The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory

The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory

by Stacy Wakefield


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Nominated for the Brooklyn Public Library's Brooklyn Eagles Literary Prize for Fiction

"Wakefield wrote an intrepid nonfiction book about modern squatting, Not for Rent (1996), and now vividly fictionalizes the experience, portraying various oddball characters in her charmingly laid-back, dialogue-rich first novel with empathy and insight."

"Wakefield...draws on personal experience for this colorful and entertaining depiction....the sentiment of the nomadic community in New York in the '90s comes alive through historical references and Sid's journey as she forges a network of like-minded individuals."
Publishers Weekly

"A book that Wakefield's characters would love."
Kirkus Reviews

"The angst and passion of a witty, determined young rebel makes for a saga that is compelling and vivid, and a story that will draw in any young rebel who has dreamed of bucking convention."
Midwest Book Review

One of The L Magazine's 50 Books You’ll Want to Read This Spring and Summer

"The lively novel brings to life the misfits and eccentrics that inhabited the neighborhood decades before The Wyeth Hotel and Blue Bottle opened up."

"A good novel...Wakefield's conversational tone keeps the narrative flowing and you really can't help but like Sid because of her optimistic view of squatting (and the world in general)."

"The residential squatting brought to life in Wakefield's novel is its own kind of political statement, but one that is made in everyday life choices....The characters—at least some of whom are composites of people Wakefield met while squatting—are immediate and rub up against you in familiar ways, especially if you lived through the '90s and knew people who lived this lifestyle."
KGB Bar Lit Magazine

"This gritty book gives readers a rare glimpse into the lives of the squatters in the 90s NYC scene."
Literary Orphans

"The book is a celebration of the do-it-yourself living ethos that allowed many punks to live communally in New York City at the end of the last century, but it is also a cautionary tale about the struggles of trying to get along when living in large groups."
The Brooklyn Paper

Sid arrives in New York City in 1995 eager to join the anarchist squatting scene. She's got a tattoo, she listens to the right why would she get a job and rent some tiny shoe-box apartment when she could take over a whole building with a gang of wild young pirates? But the Lower East Side is changing; there are no more empty buildings, the squats are cliquey and full.

Sid teams up with a musician from Mexico and together they find their way across the bridge to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Packs of wild dogs roam the waterfront and the rough building in which they finally find space is occupied by misfits who don't know anything about the Manhattan squatting scene, Food Not Bombs, Critical Mass, or hardcore punk. But this is Sid's chance and she's determined to make a home for herself—no matter what.

Wakefield spent years living in squatted buildings in Europe and New York and brings firsthand knowledge to Sid's story: how urban homesteaders lived without plumbing or electricity, how they managed their semilegal status, and what they cared about and fought for. With Sid, Wakefield has created a character who belongs to that world and is also entirely relatable. Sid is a resourceful, intrepid young woman with a wry sense of humor; she's great company on our journey into the lost world of New York City's recent past.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781617753039
Publisher: Akashic Books
Publication date: 05/05/2015
Pages: 228
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Stacy Wakefield is best known for her seminal nonfiction book Not for Rent—one of the first to chronicle squatting in the modern era, and an underground classic. She is the cocreator, along with Nick Zinner of the band Yeah Yeah Yeahs and writer Zachary Lipez, of the photo/essay book Please Take Me Off the Guest List, and is the author of The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory.

Read an Excerpt

The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory

By Stacy Wakefield

Akashic Books

Copyright © 2014 Stacy Wakefield
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61775-303-9


When I showed up in New York with my dog-eared copy of Hopping Freight Trains and my new tattoo, I thought getting a room at a squat would be a cinch. These were my people, right?

My dad had been worried by the tattoo. He'd asked if it might make it harder for me to find a job. But that was the whole point. People spent all their time working stupid jobs so they could buy a bunch of crap they didn't need. The whole routine was for suckers. I wouldn't need money when I was a squatter, and to join the squatters, I had to mark myself as rejecting mainstream society and its ass-backward priorities. The tattoo was a better investment than college. I could have convinced him if his new wife hadn't been looking over his shoulder making that face.

Anyway, it turned out getting into a squat was harder than joining a sorority: hopeless. I went to every show, every workday, every Food Not Bombs and Critical Mass, but the squats were all full. I'd had some vague idea about squatting my own building, but my older friend Donny, who was like my squatting mentor, said I'd never find an empty building on the Lower East Side now—I was ten years too late. He said to check out Brooklyn. But who wanted to go to Brooklyn? I didn't come all the way to New York City to live out in the middle of nowhere.

