PARK SLOPE – Park Slope native Jake Dobkin has been sharing advice for newcomers to this city in true native New Yorker fashion since forever.
The co-founder of the popular New York online news site Gothamist (that was acquired by DNA Info and has since become part of WNYC), traces it to sharing tips with the young reporters he employed. Those bright-eyed youngsters often struggled to survive in the best city in the world, and well – he thought he could help.
He ended up publishing advice in a regular column and that now has turned into a remarkably generous and spot-on collection of essays on everything from what kind of animal is best to keep as a pet in the city to
tips on finding affordable housing and when is a kid old enough to be let loose in the city.
Indeed useful to those new to New York, it will save you when friends ask for advice, and will no doubt cause some raised eyebrows from other native New Yorkers. We chatted briefly.
Liena Zagare: The book was – somewhat unexpectedly – an incredibly kind read. No snark?
Jake Dobkin: I aim for thoughtful sarcasm, but not snark – I think the difference is that snark rakes every subject with the same jaundiced eye, but sarcasm only aims for appropriate targets- the rich, the powerful, the genuinely mendacious, but treats the poor, the suffering, and the powerless with sympathy.
LZ: Which chapter(s) was the hardest to write? Why?
JD: Honestly every chapter was pretty tough- I was working my day job during a crazy time in media, when things constantly felt like they were spinning out of control, trying to be a good dad to two young kids, and somehow squeezing writing into nights and weekends wherever I could. Thoreau said the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation, but New York writers really have it particularly bad.
LZ: Which was the most fun?
JD: “How to Live Like a Real New Yorker”- it contains riveting discussions of When It’s OK to Pee Outside, How to Avoid Hosting Tourists, and Why You Should Never Get a Dog, all topics I discovered I have surprisingly strong opinions about.
LZ: Which one would you say a newcomer should not skip over?
JD: Definitely “How to Keep a Roof Over Your Head”- literally every problem faced by New Yorkers begins with our disastrous, overpriced, life-force-depleting housing situations.
LZ: Is the book more of a reference guide or “start at the beginning”?
JD: I think it’s helpful for new arrivals and graduating college kids and other transplants, but I wrote every chapter with an eye to entertaining people who have lived here their whole lives. There’s just an endless number of topics natives will fight to the death over- like Where Do You Get the Best Pizza? Or Do I Have to Tip Delivery Guys in Cash? And I think plenty of long-time locals will enjoy reading them and then telling their friends why I’m so full of shit.
LZ: Any tips for your neighbors in Brooklyn? Any lessons you feel particularly relevant?
JD: My number one recommendation is getting ices at any of the Uncle Louis G’s outlets- no joke, they are the best ices I ever had, and I am an ices connoisseur. But honestly if you’re lucky enough to live in Brooklyn, you’re already doing better than 99% of the humans living on earth, so you probably don’t need that much help.
LZ: Where in Park Slope are you?
JD: When I was growing up, I lived in the South Slope, which was any block south of 3rd Street. Now, I live in the same house, but I am in the center Slope, because while I was away at college, some real estate brokers got together and expanded Park Slope all the way to Greenwood Cemetery. By the time my kids take over the house, I assume we’ll be in the North Slope, and the neighborhood will extend all the way to what is presently called Bay Ridge.
LZ: Will you ever move from Park Slope?
JD: No- we’re about 150 feet above sea level, so I figure we’ve got at least 50 years before the house gets overtaken by the waves, and my children or grandchildren are forced to flee to the higher ground in Crown Heights or Inwood. I spent almost 20 years living away from the neighborhood in such distant locales as Morningside Heights and the Village, and trust me, based on my extremely worldly experiences, there is no better place to live than South Brooklyn.
LZ: What’s your favorite thing to do in Park Slope and what gets on your nerves?
JD: Every Sunday I take an hour walk in Prospect Park, and then get a Sesame Bagel with Plain Tofu at the Bagel Market on 7th by Union. This is as close as I get to meditation and I recommend it to everyone whose nerves are totally shot, which is everyone I know in New York.
The only thing that really annoys me about the neighborhood is having to make sure everyone I ever speak to there knows that I lived there longer than them, which is a heavy conversational obligation. Maybe I should just make a button or something?
LZ: What do you think native New Yorkers can learn from the newcomers?
JD: I’ll let you know if any of us natives ever shut up long enough to listen to anything!
LZ: Which chapters have lessons particularly worthy for your direct neighbors?
JD: I think these columns might be particularly relevant to Brooklynites:
- My friend has bedbugs: Can I shun her?
- How can I stop people from doing terrible things on my block?
- What do you do if your friends are all richer than you?
- Am I a terrible gentrifier?
- Should I move to the suburbs now that I have kids?
- Should I send my kids to private school?
- When can you start letting your kid ride the subway alone?
The book – Ask a Native New Yorker – is available at the local bookstores and on Amazon.