Hoopla Hooper: Jon Michael Anzalone

Apocrypha of Jon

Our city has existed for hundreds of years, and it has existed in its recognizable state beginning about 150 years ago. Telling you that it has been subject to waves and waves of immigration is nothing you haven’t heard; to talk about the grand diversity of the place is not to make a remarkable statement. No, what I am interested in is not that overarching narrative of a great city being built up into the sky, but in what has formed its foundations and those secret stories that are buried beneath. There is a great deal of communication that goes unnoticed and slips away unheard. What happens to all of those unheard stories?

I grew up in the exurbs of New York City, went to university in some other exurbs of New York City, and eventually settled in an Astoria that became the heart of my experiences here. I spent countless hours wandering through the neighborhood at night, delighting in the run-down side streets, in the homes tucked under the Hell Gate Bridge, in the stores advertising bilingually in Spanish and Bengali. Soon, it was home to me. I, too, was a creature of the peculiarity of the place.

Things happen when we all start living together. We start to understand useful fractions of other languages, we learn folklore from our family and from our neighbors, and we set off to create and resolve new conflicts between our communities’ growing needs and desires. The ghosts of my grandfathers’ heroes have been pulled from their tombs in Sicily, Bavaria, Berezhany, and Niedersachsen. They now wander with the crowds down Eldridge Street and Eliot Avenue dressed as you and I dress and riding the buses you and I ride, since they can no longer find a quiet, serene night to be alone.

For five years (with an exception made for the time I escaped to the outskirts of Mumbai, India, until I had to escape that place too), I have lived consistently in this city in neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Ridgewood, Bushwick, Washington Heights, Harlem, and Jackson Heights. Always with a careful ear to the ground I have remained, listening for the rumblings of some strange lost story like that of George Cornelius Tilyou and his Steeplechase in flames, or of Sylvester Meade and his shanty under the boardwalk beside it.

What happens to all of those unheard stories? Nothing. They are very much still there, waiting.

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