WeWork locations throughout Manhattan lost their jobs after they began protesting unfair working conditions. The office cleaners were not employed directly by WeWork, a multi-national co-working startup valued at ten billion dollars; rather, they were employees of a cleaning contractor called Commercial Building Management. Such arrangements insulate employers like WeWork from having to negotiate with unionized labor, and makes organizing such workplaces difficult. The CBM cleaners at WeWork’s offices in New York were making eleven dollars an hour or less, without benefits; according to SEIU-32BJ, the service workers’ union, the prevailing wage for unionized office cleaners in New York is twenty-three dollars an hour, with full benefits.

The cleaners—some of whom had worked in the WeWork offices for three years or more—went public with their union organizing effort on June 18th. A week later, CBM told WeWork that it would be terminating its contract with the company in New York City, effective August 23rd. (CBM is still WeWork’s cleaning contractor in Boston and Washington, D.C.) At the beginning of August, WeWork announced that it was creating “approximately” one hundred new positions in the New York “community team,” referred to as Community Service Associates (CSAs) and Community Service Leads (CSLs), in anticipation of the CBM cleaners’ impending absence. Starting wages begin at fifteen dollars per hour for CSAs and eighteen dollars per hour for CSLs. All CSAs and CSLs are to receive healthcare benefits, a 401(k) plan, and equity in the company, “consistent with WeWork’s vision that every employee should have an ownership interest in WeWork.”

More than one hundred twenty cleaners were employed by CBM at WeWork’s New York locations. “We will be interviewing all CBM employees and we expect that a number of the current CBM employees will meet the qualifications for these positions and begin exciting careers with WeWork,” WeWork’s press release announcing the new jobs said. When CBM’s contract ended on August 23rd, the cleaners lost their jobs; the next day, 32BJ filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against WeWork, charging that the company had refused to rehire “approximately 100 janitorial employees because of their support for the Union.”

The Taylor Swift of the Eighties

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During her promotional tour for 1989, Taylor Swift wouldn’t shut up about how great the eighties were. To Rolling Stone, she theorized:

What you saw happening with music was also happening in our culture, where people were just wearing whatever crazy colors they wanted to, because why not? There just seemed to be this energy about endless opportunities, endless possibilities, endless ways you could live your life.

Why not? It makes sense that the eighties could give pop stars some direction. Pick any year post-Thriller, look at the Billboard Year End chart, and count the number of songs in one year that you haven’t been able to escape since; these are the songs of lazy DJ sets, karaoke nights, college party playlists, and desperate car commercials. There’s some forgettable garbage in there too, but even it’s still played. You hear this stuff across state lines and generational chasms. The system worked.

Of course Taylor Swift would want to emulate artists who sold millions, and of course doing so means ironing out the country, idling away from the specific. As of this month, just over five million copies of 1989 have been sold in the United States; other than Drake’s latest, it’s the only album to sell over a million copies in 2015. In the pictures publicizing Swift’s 1989 tour, the glitter rompers and pyrotechnics and celebrity cameos all add up to this new “pop” Swift, one with endless opportunities, endless ways she could live her life. This is the way she’s living her life. It looks fun, if also a little disappointing.

Swift cites “Like A Prayer” in that Rolling Stone interview, but if I have to name a lasting pop star from the era who embodies Taylor’s distinguishing qualities—performatively guileless, massive ego, insistent on possibilities while staying within the lines, someone who hides parts of herself to get what she wants, i.e. your love—I can’t go with Madonna, who was more transparently provocative and ruthless. Janet had genuine rhythm; Cyndi was downtown in a way Taylor’s Tribeca is not; and Whitney was in a vocal class of her own. I don’t think I can name a woman. I might name a man. Let’s talk about George Michael.

A Poem by Morgan Parker

Preface to a Twenty Volume Joke Book

“And now, each night I count the stars. / And each night I get the same number.”
-Amiri Baraka, “Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note”


I’m done with The Real World
Now I watch Top Chef

And dream about a life of tasting
And get so hungry I could die

I don’t root for the moon-face
Pale in his intention

I’m grown up
I’m rooting for the black girl

Cooking fried chicken for the first challenge
All my life I taste

“Whatever man I’m a black girl”
Shaking her afro

My feelings are pretty real
Sexism is pretty real

No one tells me I’m beautiful
I dream about tasting

In all my baby photos I have this
Look like oh my god

I feel sorry
I have always been terrified to be

This is just a taste
It’s not ready yet

New York City, September 1, 2015

★★ A hurtful glare filled the sky from the east. People in the bank, in the part of the bank that still used people, were talking about the air quality. An old butter-colored Impala gleamed in a lane of sun beside the shadows on 20th Street. Tiny flashbulbs went off in the sidewalk concrete. Past midday, clouds covered and uncovered the zenith. The thick warmth soaked into chilled joints. The later-day sky was clear again, admitting new heat. Cops and banjos flanked the subway entrance. The entrance hallway in the big public school was sweltering, but air conditioners made a racket in the old, hard-surfaced auditorium, under the dim blue of the lights. The three-year-old decided the tag in the t-shirt he’d been wearing all day was suddenly too much to bear, and insisted on making the walk home bare-chested.

