For the strong willed man creatively nourished
by the world's and his own essential cruelty, beef is manna.
To relish the sight of beef stewing in oily, fat beaded juices
and savor the naked flesh taste ever so reminiscent of primal origins
is to fully realize, at least intuitively,
that beef is an integral part of the human immunity system,
obviously rooted in basic genetic structures and the collective unconscious.
Thus, beef functions as an inoculating poison
which must be regularly consumed
to nullify far greater, malignant poisons.
Burgers in diners
stew by the hearth
steaks at cookouts
roasted ox in the halls of royalty
the enticing image of Bossy the Bountiful Bovine
with dotted lines denoting the boundaries of various cuts
flashing above a West Texas steakhouse . . .
As blood flows through our veins
we will seek physical and spiritual sustenance
from the scarlet shanks of those halcyon beasts of slaughter
who graze and sleep and shit and procreate
so that we may perpetuate the beef totems
at the root of our Western mythology.
The first car of the train appears around the edge of the concrete factory without warning. To capture that moment is exceedingly difficult. It took three tries, each marked by a long, uncomfortable wait sitting atop a rickety fence, looking through the viewfinder for at least ten minutes straight. The concentration was stifling—maybe a taste, as I thought at the time, of what a sniper might endure. I suffered for this picture, but of course it was worth it.
I discovered this tableau last September and it was one of the many images I encountered on my rambles that inspired me to get a camera. For six months I had a clear idea of this picture, and I finally returned, camera in hand. Above all I was focused on the industrial majesty of the scene, and my reflexes were primed to record something iconic. So if my literal focus and reflexes initially failed me, I believe my sense of the bigger picture is what saved the moment.
Some sanitation workers were playing touch football in a stark playground right in the middle of industrial Second Avenue. One of the guys had the wind knocked out of him and retreated to a bench. His colleagues gathered around to console him.
A block away, a forklift driver was sipping a coke, leaning back in the driver’s seat, almost sprawled over the whole back end of the vehicle, like it was a La-z-Boy. (That’s what you call attitude.)
It’s break time at Dunkin' Donuts, the working man’s friend. In the time it takes to finish a cup of coffee, I see representatives of a dozen different trades come in for sustenance. In that brief respite, I discover a secret: sugar and caffeine are what really fuels the industrial economy.
Another languid day was drawing to a close, the air thick and motionless, trapping everything dirty in its torpor, especially that stale, tarry smell. The retreating sun cast muted bronze streaks across the horizon; the steeples and antennae were stalagmites carpeting a vast sepia cavern. Ventilators and ducts, a decrepit army of droning hydras, guarded their rooftop sanctuaries.
The confluence where the BQE merges with the Gowanus Expressway, the Prospect Expressway, Hamilton Avenue, and several side streets is a spectacular cluster-fuck. The intricacy of this monstrous intersection is breathtaking, in part because it’s less than 100 yards from actual residences. (I can only imagine the calloused psyches that have had to adapt their sleeping and dreaming habits to this auto-saturated environment. To call the traffic relentless is an understatement.)
In the middle of this triangle-shaped juncture sits the grassy knoll called Backhoe Gulch. At first glance—from a passing car most likely—it looks like nothing more than a grubby little traffic island, a swath of negative space that is simply a by-product of the roads that surround it. It’s true that Backhoe Gulch is a mean and trashy place, but it’s also an officially designated park, which means it’s open to the public. I’ve been there a few times, but I couldn’t imagine seeing anyone else there. (Given the location, and its aura as a body-dumping ground, I think I’d be wary if I did.)
For all its crusty insignificance, Backhoe Gulch is one of the most exhilarating places I know. That’s because of the noise, the strange feeling of being somewhere that’s obscure yet congested and centrally located, and especially the unique vantage points. Backhoe Gulch affords a view of the city drivers might get if time froze and they could blithely stroll down the highway on foot. At the top of the hill, you can safely stand right beside the Prospect Expressway, just a few feet from the passing cars. The layered views of Gowanus, Brooklyn Heights, and Manhattan are like no others. The southern direction offers an ideal view of the bizarre structure that connects the Gowanus Expressway with the Prospect Expressway and the BQE. It’s a brutalist masterpiece as well as a feat of highway engineering.
There’s always a place for pastoral retreat—to flee the city’s onslaught and commune with nature. Backhoe Gulch, though, is another park experience. It provides an opportunity to become one with the flow of massive intertwining traffic arteries and to pulse with that distinctly urban lifeblood of accelerated kinetic frenzy.