import_contacts Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood

reviewed by Tom Hartman

Published in Issue No. 55 ~ December, 2001

You won’t find any twee toy choo-choos, squeaky-voiced hand puppets or
cardigan-wearing hosts in Mr Beller’s neighboorhood. Mr Beller’s
neighborhood is Manhattan, and what you will find are personal essays,
reflections, memoirs and anecdotes chronicling just about every corner
of the Big Apple.

An impressively designed (if slow-loading) site, MBN uses an aereal
map of Manhattan as it’s navigational metaphor. Run your mouse over a
section of the map, which then goes red and reveals the names of the
neighborhood or neighborhood you are about to visit, and click to see
a second map covered with red and green dots representing locales
(street corners , shops,
parks, whathaveyou) featured in the site’s narratives. You can also
search Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood to find pieces that feature various
personalities: authors, celebrities, eccentrics, movie stars and the
like, from W.H. Auden to Joe Gould to Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys.

Some are of the pieces here are fairly straightforwardly anecdotal,
written with the same easy conversationality you’d expect from a
friend spinning tales over beers; others are extremely well-polished
pieces that would make the proponents of creative non-fiction proud.
Overall, from darkly humorous to moodily introspective to uplifting,
the texts here make for a consistently enjoyable reading experience.

Immediately following the Sept. 11th attack on the World Trade Center,
Mr. Bellers Neighborhood draped an American flag over above its left
navbar and added new content chronicling the tragedy in the form of
first-hand accounts, or “views,” from Long Island, the Promenade in
Brooklyn, Israel and elsewhere. Ever since, there’s been a
considerable amount of content devoted to the WTC attack and its
aftermath, including pieces by well-knowns of the caliber of Philip
Lopate. In essence, Mr. Beller’s has become a collection point of
sorts for New Yorkers’ narratives of their personal experience of
Sept. 11, the locus for a growing collaborative history. Now in
particular there is much significant writing to discover on this site.

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Tom Hartman has been a regular contributor to Pif since 1999. He lives in Philadelphia.