Reviewing Media I’ve Found on the Streets of Brooklyn
Go outside with open eyes and an open mind, and the streets seem to speak to you.
By taylor stout
I’m not good at sitting still. Sometimes I wish I was, but it feels in my nature to keep moving. So I walk around Brooklyn a lot. Give me a free Saturday with nice weather and I will go for miles. Give me shitty weather and I will bundle up and pretend my decade-old Dr. Martens are rain/snow boots and go as far as I can. Maybe it’s a compulsion, but I think it helps me “clear my head,” whatever that means. I like seeing people’s outfits, I like discovering storefronts, I like noticing birds and flowers and weird posters for mysterious events.
I’m not the only thing moving in the city. The apartment buildings around me gain and lose residents; those residents accumulate possessions and then leave them behind. When you walk around Brooklyn, you’re bound to find boxes that strangers have left outside of buildings or placed on stoops. Some have handwritten signs that say FREE or WORKS or BROKEN or PLEASE TAKE. Some have no labels at all, and I can only hope that I’m not inadvertently stealing. I left a bunch of weird shit on the sidewalk when I moved out of my last apartment—for example, my hand-painted portrait of Laura Dern—so I consider myself part of some greater exchange of objects. It’s a give-and-take situation. That painting most likely got thrown out if it didn’t first become total mush in the summer rain, but it’s fun to imagine it having a life beyond me. I hope I can give that to the things I take. This is one of my favorite things about New York City: go outside with open eyes and an open mind, and the streets seem to speak to you.
Here are some of the things I’ve found in my hyper-local travels.
Faces by Philip Trager
I found this photo book outside a house in South Slope on the walk home from a spontaneous trip to Greenwood Cemetery on an overcast winter day in 2020. Flipping through the large pages of close-up, black-and-white, theatrical portraits was strangely reminiscent of the headstones collecting moss and flowers in Greenwood. Even though the subjects may go on living after the shutter closes, the images felt like efforts toward remembrance—the artist captures the idiosyncrasies of his subjects’ faces with an intimacy that feels almost grotesque.
Midnight to Midnight by the Psychedelic Furs
I found this album over the summer. I put the opening track, “Heartbreak Beat,” on my playlist and listened to it on my way to parties, walking down Brooklyn’s residential streets lined with lush, overgrown lawns in the humid evening air. It’s a pop song that somehow feels exuberant and tragic at once (my favorite kind of pop song). None of the album’s other tracks stood out to me that much upon first listen, but overall it’s some classic 80’s pop, which I tend to enjoy even when it’s sort of unremarkable.
Oh So Pretty: Punk in Print 1976-1980 by Rick Poynor
Punk Press: Rebel Rock in the Underground Press, 1968-1980 by Mariel Primois and Vincent Bernière
I found these outside my own building when my (presumably cool) neighbor moved out. These are some of those giant art books that I always see in museum gift shops. It feels kind of funny to have these luxurious books about DIY zines and a subculture obsessed with bricolage, but they are great sources of visual inspiration. I found these when I came home after a “meeting” (very official) with one of my friends where we tried to plan a DIY publishing endeavor. We has scrawled our lofty ideas in my composition notebook and set action items for ourselves. While the summer burned on and our plans fizzled out, that dream felt fated in the moment I found these books. I immediately texted pictures to my friend, along with an absurd amount of exclamation points and the word SYNCHRONICITY in all caps.
Severance by Ling Ma
I almost picked up a copy of Ling Ma’s 2018 pandemic novel Severance in February 2020, but talked myself out of it for reasons I can’t remember. I then decided to hold off on reading about fictional deadly contagion when the first COVID lockdown hit a few weeks after. But the pandemic kept going and going and going. Over a year later, I still hadn’t read Severance and it was sort of haunting me. When I found a copy on the ground a couple blocks from my apartment in September 2021, I took it as a sign that I was ready to engage with it. I tore through it and then paused with 20-ish pages left for about a month. I didn’t want it to be over. I was near tears as it ended.
Candance, the protagonist, is a 20-something woman living in Brooklyn who works in a Manhattan office building as a lethal pandemic takes hold and the city grows increasingly vacant. She spends her free time wandering the city alone taking pictures that she uploads to an anonymous blog called NY Ghost. As a 20-something woman during the COVID era who lives in Brooklyn, works in a Manhattan office building, and spends my free time walking around and taking pictures that I later post on social media, this novel recognized the strange and frightening aspects of my everyday—portraying them to an intensified degree—as well as the solace I find within the noise. Growing up, I fell in love with literature because it reflected the experiences and emotions that made me feel alone. I guess I naively thought the strangeness of the past two years was above that sort of recognition, but Severance proved me wrong.
