Being a single childless New Yorker in my early thirties easily places me in a bubble, a rather nice one that I enjoy very much. Every now and then, the membrane of this bubble is penetrated, forcing me to acknowledge other parts of life that I forget about if I’m not careful. Some would call this a “reality check.” For me, it feels more like an involuntary social experiment.
On a hot day last summer, I was enjoying a frozen margarita with a friend at a neighborhood bar. Normally, this is what I would consider to be an adults-only activity, but apparently mine is not a universally held opinion. Our evening of socially-acceptable drinking was interrupted by a shrill sound, followed by a brown smell, oozing out of a small bundle in the arms of a woman at the end of the bar. She looked tired, but had managed to put on some lipstick and a pair of earrings. With an infant supported by one hand, and a drink supported by the other, she introduced me to a cultural phenomenon I’ll call the Park Slope Happy Hour. In any given local bar in this corner of Brooklyn, when the sun is beginning to lower in the sky; worn out nanny-less mothers take their seats on stools with their offspring. They do their best to juggle the responsibility of parenthood and the necessity of release in a utopia built of red bricks and mood stabilizers.
Park Slope is a lovely neighborhood in Brooklyn known for its beautiful architecture and abundance of affluent white people in their early forties who practice a form of digital attachment parenting. These members of Generation X who’ve grown up to become attorneys, tech start-up entrepreneurs and small-batch whiskey purveyors inhabit the beautiful brownstones and townhouses that are now a breeding factory for future generations of non-functional humans.
I have been renting a small room in the middle of this cultural ecosystem for the last few months, and I have made the following observations which I will list in no particular order:
A Child by Any Other Name:
There is a hierarchy of names given to children in this community which are used by the parents to define their place in the social caste system:
Literary elite: Names based on obscure literary or historical references that show the amount of liberal arts education the parents have. These names are assigned with the intention of making other people feel stupid.
Organic elite: Names based on heirloom herbs and spices or endangered species of medicinal plants.
Genealogical elite: Names of ancestors, pre-immigration to America, i.e. Stanislav, Olga, Lucius or Gretl.
Former recreational drug users: Made up names with impossible to decipher pronunciations which should be considered a form of child abuse.
New-comers: Names chosen by parents who are new to East Coast liberal society, possibly from Texas or the Midwest. They are usually just standard names with an arbitrary spelling, i.e. Mykael, Ashlyiegh, Ehvahn or Zben (pronounced “Ben,” the Z is silent).
Technology is rapidly evolving and we’re told every year our lives should become better, faster and more efficient. Each new day brings an updated version of a familiar invention that surpasses our previous expectations. Although this logic can be applied to telephones, cars and cameras, the opposite is applicable to humans.
Children in all of the aforementioned social castes are more fragile and helpless than the children of thirty years ago. I can speak from experience, because I have been here the whole time, observing and taking notes. On the sidewalks of Park Slope on any given Saturday, it is not uncommon to see children as much as eight years old being carted around in baby carriages the size of modest Jeeps. Even for those who have somehow acquired the skill of walking, they are never allowed to do it alone. There is always a mother or father (sometimes both) moderating every slight behavior or decision the child makes, thus preventing the development of independent thinking or learning through empirical observation of the world around them.
Once these stunted offspring approach puberty, direct surveillance by parents is replaced by electronic devices that the children have been lead to believe they can not survive without. Oddly enough, the children voluntarily report all of their activities by taking photos and videos of each moment of their lives, and publicly sharing them with others. They no longer remember things like addresses or phone numbers, or how to get from their apartment to school without the aid of a Global Positioning Satellite. Without a batch of photos of the previous day's activities, their atrophied brains would suffer from a perpetual inability to access their own short term memories.
This problem is not isolated just the children, but at least the adults who have adopted such cerebral crutches once had the mental strength to “walk on their own.” The next generation of children will be victims of voluntary de-evolution. In the years to come, we will have amazing microwave ovens with new abilities beyond our dreams, but there will exist a new race of miscreant people who will be helpless to function without them.
Curated Facial Hair:
In the decades to follow our current epoch, the quickest way to visually determine the age of a photograph will be to see the facial hair worn by the men in it. This will be augmented in the photographs taken by the residents of Park Slope. To be completely upfront about my stake in the matter, I have worn a modest beard since the age of eighteen, and I take no issue with facial hair in moderation. I think that a nicely grown and properly maintained beard is quite an attractive feature. There comes a point, though, when facial hair takes on its own identity in order to express something about its owner’s self-image. I have observed the following outlandish trends on the streets and in the fine establishments of “the Slope” over the last few months:
The Waxy Moustache:
In an attempt to revive ye olden days of barbershop quartets and a world before Women's Suffrage, a cohort of men have brought back the waxed handlebar moustache. When walking into a bar, seeing one of these shiny lip adornments is amusing at first. Upon further inspection, seeing a dozen of them is disconcerting. It’s like being surrounded by a room full of automatons pulled from a ride at Coney Island who have been dressed in skinny jeans and band T-shirts and served craft beers. They can be overheard talking about their “complicated” relationships.
The WASPy Rabbi:
It is common to see blue-eyed men with honey colored hair sporting cascades of precisely trimmed beards that fall anywhere from their collar bones to their nipples. Often these men are dressed in some sort of tweed and they smell of lavender or patchouli. They wear impeccably polished leather shoes and they are fond of vests. The group is mostly comprised of Gentiles who have appropriated the essence of their Hasidic neighbors in Williamsburg to the north, and then had it styled by Brooks Brothers and Cole Haan. Many of these men have rings on their fingers, but it’s anyone’s guess as to the gender of their spouses.
Seeking Mrs. Claus:
A more casual version of the designer Rabbi look is the eventual Santa Claus look. These tend to be men who are less interested in precision and more interested in comfort. Their beards have been allowed to grow without the intervention of pruning. They probably don’t iron their pants, and they may go a day or two without changing their underwear. Rather than smelling like a meadow, they usually smell more like a college dorm room. Often, these men are single, but still hopeful.