Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Brooklyn was Beautiful Today

I don't know if it was because of the weather, a perfect clear mid 70s feel with that no humidity clarity perfect blue sky you get after a weekend of deluge, or because I wasn't here for the deluge and its torrential buckets, or if it was because I was in Boston all weekend and just coming back and so it was all new again in its pure city-ness (I like Boston. I do. But you look around and, you know, everyone's kind of white, and kind of ruddy-faced Irish of one kind or another, or generally United Kingdomish with a splash of Portuguese--which makes for dramatic dark moustaches--and there are lots of pubs with green bunting and shamrocks and the notre dame 'fightin' irish' fella with his angry leprechaun dukes up, and everyone seems to be talking about Go Celts! or do the Sawx have what it takes and what if the Yankees don't make the playoffs that would be wicked cool. All of this is interesting to me, and the lobster roll and homemade ice cream I had was kickin, plus I got to swim in Walden Pond, which was surreal since the place is now a hot spot to cool down, with scads of kids engulfing the funny smelling shores (the water gave off that slightly uncomfortable freshwater in hot weather acridity, which I kinda love, in all honesty) and the tree rim being interrupted by a bath house here and there for changing, but I relished it if only for the transformation. But still...you come back on the bus and you watch Massachusetts and the little marina towns and new english quaintity of outer Connecticut give way to the raucous concrete migraine that is the Bronx, and then you pop out in Harlem and leafy upper Manhattan, zooming down Museum Mile then through central park then you're blammo jet shot back into the subway system where you finally exhaustedly walk your luggage the few blocks from the stop to home and people are out and lovers are real and no one, no one, from the obese family sitting across from you on the train and the over made-up face of the resigned mother giving them candy in place of love, to the perfect skin perfect short hair, a vision of fleshly sculpture tall asian women leafing delicately with twig arms through a magazine, to the steel drums and dreadlocks parade of my neighborhood and the bushy fella who keeps watch on New York Ave., a brown bagged Mackeson sweet stout in his hand--none of them, none of it, is the same for more than a blink. Here, let me give you an easy contrast side-by-side of Boston and New York: Boston's south station, which holds the commuter rail, T stop, and bus terminal (it's sort of Grand Central, though more of a hub for more kinds of transport), has, I think, around 25 or 30 gates for buses. Port Authority, the bus terminal at 42nd and 8th ave. in Manhattan, had, at last count, something like 80, maybe more. And it only does buses, with a couple subway lines going into it. Near South Station is Boston's Chinatown, which you can see if you look down a street. It's clean looking, small, and has a huge tourist welcoming green sign-banner thing with ideographs presumably saying welcome to chinatown in Chinese cantonese or something. It's wooden and the characters are painted gold and it looks like a good place to take your kids. Like the "Near East" section of it's a small town after all at Disneyworld. New York's Chinatown is a sea-beast, with population tentacles shooting out and swallowing whole entire blocks of little Italy, which is gasping to hold on to a few last blocks before the constriction of wave after wave (or barge after barge) of immigrants floods the tides of the rickety brick and stone fire escapes. The place is teeming--it moves at a shorter height, and a much faster pace--than even normal NYC movement when you walk through it. Behind shaded or blinded windows ten stories high echoes of turn of the century tenements reek out fish odors and hung laundry and weird crepe paper cutout thingies that wave in the window and stream from window to window and building to building. behind the windows are makeshift plywood dividers that turn two rooms into four, and studios into homes for families of six, seven, or eight. Plastic bags hang everywhere, on one wall a drunken uncle scribbles poetry in his native language, mostly one or two lines about vomit or the smell or the taste and smell of noodles when they steam or the sounds of the buses screeching onto the curb as rival bus lines fight for customers with tiny ticket takers buzzing around or lying in the street to block other companies' buses from parking. A woman stands sad-eyed in the sunset after shuttering her dry cleaners for the last time, mopping her eyes as the fishmongers hock their exotic species from lined up bubble tanks in what looks like a chinese version of a pet store but what is actually wives and grandmother selecting a good pick for dinner, the fish darting behind the bubbletubes and racing in the tiny plastic bins, suddenly exposed after the mini-sized forklifts unloaded them from enormous coolertanks so they could be displayed on what seems to be the sidewalk but which the fishmonger has turned into the new boundary for his storefront. It is an instantly foreign place. It makes you forget where you belong to, where you are, what this place called America is.)

Anyway, so Brooklyn was something else today. It seemed to me full of grace. Let me take you back to what I just came in from, in no particular order after that.

