SMIRK (audio version)
Chapter 5, Part 4: Ocean Avenue

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Chapter 5, Part 4: Ocean Avenue

This is Chapter 5, Part 4 of SMIRK, a serialized memoir of my relationship with “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli.
A photo illustration of the Brooklyn apartment building where Martin Shkreli spent his childhood.
A photo illustration of the Brooklyn apartment building where Martin Shkreli spent his childhood.

If you Google “where did Martin Shkreli grow up,” you’ll probably get an answer of Sheepshead Bay or possibly Coney Island. Both are sort of in the right ballpark, but not really accurate. Sometimes in media interviews or during his live streams, Martin will also hype up the hardscrabble aspects of his youth, by talking about having to survive on “tough” Brooklyn streets. That’s not really accurate either.

Martin actually hails from Midwood, a flat chunk of central Brooklyn that is relatively safe, solidly working and middle class, and stubbornly resistant to the influences of gentrification. Its nondescript brick apartment buildings, constructed around the 1950s, serve as home to a population of mostly Eastern European and Jewish families. Its busier streets are lined with many locally-owned shops, delis, restaurants and fruit merchants. There are decent public schools and good access to public transportation.

What the neighborhood lacks in trendiness or brand recognition, it makes up for with its long list of notable former residents. Those include Woody Allen (ok, disgraced, but still notable), filmmaker Noah Baumbach, fashion designer Issac Mizrahi, playwright Arthur Miller, and U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont). 

(I have heard through some sources, although not Martin himself, that he was actually a fan of Sanders when the Democrat was running for president in 2015 — at least until Sanders rejected a campaign contribution from Martin and loudly denounced the “Pharma Bro” in the press. I don’t think Martin minded, though, when Sanders chose to donate the $2,700 contribution to a nonprofit health clinic.) 

The Shkrelis had lived for decades in an apartment building in Midwood on Ocean Avenue, at the corner of Avenue P. In January 2020, Martin’s father, Pashko Shkreli, kindly gave me a tour of the neighborhood. When I first met Martin’s parents in June 2017, it was strictly as a journalist doing research for a book on Martin. But this time, ambling around Midwood with Pashko, I had morphed into maybe a potential daughter-in-law. 

Several months earlier, Martin had told his parents (over video chat on a contraband cell phone) that he and I were in love and considering possibly having children together. Pashko treated me accordingly. Martin was aware that Pashko and I were meeting to chat, and he encouraged it.

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SMIRK (audio version)
My experiences uncovering the story of, and falling in love with, Martin Shkreli.
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Christie Smythe