Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: brooklyn, buffalo, cities, dipsets, rant, roommate, sidewalks, strangers
There’s something that’s been stuck in my head since before I moved here, but the other night it came back and settled into the pit of my stomach when a glass and a half of wine gave me the courage to fight for it a little, but not enough. And it feels like something needs to be put to bed, or at least needs to be a read a story before I shut the door, hold my breath for a second, and hope for the best, for now.
One of my last pre-Brooklyn days in the Buff, I spent a couple hours helping Whit canvass on Massachusetts and it was that time of day. The time I can’t write about or talk about or gulp down enough. “Magic hour:” the end of a summer evening when the sun leans back and says Here, you there, take it. Look around. It’s yours. Right where it should be.
We wandered down opposite sides of the block to tell people about PUSH’s tree planting and I was nervous at first, to amble right up strangers’ walks and knock on their doors with no pretense but the little orange flyer in my hand. But like I have so many times before, I found my footing in Whitney’s. I watched her gait, any hesitance squashed by confidence, and her smile, with no beginning or end. So too I found my groove. And so we walked and we walked and some of the porches sagged and the wrought iron railings of front steps leaned to one side like a laugh that requires more than your mouth. Sometimes the houses were empty, windowless, and inside clouded windows you could see dried paint cans and so you shrugged, turned, kept going. And when you did there was too much life in the way too remember the empty rooms.
Here people sit in little staggered pyramids, spilling out from the porch to the lawn, braiding hair and eating bowls of pasta and shrieking with laughter and drinking from beer cans dwarfed by so many hands. The playgrounds are full and so are the doorways. Everyone wants to know who we are, why we are there, and in exchange we always get a little of them. And it only takes a little of this to start to feel grounded in a kind of mutual knowing that feels comfortably weathered, easy. Whit and I make a lot promises as white teeth and hat brims tilt towards us to see if each of us are going to the event that weekend. “But what about you? You gonna be there?” We get smiles and questions and handshakes and we get very hungry. So we head into Allentown and devour grilled sandwiches served to us on thick wood boards and drink draft beers and one part of the night slides into another, drifting like only September days do.
I do not think what I did–what we, though Whit gets to go on baller West Side adventures all the time–should be seen as strange or brave or noteworthy, but there were certain truths I could not ignore that day, truths that reveal themselves over and over. That the list of those who would not willingly spend two hours that way is long, that I would get more raised eyebrows than informed questions or even small talk-level interest if I told anyone I spent part of the afternoon wandering Massachusetts Avenue. Most would insist that that day was some kind of exception, and I’m sick at the thought of to what? Because when it became certain I was moving to Brooklyn, I was grilled by everyone—oh how the experts REVEAL themselves when you make a LifeChoice!–on which neighborhood, where. Two words are used there:
Oh good, they say. That’s a good neighborhood. And Can you imagine? Thank god you didn’t end up there. Everyone squishes their mouth around to fit the weight of it, We were living in a BAD neighborhood then, remember? The goal is to always get out of the bad and into the good. If you are moving or running or lost. The answer is always to face your back to the street, and leave. The cop pulls up, looks at you over sunglasses in which you see yourself, only smaller, and says What are you doing HERE anyway? Listen, just don’t ever come back this way, and you’ll be fine, OK? And you are relieved, and run into the long arms of blocks with storefronts selling coffee and flowers and live to tell the tale. Who is immune to it, the story that ends in we ended up in a BAD part of town? It’s a common trope; an accepted, celebrated one that embraces the teller back into the good. What is left never matters.
It’s the “bad” part that gets me. That the “neighborhood” is what is bad. There are bad circumstances, bad structures, bad policies, bad cycles and habits and choices and chances and no I will not say bad people. (Call it naivete, but I’m going with it.) But if there is a place somewhere: where the doors spill out into a sidewalk because doors are for people to enter and leave in a way that pushes them into one another, that backs up their stories like the lawn into the driveway where folding chairs are circled on Sundays sometimes, if there is a line of long-legged kids who run past and yell into open windows and know the corners that mark the borders of their worlds, if you can hear, on warm nights, the murmur of the lives next to you if only for proof that they are there, breathing, and if you know what the people across the street look like only by their eyes because when the snow came they stuck their shovels under your car until the icy yowl of your tires stopped, then this is not what is bad. This will never be bad.
“But if you, OK, if you had them, if you had crime statistics for a list of neighborhoods, wouldn’t you choose to live in the one with less?” He says. He’s wearing my estate sale-d floral apron, and what’s supposed to be the waistline stretches over the top of his growing beer gut, and he’s smirking, as if he’s already arrived at the punch line, already won.