Then I met Lorenzo.

He was sleeping on the roof of ABC No Rio like me and a bunch of other summer campers and transients. It was tent city up there. I'd seen him around and knew who he was. I had his band's first seven-inch and I'd even interviewed the singer for the zine I did in high school. That was just a few months before they'd broken up after a fight so spectacular it resulted in a fire and ten arrests at a squat in Berlin on the last show of their tour. Everyone knew the story; they were notorious.

One night he was sitting near the edge of the roof drinking a forty and I went and said hi and we got to talking. It was too hot to sleep; the air was thick and oily. Lorenzo told me about the music scene in Mexico City where he grew up, about the squats his band played at in Europe, and how he'd come to New York to start a new band. He wanted to squat a building too, so I told him what Donny had said about Brooklyn, about all the empty buildings out there. I repeated what Donny had told me, that a new building had been squatted just this year in an area called Williamsburg. I liked sounding like I knew a thing or two about New York already. Lorenzo had this amused look, like life was a big messy show put on for his entertainment. The way he told stories about cops attacking a squat he was staying at in Bologna or getting strip-searched by border guards in Switzerland or hitchhiking through Spain—it seemed like he never took anything too seriously. He made me want to go on adventures with him. And okay, he was seriously good-looking. He had dark eyes and a sly smile and a Crass tattoo. I was flattered by how he took for granted that I knew the bands and cities he mentioned, talking low so all the people sleeping around us couldn't hear.

Lorenzo was into it and suddenly being out in Brooklyn didn't sound so bad. He said it'd be so much better to start a building ourselves and invite in who we wanted, instead of kissing ass at the established squats. He said a German dude had told him how to figure out if a building was abandoned: you hide a matchstick in the doorframe, and if it's still there a week later you know no one is going in or out. He knew all kinds of tricks like that. I got my map out of my bag. Williamsburg was right over the river. It was the new frontier. We agreed to go explore after dark one night. I could hardly believe my luck. Lorenzo from Disguerro! He was so cool! We were going to be a team!

I didn't see him the next day. When night fell, I went up and sat on the roof to wait for him. The later it got, the more I worried. Maybe I'd misunderstood. Maybe he meant another day. Then it was midnight and I started thinking I'd gotten carried away. Probably he was just talking. Why would a guy like Lorenzo move all the way out to Brooklyn? Maybe he'd gotten offered another place to live. Or even worse: maybe he could see I liked him even though I'd tried to be cool and it scared him off. That had happened before. Guys think I'm great because I'm not girly, we like the same bands and talk about records, and they really like me, but when it comes down to it, they can't deal with the size of my ass. He'd probably hooked up with one of these skinny waitresses with a Betty Page haircut and tattoos. They were all over the neighborhood and they had apartments with air-conditioning. Lorenzo was probably somewhere like that right now, watching cable TV. He looked like a glue-sniffing badass from Mexico City, but he'd let some things slip last night—like how his sister did ballet ... I stopped myself. He was gone one night and I was turning on him like a crazy person. Take a breath, Sid, I told myself. Go to bed.

The next day I distracted myself by drawing in my sketchbook. I only worked one day a week, running Donny's record and zine table at hardcore matinees at ABC No Rio, so I didn't have anything I had to do. I drew Mohawked punks getting chased by cops. Riot grrrls beating perverts with their little purses. Yuppies being devoured by their designer furniture. When I was immersed in a drawing I forgot about everything else—like the fact that summer was going to be over soon and if I didn't find someplace to live I was going to have to take a bus back to New England and beg my old boss to give me my stupid job at the comic store back.

Then, on the third night, Lorenzo showed up after midnight. He whispered, "C'mon," and I jumped out of my sleeping bag and laced up my boots.

Delancey Street was just one block south of ABC No Rio. And there it was: the Williamsburg Bridge. I'd never thought about where it went. Squatters never left the Lower East Side, never took the subway. Everyone bragged about how many years it had been since they'd gone above 14th Street. The bridge rose huge and monstrous with a wide iron staircase right in the middle, traffic sweeping around on both sides.

We climbed up the stairs and the walkway twisted and turned and got really narrow. I was hyper-alert but Lorenzo seemed relaxed, humming a bass line under his breath. He wasn't a big guy, he was just a little taller than me, compact and scrappy, with black dreadlocks that grew forward over his face. Above the river the walkway widened.

