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more Brooklyn stuff

June 25, 2009

I’ve seen from time to time posts by other Is it Luck? contributors seeking to answer this question, so here’s my entry onto that stage.

I live in Windsor Terrace, a neighborhood in Brooklyn southwest of Prospect Park.  My neighborhood is lovely – nice, well-kept buildings, lot of families who have lived here a long time (some, including my next door neighbor, for several generations), largely Catholic, Irish, Italian, lots of firefighters, cops…  There are more and more people like me and my wife (or like we were when we moved here 9 years ago – young, just out of college), but still the neighborhood generally retains the character I imagine it’s had for ages.

There are many neighborhood fixtures.  One is Marie.  Marie is (or looks) in at least her mid 80s.  As far as I can tell, she lives alone.  She’s always sitting out on her stoop.  When I pass with my son, who’s almost 10 months old, she can’t get enough of him.  “Aw!”  “Look at ‘im!”  “Ain’t he cute?” “Aw, he’s happy.  He’s smilin’.”  “He’s friendly!” “What’s his name?”  “Ain’t he cute?”  “Lookit ‘im smilin’!” “Oh, he’s a doll.”  She always asks me what his name is, every time we pass.  Sometimes more than once.

Marie is old and weak.  But every day, several times per day, she gets up from her folding chair, descends her stoop, shuffles the block and a half to the corner bodega a few feet at a time, buys a can of soda, and returns.  I’ve taken recently to sitting out on my stoop with Ben (the aforementioned 10-month-old), pointing out cars and dogs and squirrels and birdies and other babies, etc, so I’ve watched Marie do her rounds many times.  The whole trip takes about 20 minutes.  Sometimes she just walks the half block to her corner and stands there, holding onto her neighbor’s iron gate and looking around.  When she does so, she always lingers there several minutes before turning back and returning to her stoop.  I see her there sometimes, and I can’t tell if she’s confused or just taking a breather between laps.  I see her in the bodega sometimes as well.  Akin to her interactions with me, she always has a menagerie of sweet one-liners and rhetorical questions for the bodega owner as she fishes out crumpled dollar bills from the pocket of the black coat she’s always wearing.  There are other people she stops and talks to, too.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen her with someone, though.

Another fixture in my neighborhood is a middle-aged, chubby, homeless guy with a Keith Hernandez moustache whose name I don’t know.  As homeless people go, this guy seems pretty stable.  He’s been here as long as we have – longer I’m sure.  The only interaction I’ve ever had with him, though I see him all the time, was one horrendously freezing, blustering winter night when I gave him what I figured was enough for him to get a room for the night somewhere.  He looked at the cash, then at me, and said, “Hey, thanks man.  Wow.”  He seemed pretty lucid and with-it.   I’ve never, in 9 years, though I see him most days, given him anything else, spoken to him, or maintained any length of eye contact with him.  It’s just by he sheer number of times I’ve walked past him (pretty much every time I’ve gone to the block near my house with all the shops and the subway stations) that I feel I know anything about him.  I’ve never seen him beg – the money I gave him that night was unsolicited – but I’ve seen him doing odd jobs for people and local businesses, sweeping the sidewalk and that sort of thing.  By far the most common situation in which I encounter him is sitting next to the side door of the bar on the corner, listening to his radio (often a game).

He strikes me as someone who’s sort of “figured out” street living.  He has his possessions, his territory, his routines (eg, I frequently see him having coffee outside the same stationery store).  He’s even got a specific place that he goes and sits and freaks out, which is very orderly, too, in its own way (and not that frequent): talk a bunch, breathe into paper bag, drink a sip from a 16 oz Budweiser, breathe into paper bag, talk a bunch, etc, all while remaining seated, always on the same bench (I’ve witnessed this 4-5 times over the years).  I like to think that if reality were a Mark Twain novel, he’d be called “Homeless Joe”, and he’d have his own sort of eccentric wisdom to impart to unemployed 30-somethings with masters degrees and babies and loans to pay back.  Then I remember that he actually goes minute to minute trying to find things to eat, places to sleep, places to shit, and ways to divert his mind from his unlucky circumstances, and I feel terrible for romanticizing him.

I think of Marie and the mustached homeless man as two of many “loops” that comprise the ambient piece that is my immediate neighborhood.  Lots of more fleeting “musical episodes” happen on the surface, but those two, and many others (upon whom I may expound at a later date), form the static motion against which they are “heard” and understood. (forgive me – the aforementioned masters degree happens to be in music composition)

And in keeping with another established meme at Is It Luck?, I’ll sign off with:


4 Comments leave one →
  1. JoJo permalink
    June 25, 2009 12:49 pm

    very nice.

  2. Aaron permalink
    June 25, 2009 2:48 pm

    My quintessential “New York” character sighting occurred in Alek’s neighborhood. I live just down the hill, and as I was jogging towards the intersection of Prospect Park Southwest and 16th St. (yuppie gentrifier that I am) I saw what can only be described as the greatest mug of my life. A 220 pound white guy, maybe mid thirties, whose flattened face spoke to rounds in the boxing ring. He wore a timeless sweatsuit, white sneakers and an old fashioned brimmed cap and looked like he had stepped out of another time. Just as I passed, I heard a voice from above yell… “Yo MiKEY!” I turned to see Mickey turn his mug to the second story window of the corner building and shout. “Sup Tone.”

  3. June 25, 2009 4:14 pm

    Aaron, that’s a real windsor terrace moment, for sure. I encountered a similarly perfect encapsulation of the dark side of the neighborhood as I passed a group of (I think) Italian american teens complaining to each other about the a small lubovitcher demonstration/gathering/miscellaneous event that was happening a block away, which included some amplified Jewish singing. One said, “that’s fuckin’ offensive,” and another responded, “I don’t go to their fuckin’ neighborhood and play Christmas carrols ‘n shit.” they were really quite upset.

  4. Kari permalink
    June 26, 2009 10:54 pm

    That was a really great post. Great writing!

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