We Explored The Hole With Speedy Ortiz

As I sit down to write this, I am battered and bruised. My limbs are covered in bug bites and scratches, and all the Icy Hot in the world cannot soothe my aching muscles. My beloved iPhone is gone, replaced by a $15 burner until I can replace it. I am (barely) living proof of the very physical dangers of taking on too many freelance writing assignments.

Let's back up a few days and explain. I have the chance to hang out with Speedy Ortiz, the fast-rising college rock (subcategory: loud rock) band that's been burning up the indie world with a Best New Music from Pitchfork, a sardonic attitude straight out of the '90s, and a general refusal to be boring. For an activity, we've selected The Hole, a dilapidated hinterland between East New York and Howard Beach where the mafia used to dump bodies, where wild dogs run free and the Federation of Black Cowboys stable their horses. It is billed as a "modern day ghost town," a sunken swamp no one can build on, not even shady NYC developers, a land that time (and Bloomberg) forgot, full of boarded up houses and weird garbage.

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I'm burning the candle at both ends lately, so when I have an hour in between finishing my day job and our appointed meeting time, I decide to do research on the band rather than The Hole, because I like this band and want to have good conversations with them. The Hole seems self-explanatory. The band's irregular rhythms and delectable, brain-twisting lyrics, not so much. I take a closer listen to their excellent debut full-length Major Arcana and find out some basic facts about them, like how Sadie worked at the Barnard College radio station at the same time I would have been listening to it and is now getting her MFA in poetry. She's funny and a little bit shy in interviews, and seems like someone I might be friends with.

When the band pulls up to my house in their van, I throw on a dress without thinking and jump in. Despite their grueling touring schedule, Mike, Darl, Sadie and Matt seem chipper. They tell me they're coming from a house show in West Philly, where they played in a gutted kitchen with balconies all around it, and they're going to record a live session with BreakThru Radio later in the evening before returning home to Massachusetts and Connecticut. Everyone's stoked to explore The Hole, especially Sadie, who's driving. "I grew up in New York and I've always wanted to go," she says. In the front window of the van dangles Seb, a plastic crab given to them by a buddy who lives in Baltimore. I hope he brings good luck to our journey.

We park near where we think the entrance to The Hole is, beside a baseball field where a game is going on. Everyone but me and Darl leaves their phones and wallets in the car, as they've been told it's a "dangerous area." I need mine to take pictures, so I bring my whole purse.

As we approach a fenced in area we think is The Hole, we see the neighborhood around it isn't looking so hot either, with flooded streets, abandoned buildings, rusted-out cars, and blocks with just a few houses on them. It looks more like parts of post-Katrina New Orleans than New York. We even see a collarless dog limping around that may or may not be wild. But the place is clearly inhabited, with people walking their dogs and hanging out on their porches.


Despite various signs to the contrary, we think this couldn't possibly be The Hole, as that would just be way too mean a name to call an actual neighborhood where people live. I mean, might as well call the streets "Disgusting Drive" and "Cesspool Circle" while you're at it. I will later find out that of course this is The Hole and they actually do have cesspools here, which as it turns out are a legitimate, if flawed, form of sewage disposal.


The fence is festooned with signs saying "WANT OUT? I BUY HOUSES" and "NO TRESPASSING, VIDEO SURVEILLANCE," but we find the camera the sign is referring to dangling impotently from some frayed wires. After taking a picture in front of a "SMILE, YOU'RE ON CAMERA" sign, we climb through a weak point in the fence one by one.

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