I'm asking how much an 18lb. bag of Kingsford costs. The cashier smiles and says sure, no problem.
"That's charcoal, right?"
"Yup. That's a big bag of charcoal."
"11.19, but there's tax on that." She says this so fast, so New York, that it sounds to my ears like, "11.19, buthassaxamant." I make a stupid voice, ask her to repeat herself, understand finally, and tell her I'll take it.
Meanwhile, a ladybug has taken up residence on my hand. I know this, but I figure it's better to shoo it after I get outside rather than in the store.
"ohhhh!" She's alarmed, not excited like a little kid. She points, "You've got a ladybug--is that a ladybug?"
"Yeah." I go to show to her and she recoils. "I was gonna let it out outside."
She grimaces. "I hate bugs. I'm sorry, I just can't stand him."
"But it's a /lady/bug."
"Don't they bite?"
"You're from New York--you're a New Yorker, right?"
Then she does the obligatory toughface, "That's right I'm a New Yorker. Brooklyn born and raised."
"Yeah, I knew I wasn't from New York when I first moved here and saw a bunch of kids in the park look terrified at a squirrel."
"So they don't bite?"
"It's been sitting right her on my hand and did it bite me?" And here the ladybug got a sense of humor and flew off my hand. "See it flew away, wants to get outside, maybe it's flying to you to show how it won't bite."
And she flips the freak OUT. She knocks her headset off and starts delintifying her self with desperate sweeps of her hands. "Get it off get it off!" She looks at me, no toughface anywhere in sight. "Is it on me?"
I just grin and shake my head and walk out the door. "have a nice day!"
"You too!"

Between there and home, which is a block and a half, I see a bunch of school buses pass by. You can always hear tons of kids screaming out the windows, but this time I slow down and pay attention because there's acrossing and I don't have the walk sign. There's a woman next to me waiting at the bus stop. Two kids, maybe 8 or 9, boys, in white shirts and dark pants, uniforms, are hanging half out the window with their finger up. Turns out it's their middle fingers (one boy has his upside down), and they're shouting something like, "Fuck a pussy," or "fuck your pussy" or some combination of the two words. I hear the woman behind me as I cross yell,
Then I'm on the other side of the street, in front of the all Catholic, all Black, mostly Caribbean, church next door to home. There's a fedex truck parked on the curb and two employees in the front with the doors all open, enjoying the day. They've both got black skullie doorags on in addition to their uniforms, the driver's passed out and the passenger's flipping slowly through a New York Post, totally at ease.

On my first trip out earlier today the neighborhood crazy man on Eastern Parkway, who usually is totally silent and drooping his head down, is twirling his hands like he's simulating a wheel's motion. His eyebrows are raised and he's talking about, Idea! Idea! It's Idea!

Then I got off the train at Borough Hall, which is the sort of downtown of Brooklyn (downtown is considered closest to Manhattan--think of it as the tip nearest that island, where the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge are. It's also where all the official looking buildings are, including the court house whose front they used when filming Law and Order). I pop out of the station and go to the market and run some errands in the vicinity, and next thing I hear two little girl voices, amplified, singing that Alicia Keyes song--the one with the hook that goes, "No one, no one, no wwwwuuuuunnnn," in ascending pitch. There's just two of them all made out in dresses and little flowers in their ears, on this bandstand in front of Borough Hall itself where they've been having what are mostly lame children's chorus concerts with bad piano that bank on the cute factor for anyone to stop and listen. Not today--these girls were RIPPING that song! And there was a throng of folks there, some smiling in that awww, so cute, way, but many moving along to the music, getting hip to it, you know. I stood for a moment myself, bogged down with the first cherries and blueberries of the season along with the last strawberries it looks like, some new garlic and spring onions, a dozen eggs, some weird purslane I want to try, asparagus, and a couple tomatoes, bopping my head in spite of myself and the fact that I don't even /like/ that song. Turns out that may depend on who's singing it.

And everywhere the tiger lillies have exploded next to the fading peonies and the overgrown yard on the corner of new york and eastern parkway is exploding with poppies and some enormously tall snapdragon looking things that must be six feet up and have a bigger bloom despite growing up the stem like a snapdragon. Can't figure them out, or the yard in particular, since it has no garden-plan attached to it, but I like it.

So when I was careening back home on the train full of the usual jamaican and barabadosean and trini accents, and the mother scrunched next to her slumping teenaged son, all iced out in the ears and around the neck and fingers, smoothing out his back and telling him in shushing tones that it was all right, they'll make it without dad, and the kid who looks like a man but clearly feels like crying, fuckall if it's in public, his eyes bulging and blinking and him wiping and dabbing at his face when no words can come, and the scene and sounds and people that have grown soothing to me, comfortable despite the fact that I'm almost always, for the last couple stops anyway, the only whiteboy in the car--when all this mellow got sliced up by a tall whitewoman in a floralprint dress standing directly in front of me, her pastel echoing pansies making impressions across her slim figure and slight slope of taut belly, curving into her calves and then on into her yellow jelly laced sandals that look like they are positively murdering her pinky toes, and she holds up a book and starts reading it so I can read the title, "All Those Sad Literary Boys," I am ok with it. And even when I read the back cover, and the little endorsing write-ups from other sad literary boys, and see that among them is a blurb by Jonathan Franzen, my literary Magneto, my Dr. Octopus archnemesis I HATE that effing guy, that no talent having success anyway published motherfucker--even then, even when I saw him and saw here reading this schlock and feeling sophisticated and all that, even then I didn't feel rattled. I just leaned back and let it glide, because even the wind was on my side today--I could feel it.

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