See the thing is, those aren’t the only numbers that work for me. They’ll never work like the ones on the front of a house that glow when the streetlights go on just to say, We’re still here. You can’t know those numbers when you live in blank houses, on inscrutable dead end streets that end in sparse trees, planted three years ago, five years after the woods went down. So you cut whole places off of your maps until you one day you are lost. “Let’s go home,” you say. And you park you car on a dark street, never knowing.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: dranking, i<3humans, love letters to endorphins, moments, roommate, strangers
There was something in the air at the Willamsburgh (yes, they do insist upon that h, apparently) library yesterday afternoon that turned most of the kids at drop-in into these little obstinate crankypantses who made frequent and frustrating use of the phrase “I don’t know.” They were whiny, distracted, tearful, tired. They are normally the needier bunch, and this does not make trips out ot W-burg any worse of better, just different, and more challenging. I really love the back and forth. I love listening to their mothers’ Spanish, surprising them with my own, I love the simple understanding there, in even a little bit of shared language. I really just love drop-in. But days like that make my eyes and head pound and I leave a little deflated. And then I want to see my friends, explore, go somewhere. But they a short list, here, and they are on teachery schedules that wake them up when it is still dark so they are very understandably out of commission on most weekday nights.
So I walk towards home feeling what is undeniably lonely. There’s an odd sort of comfort in that kind of loneliness, in any emotion that is so readily defined and categorized. No dark stretches of heavy ambiguity, no dull and humid shrouds of meh. It’s the kind of loneliness during which you can take pleasure in slowly meandering through the grocery store aisles to select the remaining ingredients for a quesadilla you will prepare for yourself. In the cold air of the aisles, and the feel of red peppers against your careful fingertips, and the brush of the arms and carts of the other shoppers, it is safe.
I got back to my apartment at around 6:45, and knew that if I were to attempt to run with the seemingly awesome running group I’d discovered (on the track at McCarren Park two nights ago at the same time I discovered it is a downright RUNNING PARTAY after dark, and a JOY, omg) I’d have to leave soonish. I felt sticky and unmotivated and slothful and stood in the kitchen dipping half a cracker into peanut butter at the point that all runs or not-runs reach right before a decision is made. And man was this a decisive moment, almost cinematically so. I ran through the worst case scenarios in my head: they’d be speed demon jerks who left me the dust, wandering lost and weeping through the streets of Greenpoint, I would never even find them at the track, leaving me to amble through a half assed ipodless run, maybe also weeping. I decided either was better then moping around doing who knows whatthefuck else instead of something that at least had clarity going for it: if I didn’t do it, I was certain I’d regret it.
So I put on my sneakers, and go. “Are you guys, the um, ___?” (not putting the name here, I fear the google!) And they are. And they are smiley. And full of “the more the merrier”s and steady introductions. And we split off into pace groups and I swallow and let my legs do the thinking. We run in a glorious clump, and have the sort of moments the midnight bike ride is prone to, the whoooops were a big group of humans so we’re just gonna snatch the right of way sry! There is a mysterious bus painted sort of like this and dogs poke out its windows and its bass-heavy music pushes against us mingled with rusty citysmells and we run and we run and we run. I talk half marathons and new places with girls who set a quick pace and want to know my story and I theirs and run through streets I do not know and am a little awed. We run across the Pulaski Bridge to a place called Gantry State Plaza, a little pier on the Queens waterfront where the Manhattan skyline is so close it seems like you can reach forward and grab at it, and we stop, panting and gulping a new breeze foreign to the humid night. We stretch and make sure we know everyone’s name, and I agree with Oriana, a girl I’ve run most of the way here with that this is the best way to get to know a city and my god, the beauty.
I am happy to move up in the pack on the way back, happy to comfort a girl who is admittedly not feeling it with about a mile to go. We sprawl out in a corner of the track for core work and my sweat-soaked body gets covered in hard little trackbits and my elbows are aching and stinging from doing planks this way but I am grinning and one of the last to leave. There’s a gumby-like twinkly eyed British dude whose smile is an open window and he is sure to get my name before I leave because he “never likes anyone to not feel welcome!” More grinning. “It was great to run with you!” says Oriana, here eyes bright in the stretches of track-light that lean against the trees here.
And when I head up the stairs to my apartment, elbows a little raw and shirt dirty and stinking, a door on the 2nd floor is open and a red-headed girl pops out. “Hey! Do you live here ?!” She just moved in about a week ago too, and we shake hands and talk in that rapid way of people who connect instantly, if only for seconds, and she readjusts the bag on her shoulder with a quick shrug, and gestures towards the phone in her hand “I’m just on the phone with the bro, but…” her smile is apologetic, but ends in hope. “If you ever need an egg or sugar!” she calls as I bound up the stairs.
My roommate who rarely speaks or leaves her room has her boyfriend over and he has a warm face and shirtless charm and we talk easily, the three of us making small circles around the kitchen amidst the sound of chopping and sauteing that is all too absent here.
They make margaritas and there is a knock at my door and he is there to ask “salt or no salt?” and I stand in our small hot kitchen, right hip leaning against the counter, drinking the perfect margarita from a mug from a set Brink’s was getting rid of on one of my last days there that I’ve had an irrational love for ever since. I lick the salt off its rim, squeeze in a quarter of lime and feel distinct about things again. Only this time, the thing tethering me to the spot feels more like possibility.