Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: Ask Brooklyn

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Vital stats:
Format: interviews with Brooklyn-based experts about their expertise and how it relates to Brooklyn
Episode duration: ~30m
Frequency: 1-4 per month

When one of my peers — i.e., anyone in that vast age group, “about thirty” — tells me they live in New York, I just assume they live in Brooklyn. Thirty years ago, I suppose they would have lived in one of the more run-down parts of Manhattan, David Byrne territory. But something tells me that no “more run-down parts of Manhattan” remain. I’ve talked to the occasional youngish person who lives in Queens, but they always make it sound as remote as Guam. I’ve never encountered anyone from the Bronx or Staten Island. Then again, I live in Los Angeles, a haven for the rootless, and I suspect Brooklyn provides the same solace. You see a lot of traffic back and forth; for every Brooklynite aspiring to Angelenohood, an Angeleno aspires to Brooklynism.

“Ah, Brooklyn,” I remember Buddy Bradley, protagonist of Peter Bagge’s comic series Hate, saying upon setting foot there. “The worst place in the world.” That issue formed, in large part, my early impression of that part of New York: crowded, inconvenient, dangerous, dirty. I still haven’t visited, though I understand that, somewhere in the past fifteen years, Brooklyn made the transition from Crooklyn to something of a Portland East. Over this same span of time, though, my appreciation for the crowded, inconvenient, dangerous, and dirty has only grown, so I don’t quite know what to do. Correcting my years of built-up inaccurate third-hand impressions by listening to Ask Brooklyn [iTunes] seemed like the beginning of a solution.

The first episode of Ask Brooklyn I listened to was about a doula [MP3]. Loyal Jordan, Jesse, Go! listeners such as myself already know all about doulas, but I still found myself asking, “Wait, so we’re talking about doulas now?” A doula is a woman who provides advice and assistance to expecting mothers, and are not, so they will emphasize to you, midwives. This particular doula speaks sentences emphatically, like pronouncements, and somehow also hesitatingly, like questions, an odd tone you might remember from high school English class. Host Kate Rath, speaking to this doula over the phone, asks all about the life of a doula and what a woman engaging the services of a doula might reasonably expect. While I personally will never put this information to use, I feel somehow pleased to have heard it.

Premised on the idea of questioning Brooklyn-based experts about what they do and how they do it in the borough they do it in, the show has brought on other guests like a “wellness coach” [MP3], a therapist with recommendations for “breaking unhealthy cycles” [MP3], and the co-founder of one of those “sex-positive” shops [MP3]. Having started to wonder if Brooklyn had become a colony of Denver, I then had the same kind of epiphany I have when I suddenly realize I’ve spent the entire evening in a gay bar: this show is for women. It doesn’t get all overt about it, but then again, neither do the better class of gay bars.

But recent Ask Brooklyns have given a nod to the traditionally male practices of beer-brewing and liquor-distilling: part one with a bar’s beer director [MP3], part two with him [MP3], and one with the co-founter of New York’s first distillery since prohibition [MP3]. (So perhaps Portland really is Brooklyn’s west-coast equivalent.) The seemingly gender-neutral episodes, such as the first one about oddities in Brooklyn history like secret plane crashes and vast low-quality marijuana farms [MP3], have even more to offer. Though this sort of thing has fallen into the hands of 36-year-old ladies in synthetically advanced pants where I come from, I took a great deal way from Rath’s conversation with a teacher at one of Brooklyn’s meditation centers [MP3]. It had something to do with how they describe our constant and ill-serving impulsive search for all-consuming distractions to dull the dread and anxiety buzzing in our brain. Now more ever, we’d do well to keep as conscious of that as we can — be we of the male or female persuasion.

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[Podthinker Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture [iTunes]. Contact him at colinjmarshall at gmail or follow him on Twitter @colinmarshall.]