Chelsea Girl by Nico
It was a bright December morning and I was returning from yet another pre-work CityMD trip when I stumbled across two boxes of records sitting outside an apartment complex. I felt like I had to blink a fog out of my eyes when I saw this album among them. Maybe I was just delerious or stressed or tired, but I could barely believe it. When I got home, I immediately put the record on. I felt frozen in a moment of anticipation before the opening notes of “The Fairest of the Seasons” started—I was trying not to get my hopes up by telling myself that the record could very well be scratched and unsalvageable. But the familiar song began clearly, somehow sounding richer than ever before. This album reminds me so much of being 18 and new to New York, experiencing East Coast autumn for the first time. It’s a rich melancholy that, in slanted afternoon sunlight, makes me feel oddly happy. And clearly, “I’ve been out walking.”
I’m Still In Love With You by Al Green
I found this one in the same box as the Nico record. Despite the stress of the morning, it was a good day for street finds. I was less familiar with this album but I figured it would be hard to go wrong with Al Green. I put this one on while working from home one day and I no longer felt the claustrophobia of being stuck inside my apartment. I felt like I was at some mellow cafe or cocktail bar slowly sipping a cool-but-overpriced drink just to bask in the ambience for a while. Al Green’s sincere, romantic vocals seemed to warm up the space. The record jacket of my copy is pretty beat up, but the cover art is a joy-inducing photo of Green in an all-white suit lounging in a white wicker chair, decorated with some fun green typography and matching plants.
The Topeka School by Ben Lerner
This is another title from my want-to-read list that appeared on the streets of my neighborhood. I found this novel about the child of psychoanalysts on a stoop next to two pairs of heart-shaped sunglasses (I feel like there’s a story there). I took one pair of sunglasses and left the other for someone else because as much as I love finding stuff on the street, I never want to get greedy. The Topeka School was my first read of 2022, and it was phenomenal. January felt quiet and introspective, and this book kept me energized through the cold, still days. I wrote frequently and fluidly while reading this book. Lerner’s prose made me remember why I love writing. He jumps between time periods and narrators while building up the momentum of scenes at once subtly and deliberately—I felt like I’d been gut-punched by the force of his language a couple times.
As for the heart-shaped sunglasses, I wore them to a Euphoria viewing party and they were a hit. They turn everything you see to deep shades of red and double as a camera lens filter.
Mad Men Season 4 DVD
Full disclosure: my roommate found this one and brought it home for me (thanks Lucy xoxo). The crazy part is that the night before, I had told her, “Maybe I’ll buy Mad Men on DVD. I know I don’t even have a DVD player but I just want to physically own it the way I’d want to buy my favorite album or book.” Mad Men is my favorite show. I watched it on Netflix when I was in high school and it’s kinda-sorta a reason I picked media studies as my college major. It’s not perfect, but I’ve had a deep attachment to it ever since my first viewing. I don’t have Amazon Prime (the streaming service currently offering the series) and I craved the certainty of a physical object. When I got home the next day, Season 4 of Mad Men was sitting on our dining table. Lucy found it on the street. Synchronicity. I haven’t watched the DVDs, but the packaging is a fun addition to the show itself—the discs are printed with ridiculous close-up pictures of the characters. You open the plastic case and there on the first disc is Don Draper staring intensely at you from behind an Old Fashioned, supposedly being sexy but really just looking silly.
Blind Spot by Teju Cole
This is my most recent find. I went out one weekend morning to run errands and wander, hoping to find something that would bring me joy. The air was cold but the sky was a beautiful blue. It ended up being a wonderful day—one of those days when you fall into step with the city and things just seem to work out in unexpected ways. Finding Blind Spot was one of those things. Each spread features a photo by Cole accompanied by a brief corresponding text. The texts are more musings than descriptions. His images are striking and deceptively simple. His words deepen the compositions. This book felt strangely reminiscent of the way I found it: it urges you to explore and pay attention. I want to take it in slowly and deliberately.
There is a strange connection between what’s on my mind and what I find on the street, but I don’t really think I’m manifesting anything. I think this connection is more like evidence for why you should pay attention to the world around you, even when that means the mundane streets of your neighborhood that you walk everyday. You may see a rat carcass with tire marks printed into it or you may find an old copy of that book you’ve been meaning to read, and maybe that book will change your perspective or inspire you to make something of your own. Or maybe you’ll just see something that makes you smile. Invite it all in.