An exercise in trying to be an early adopter.
Also: Internet stalking.

It all started last Friday morning, when I saw a bike messenger wearing a cool T-shirt on my street. The stenciled words "Defend Brooklyn" surrounded the silhouette of a Kalashnikov assault rifle. I immediately liked the design because it took one part American Wartime Jingoistic Pride, one part New York Jingoistic Pride (go NYPD!), one part Brooklyn Street Cred (viz. the "Brooklyn" shirts sold by Triple 5 soul in Soho boutiques), combined it with a big, cool-looking gun, and made the whole thing kind of silly. Who's gonna defend Brooklyn with a Communist rifle?

I decided that I really wanted to find the shirt, especially so I could, you know, look tough in fencing class. So I started looking around the hipster shops in my neighborhood: X-Large, Union, Vice, Triple 5 Soul. Nobody had heard of it. Finally, over the weekend, a friend at Paper magazine told me that Brooklyn Industries in Williamsburg made the shirt. Aha! I got the number from information and called. No answer.

I still was only thinking of this as a mildly interesting shirt until I got to work on Monday and plugged "Defend Brooklyn" into Google. Nothing useful. Nothing, in Google? I thought that there'd be some big, fat Flash animation, at least. How about a Yahoo Yellow Pages search on "Brooklyn Industries"? Nope, nothing. I try the number again. There's an answer. Unfortunately, I find out that I'm talking to the Brooklyn Industrial Council. And they get real unfriendly when I start asking about Kalashnikovs.

At this point, it's becoming a matter of pride. I must have the shirt.

In Search of Jennifer Fettig
So I look to see if is registered with Network Solutions. It is, but no site is up. So I do a WHOIS search on the registrant, and get one Jennifer Fettig. And her phone number, and her street address:

I can get a satellite photo of her house, but my shirt does not appear to be sitting on the roof. I send her a quick email message, and leave her a voicemail for good measure. However, the shirt has not yet materialized in my lap. This is the part where I start getting mental, and sucking everyone in the office into my quest.

So my good friend and officemate Tim Griffin performs a Google Images Search and finds some possible Jennifer Fettigs:

One Jennifer Fettig was a pole vaulter from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. Originally from Crosby, North Dakota, this Jennifer Fettig was an all-MIAC athlete, graduating in the spring of 2001.

Did she leave North Dakota for the gritty streets of Red Hook? Traded a North Dakota Survival farm for an outer borough militant enclave? Somehow, I wasn't convinced that she did.

The other Jennifer Fettig was recently on the board of the Petoskey Regional Chamber of Commerce. Intrigued, I stared into her eyes, carefully examined the sweater vest. Had she been the downtown coordinator for the board, forced out when her strident calls of "Defend Chuck's! and "Defend Alfie's Attic!" grew too much for the placid, peace-loving board to bear? Was she a hellion among their mild ranks, a hipster harpy sowing militant dissention?

Examining the picture, I guessed "no."

Back to square one.

First Sortie: To Williamsburg
Still no shirt! Enraged by failure, emboldened by a two-hour hole in my Outlook calendar, I hopped on the L train and went to Williamsburg. I wandered down the main drag, lost in a sea of thrift shops, indie record stores, and juice bars. I asked a woman with fuschia hair and fuzzy pants about "Defend Brooklyn": she sent me to Lawanna's, where the proprieter wears glitter on her eyelids and sells Sailor Jerry shirts and Rockabilly gear.

Lawanna quickly set me straight:

"There's a guy who sells those shirts on the street, but not in stores. He usually sets up on the corner across from me on the weekends, but he wasn't there last week. I wonder why?"
Foiled! Oh well, at least I knew the score, now. I bought a CBGB shirt to thank her, and made my sad way home.

An Unexpected Lead
When I got back to my desk, however, the website suddenly, mysteriously appeared from nowhere:

Bingo! A big splash page, an email capture form, and a phone number! Once I have the phone number, I'm home free. Anywho quickly spits out a name and a Williamsburg address: Elliot Jokelson, Kent Avenue, Brooklyn. While I call him on the phone, a quick Google search yields the following facts:
  • Elliot is an indie film guy, and has appeared in and directed several short films in NY.
  • He went to Vassar, graduating in 1998.
  • He went to Penn Charter high school in Philadelphia
  • He looks scary when gorging himself on sardines.
Let's see... Indie film guy? Check! Lives in Brooklyn? Check! Lates film contains a reference to something called the "Kalashnikov People's Party"? Big check!

It seemed like the satellite photo of Elliot's house had a shirt on the roof for me, for sure!

The Search Comes Full Circle
I call Elliot Jokelson. The message refers me to a cellphone. I call that. Elliot picks up (success!) and hands me off to another guy. Wanting to know if our search was on target, I ask the new guy about Elliot. Film actor? Yes. Vassar? Yes. Penn Charter high school? Yes. The new guy wants to know if I'm Secret Service, and if I'm calling about the Kalashnikov T-shirt.

Bingo! The new guy turns out to be David Reeves, author of the film that Elliot stars in, and ex-employer of Elliot in... the Defend Brooklyn T-shirt project! Hurrah!

I drive my man to earth
(though not literally, like in this artist's depiction):
it's David Reeves, independent filmmaker.

Since I want to buy five T-shirts (by this time, all my office mates want one), he offers to meet me in Manhattan, at the downtown sample sale where he's keeping his stock.

Suddenly, an ugly light dawns. Sample sale? The Vice/Lithium/Triple 5 Soul sample sale? The sample sale in the East River Savings bank, barely half a block from my building?

Yep, that's the one.

It turns out that the bike messenger I saw on Friday was standing literally fifty feet from the only spot in the five boroughs where "Defend Brooklyn" T-shirts are available for sale.

Eager for closure, I hopped in a cab back home to meet David. He's a cool guy: was wearing a trucker hat with a homemade dog food patch sewn onto it, is working on a film about jail karate, was happy to tell me the history of the shirts. Five or six years ago, he was shooting film in exclusively non-white neighborhoods in Brooklyn. He hired black and Puerto Rican kids as production assistants, and got to know them. When they started complaining about white gentrification in the area, he made the shirts for his crew as a joke.

Of course, when the white Williamsburg juice-bar crowd saw the shirts, they wanted them. So he made the shirts to pay for post-production for his films, and it's working out just fine. Last month, he sold $10,000 worth of T-shirts on the street in Williamsburg.

Me? I bought five shirts and took the train home, where I distributed them among my office mates.

I can't wait for the "Jail Karate" shirts to come out! I'll wear one at the gym!


Update on 5/9/2003: I got an SMS message last night: "Defend Brooklyn? Give me a break? Every Williamsburg 'tard has had one for a year!" Yes, my friend, it's true, every Williamsburg 'tard *has* had one for a year. Since I wrote this in December of 2001, I've had mine for a year and a half, now, making me 150% as cool as a Williamsburg 'tard. Ha ha! That makes me almost as cool, as, say, guys who are into Yuh-Gi-Oh cards.

Update in 2005: This shirt gets worn on Mythbusters, so folks still continue to Google this cautionary tale about meme-spazzing. Hi folks!

David Reeves, hat in hand:
"Buy my shirt! It pays for post production for my new movie!"


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