Hell Bent for Leather: The Aesthetics of Cruelty

(The time-traveling t-shirt-wearing retro-Fred from the planet Tridork knows a secret.)

While Minnesotans may scoff (provided they can chip the ice off their beards first), it's been quite cold here in New York. In fact, it's so cold that cyclists are crawling under recently parked cars in order to warm themselves, like stray cats. Indeed, this may be the coldest day since people started blaming global warming for any temperatures either slightly above or slightly below average, and the only logical conclusion to draw from this is that we're all doomed.

If you were born in the early 1900s like I was, you probably remember a time when unusually cold days were considered natural, and instead of getting all smug about it you just went over to Cornelius Vanderbilt's mansion and groveled for more coal. Now, apparently, we know better, and every temperature fluctuation we experience, every purchase we make, and every morsel we eat is an opportunity for introspection and self-flagellation. I was reminded of that this past Thursday, when I mentioned I had installed a Brooks saddle.

Having come of age in the flapper era (I admit I was a male flapper back then, otherwise known as a "flipster"), I didn't realize that saddle installation could be so controversial. Some commenters took me to task for contributing to the evil livestock industry, while others argued that a "palping" a leather saddle was preferable to raping the Earth for the petroleum necessary to make one out of plastic. Still others accused me of being a "hipster" for riding a Brooks (even though the company predates even the "flipster" movement), and one commenter even called me a "sellout," which struck me as funny since at that very moment I was seriously contemplating using my Brooks to make a nourishing Depression-era leather boot stew. (Ultimately I just ate the Proofide.)

Subsequently, I spent the entire weekend racked with guilt. Was my saddle in fact not adequately "sustainable?" And if it wasn't, and if plastic saddles like the ones I have on my other bikes weren't either, then what saddle could possibly pass muster with the forces of smugness? Ultimately, I realized the only answer was to curate my own artisanal saddle, and so I fashioned one out of snow using two pieces of bamboo for the rails. However, the white "colorway" was decidedly too "Euro pro" for me, and so I colored it using a totally sustainable dye. (I won't tell you what I used , but let's just say that while you're not supposed to eat yellow snow I see nothing wrong with sitting on it for awhile.) Unfortunately my saddle will only last until that catastrophic global warming-induced temperature shift known as "the springtime," but by then I hope to have come up with a warm weather solution, possibly made out of fruit leather fashioned out of rotten pears salvaged from the Dumpster of the Park Slope Food Co-op.

Still, I must say that I still don't fully understand the ethics of bicycle accessorizing, since I was under the impression that the "bike culture" loved absurdly pretentious handmade leather frippery, which was the driving force behind that whole Portland "dandycross" phenomenon, what with its leather shoulder slings:

And $45 holders for your $.45 beer:

And of course those bike polo mallet holders:

This is what I find so vexingly elusive about the "bike culture;" just when I think I've gained access to it by way of a genuine handmade leather accessory, I find out that my new accessory is just not gratuitous enough. I guess sitting on leather for extended periods of time is bad, but using it to organize the toys you use to play your drunken bicycle-themed party games is good.

Meanwhile, sitting on a dead animal while you ride your bike isn't the only way to get in trouble--you can also run afoul of the smugness police by letting your dog kill a rat:

This is even more confusing to me than the whole leather bicycle accessory controversy. I always thought when a wanted animal (like a cat) killed an unwanted animal (like a mouse) that this was cause for celebration, and so in the case of a dog killing a rat I would think that the same general rule would apply. Really, my only concern in the dog-on-rat scenario would be the that the rat could give the dog a disease--or, given the ample size and strength of New York's rodents, that the rat might win the fight, disguise itself in the dog's hide, infiltrate its owners home, and then make off with the contents of his or her apartment. Sure, I realize that what constitutes a "wanted" animal is somewhat arbitrary, but I'd also argue that if your pet rat were to successfully protect you from a feral dog that the same standard should apply. And of course, endangered animals are always an exception, so if your pet rat defends you from a panda that's like totally uncool, even if the panda was stealing your food, defecating on your floor, and gnawing at your stable of environmentally sustainable bamboo bicycles.

So maybe all of this means that the city is indeed losing its "edge," and that the guy who got a ticket on his bike and declared that New York is no longer "real" enough is right. Perhaps the answer is to bring back some of that old New York City "grittiness" and market it. One good way of doing that would be to make bicycle saddles from rat hide, which strikes me as a truly nauseating yet eminently sustainable endeavor. I also have no doubt people would pay good money for genuine NYC pitbull-hunted rat seats, since they're also willing to pay almost a million dollars to look at defunct factories from an apartment. If you're from "normal" America this may seem absurd--especially after that whole mortgage crisis thing--but in Brooklyn that's exactly what people are doing:

In August they moved into a $980,000, three-bedroom apartment at 80 Metropolitan. Through his living room window, Mr. Signer can see the Domino Sugar factory and the Williamsburg Bridge, partly obscured by the steel beams of new construction — just the industrial feel he wanted.

Wow. Back in the early 1900s when I was born people actually paid lots of money so they wouldn't have to look at factories, and even today it seems to me that if you want to live in an industrial wasteland you can do it for way less than a million dollars. Incidentally, the above photo is part of a New York Times article and slideshow called "Williamsburg, Toddlertown" about how people with children are now moving to Williamsburg. Of course, there were always people with children in Williamsburg, but until recently most of them weren't rich people, so of course it never warranted media attention. Now, however, people pay a million dollars to live there so that they can experience the sublimely smug satisfaction of simultaneously looking out the window at factories and gazing at their children, knowing that they will never, ever have to work in factories:

Yes, here in New York, thanks to the decrease in crime, neighborhoods are nicer than ever before. This is a huge problem, since it means it can be incredibly difficult to find a fashionably distressed setting in which to raise your kids:

Eve and Rich Kessner left the West Village for Park Slope with their daughter, Avi, last March. But after six months, they found themselves looking for a new place to live. “It felt really suburban to me,” said Ms. Kessner. “Park Slope has puppets and guitar strumming for kids. In Williamsburg, it is like rock ‘n’ roll for kids.”

Sure, little kids hate puppets. They really prefer that squalid old-school chic Jacob Riis vibe:

So, in search of designer squalor, they moved to "the Edge:"

The couple bought a two-bedroom corner unit in the Edge, two towers on Williamsburg’s waterfront, and moved in at the end of December.

The Edge, by the way, is that place where you can live in "hardcore luxury." I'm still not sure what "hardcore luxury" is, but I'm guessing it probably means that there might be rats in the building, but you're not allowed to kill them.

I guess yesterday's cry for social reform is today's real estate advertisement.