The Hottest Bar in Philly Is on Top of a Shuttered Public School

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In 2013, the Philadelphia school district shut Bok Technical High School, along with twenty-two other schools—nearly ten percent of the city’s public schools—to wipe out a budget deficit of nearly a billion-and-a-half dollars. Last month, Lindsey Scannapieco, the daughter of local high-rise developer Tom Scannapieco, closed a deal to purchase the building for 1.8 million dollars. The younger Scannapieco is the managing partner of Scout, which describes itself as a three-person “collective of young enthusiastic urban designers,” and is re-developing the Bok site. Its first use of the three-hundred-and-forty-thousand-square-foot building is Le Bok Fin, a “members only” pop-up gastropub on the school’s roof, which is running until September 13th.

On a recent Saturday evening, the line of people, which numbered in the dozens, snaked through the school’s ground-floor hallway back to the school’s entrance and past a door underneath the letters “BOYS GYMNASIUM,” not yet removed from the wall. Collages of old Bok yearbook photos had been erected in the hallway next to the elevator that carried diners and drinkers to the roof. (The word around town, on Yelp and Reddit and the food blogs, is that the view from the top of the Bok lives up to its claim as “Philly’s greatest new rooftop.”) One of the collages featured a black-and-white clipping of the school’s food service program: “‘Le Bok Fin’ instruction is given in the preparation of menus, buying good, calculating the…” The rest of the words were cut off. “Le Bok Fin” was the name of the school’s culinary arts program, itself a play on Le Bec Fin, a high-end restaurant that closed in 2013, the same year as Bok.

“We’ve been here since 1938,” a man in a black shirt standing next to the elevator told me while I looked at the collage.

“Were you a teacher here?” I asked, knowing one former Bok teacher that had struggled to find work after the closure.

Today's Internet Is Tomorrow's Aesthetic

Ever see a crazy-long, indecipherable reblog chain on your dashboard? Not ideal, right?

Starting tomorrow, reblogs will have a new look—one that showcases all comments as equals, not buried under an impossible stack of blockquote indents. Our change to reblog captions last month laid the necessary groundwork for us to arrive here, at a place where the dashboard will be a lot easier to read and cleaner-looking.

Remember reblogs? Those big long chains of names, and sometimes words? Remember looking at Tumblr for hours and days and months before ever quite figuring out which way the word-stairs led? Remember trying to figure out where to submit YOUR little words, and in what format, and, wait, what are people going to see when I post this, exactly? And who’s going to see it?

New York City, August 31, 2015

weather review sky 083115★★★ There was no compelling reason to look up at the dead and seemingly colorless morning sky, but there in it were pretty scalloped patterns of brightness and then some subtle blues. The haze or clouds thinned to pass a mellow tropical light. The air was not easy to breathe. Gradually the sun filtered more, to a clear sherry color. An immense running figure, in cirrus brushstrokes, stood in midstride over the west. The three-year-old’s newer and brighter light-up shoes went strobing down the deepening shadows under a scaffold, meeting the flash of a woman’s burnished gold sandals coming the other way. It was sweaty still in the gathering dusk. A man carried a stack of glowing artificial votive candles around the edge of the pierside cafe, setting them out one by one on the outdoor tables. The George Washington Bridge twinkled. Dark wavelets flickered on the pink field of the river. A slow fishy breeze cooled the pier a little. A young woman in flip-flops showed off for her friends by climbing to the top of the concrete barrier and stepping over the metal rail to pose over the now-dark water.

Stripped

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The car I’m borrowing during my visit home comes complete with tape deck and telescoping radio antennae that I broke by listening to NPR while going through the car wash. I listen to NPR constantly—not so much because of intellectual curiosity these days, but for the soothing distraction of other voices. I avoid my music because almost all of it is sad—Sharon Van Etten, Perfume Genius, Cat Power, PJ Harvey sad. Only the what-I-refer-to-as “bad bitch anthems” have the ability to momentarily snap me out of my forlornness, and I’ve overplayed Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money,” so that it no longer serves its purpose.

Driving past the STI clinic where I was tested before having bareback sex with my first love makes my sinuses throb. I am pre-cry, which is similar to pre-vomit in its emotional and physical discomfort, and in the semi-relief that comes post-purge: relieved it’s over; anxious it might happen again. He was my first real relationship: first love, first person I would do almost anything for, first one over a month long. I was his first love too, though I’m not sure what that means to him.

It should be noted that I initiated the breakup. I was being forced out of my ridiculously cheap home, and it didn’t make sense to stay in Sonoma County, engaged in the adjunct teaching struggle where I had no intentions of laying down roots. When I informed Shayne of my decision to relocate, his reaction was downright rosy: “I think it’s a good idea for you”; “I always thought you belonged in L.A. (backhanded compliment?)”; “I support you in whatever you do”; “I love you.” His cliche, preconceived notion of L.A. prevented him from even considering coming along.

The next morning at breakfast, he remained unaffected, as always. I marveled at his beauty and attempted to revel in what was left of our coupledom that I had often been flip about. Being valued romantically had enabled me to move through my days with the air of a beloved actress, with a kind of arrogance I quite enjoyed. Over an omelet, the tears began—I am not a regular crier (well, at that point I was not a regular crier)—and I hid my face behind a menu. “Aw, babe. It makes me so sad to see you cry,” he said.

A few days passed and I was noticing that Shayne seemed completely unmoved by the fact that this was ending. “I don’t see the point in wasting time dwelling in bad feelings. Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened,” he said, all but quoting Dr. Seuss.