"What's that one?" Lorenzo pointed up the East River.

"Queensboro Bridge."

We were up high enough now to see past the projects and tenements on the East River to the lights of Midtown. The Empire State Building was lit red, white, and blue for the Fourth of July. I bit my tongue to keep from pointing it out, afraid I'd sound like a tour guide. I was so relieved Lorenzo was back, I had to watch it or I'd gush.

Across the water, the Domino Sugar factory smoldered on the river, smelling like burnt toast. The rest of Williamsburg was in shadow. Low buildings, dark. We climbed down rickety caged stairs under a dripping highway overpass and now we were in Brooklyn, with none of the fanfare of the Manhattan side. Donny had said Williamsburg had once been a thriving industrial area but now most of the factories facing the bridge were boarded up and derelict.

Lorenzo walked back toward the water, staying close to the bridge. A mangy dog with no collar passed, head low, eyes tilted up suspiciously.

We turned north on a street near the water and found ourselves drawn to a narrow brick building. It rose out of an overgrown lot like a weed, on a little street that sloped down to the Domino factory. The windows on the first floor were bricked over and upstairs they were covered in plywood. It was very exposed and alone in its little yard, but its small scale was appealing.

When we got closer we could see the spray-painted square above the front door, with one line across it. Donny said a square with an X meant the fire department had cut holes in the roof to ventilate in case of fire. A square with no X meant they hadn't cut it open yet—that was the symbol to look for. But one line? What did that mean?

We climbed a weedy cement stoop to the front door. It was padlocked from the outside but the wood was so old Lorenzo was able to slip his Leatherman under the screws and pry the whole thing off the frame while I watched for cars. There was no one around.

Lorenzo pushed inside and then stood holding onto the doorframe with his sinewy arm. I looked over his shoulder. My tiny Maglite illuminated the threshold and then, past that, no floor at all. We were standing above a black pit of rubble. A little streetlight filtered down through the loose boards over the windows and our eyes slowly adjusted. Above us, what must have once been three stories had collapsed into the basement.

"It's like being inside a chimney." My whisper echoed through the tall space.

We explored the neighborhood until dawn, and then the next night, and the next. There were blocks tight with shabby vinyl-sided row houses, bicycles and cats outside. Low concrete warehouses with metal roll gates that were probably in use during the day. There were plenty of boarded-up buildings, but they were all too huge, too well-sealed, too close to inhabited buildings.

I kept notes of addresses to watch in my sketchbook. I wasn't sure we were getting anywhere but I liked hanging out with Lorenzo. I felt cool just walking next to him. We fit together so well, we walked at the same pace, and we had so much in common. We'd both given up trying to be vegan, we both thought the Ramones were overrated and secretly loved Guns N' Roses, we both had Infest and Born Against patches on our backpacks. The difference was, Lorenzo actually knew those guys. He'd met and played with all my favorite bands, he'd stayed at their houses and borrowed their gear. And now he was here with me.

We kept going back to the building we called the Chimney to check on our matchstick, and it hadn't budged. One night while we stood outside, Lorenzo gave me a sly look, his dark eyes shadowed by long lashes. He said we should spend the night inside. I was game. Really, when he looked at me like that, I was game for anything.

I held my flashlight in the doorway while Lorenzo got the door open. We let our eyes adjust standing on the edge of the stoop by the door, then he maneuvered around the rubble pit to the bigger ledge in back, nimble as a rock climber.

I held tight to the wall, finding footholds in the brick. It reminded me of the abandoned railroad bridge where the kids from my high school hung out drinking beer. I was the one who couldn't wait to climb to the top first. Which made the boys mad because then they had to climb as high as me. It was easier for them, they didn't have boobs getting in the way. From the platform near the ground, the girls would cry at us not to go too high, missing all the fun. This ledge might not be high up but it was narrow and I was slow and awkward. I'm not big because I'm a lazy slob, like everyone thinks fat people are. It's just how I'm built, there's nothing I can do about it.

Lorenzo held out his hand from the platform in back and I took it even though I didn't need help. His grip was warm and tight and made my head feel like it was going to explode. Luckily it was too dark for him to see me blush. A scurrying sound in the pit made us flinch. Lorenzo let go of my hand and sat against the wall. The platform was like a deck over a lake. He pulled his knees up to his chin so skin was visible through the holes in his Carhartts.

"We get boards, we can stretch them across," he said, pointing, "put in a new floor."

I eased down next to him. It smelled foul. Where would we get boards that long, and how would we get them into the building unseen? How much would they cost? I wondered if the squat Donny had told us about was close by. They must have had to do these things too. I wished we could ask them how.

I pulled the sketchbook out of my backpack, stretched out with the big flashlight next to me, and drew a floor plan of the space, so we could organize materials later. I marked where the windows were and the front door. The scurrying came and went. The night was hot, the air in the building thick and stagnant, but I pulled my hoodie around me to cover my skin. I shut my eyes for a moment.

A sound startled me, shrieking from the pit. I jerked up, my back stiff.

"What happened?" Lorenzo growled, all groggy. He'd dozed off.

"My pencil," I said. It had rolled into the pit. I didn't want to fall asleep again. Next it would be me rolling in there.

We left to get some air, plodding through the neighborhood, all sweaty, not talking. I tied my hoodie around my waist and sipped from my water bottle, wishing I had gum to kill the dead taste in my mouth. We crossed a highway overpass above the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Thin, late-night traffic flowed below us, a few trucks. On the other side Lorenzo flicked my arm and stopped short. I froze. He was looking at a man framed in a circle of lamplight a block away.

We eased back, staying behind a short fence around a little playground. The man was wearing a sweatshirt with the hood up despite the heat. He had a flashlight gripped in his teeth and he was crouched at the lamppost with tools.

From around a corner a dog appeared. She paused, paw up, alert. The man was intent on what he was doing, he didn't see the dog or us. The dog walked toward him, head down. From the corner two more dogs appeared behind her, then another, even more starved and skinny, with a limp. They approached the man with surprising speed.

Lorenzo moved in a flash. The man looked up and saw him and fell back from his crouch, catching himself hard on one wrist. The flashlight hit the pavement. The dog was on the man already, jaws aimed at his hand on the ground. Lorenzo's boot connected with her side and she skittered away, snarling. Lorenzo made a guttural cry and lunged and she backed off. Her pack scattered behind her. They turned tail and fled the way they had come.

I jogged up to the lamppost, my heart racing. The man was on his feet now. He looked like an athlete under his hood and he was young. He was wearing work gloves.

He stared at Lorenzo and me like he was trying to place us as well—our army backpacks, boots, my bangs under a bandanna. I don't know what we looked like we might be doing in the neighborhood at this time of night. We stood there together, breathing hard, taking each other in while traffic continued below us on the BQE. On one side, a residential street of tight row houses covered in vinyl and fake brick hummed with air conditioners and sleeping people.

A door slammed and our three heads spun to watch a short guy burst out of the brick building nearest us. He had a nervous look and straight hair pulled back in a ponytail. He was wearing beat-up dress shoes and acid-washed jeans.

"You okay?" he asked the big guy, uncertainly.

The big guy nodded. "Those damn dogs. And I thought this guy was about to mug me. But he was just quicker on the take than me. Thanks, man." He reached to shake Lorenzo's hand.

"Was it that yellow dog?" The little guy hugged his arms tight to his chest. "That dog's mean, I see him around all the time."

"Yeah, yellow," Lorenzo said.

I looked back at the dark building. From a third-story window, a cord snaked over the road and dangled down loose next to the lamppost. The tall guy followed my eyes. On the sidewalk were clippers, screwdriver, wire nuts. He wasn't tagging; he was hooking up electricity. From the lamppost. When I put that together, I almost yelled out loud. This must be the squat Donny had told us about! Lorenzo and I caught each other's eyes. These guys wouldn't be intimidated by getting thirty-foot lumber into their building. These were the people to know.

We stayed with the big guy, Mitch, while the nervous long-haired one, Skip, ran back up to the fuse box on the third floor. I held my big flashlight and Lorenzo gripped a wire with his Leatherman while Mitch connected it. When Mitch stood, looking up at the window expectantly, my heart was in my throat with excitement.

Skip's head darted out of an upstairs window and he whistled. Mitch led us into the building. The air inside the cramped foyer was cooler and damper than outside. Rubble crunched under our feet. Mitch ducked his head beneath a beam held at a wacky angle by two metal columns, and went up a narrow staircase.


Excerpted from The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory by Stacy Wakefield. Copyright © 2014 Stacy Wakefield. Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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