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Fall in the City

Walt Whitman must be alive and kicking in Brooklyn because who else would have written the word “ersatz” in large spray painted black letters on one of those olive green and rust girders that hold up the “el” as it screams overhead along Broadway.

Grafitti is everywhere, it’s so fruitful that it seems like a natural piece of the landscape, and completely mind boggling how someone can manage to climb so high and create such a work of art. There are poetic sayings along with political statements like “In New York City social profiling is alive and kicking: Gov. Cuomo” and the ubiquitous “Black Lives Matter” seemingly painted on at least one building on every block while one apartment went one better with a huge BLM banner hanging off the fire escape. It was comforting to be in a place that sees the world somewhat like I do, compared with Warren County where a BLM sign, let alone a banner, would elicit curses and jeers from passing motorists who sport Trump banners on their cars and home and worse.

While walking back from the huge storage facility on Bushwick Avenue a grandmother was walking her baby who couldn’t have been more than 3 and had an Afro bigger than her body and a smile twice as big as she came right up to me, with total innocence and absolutely no reluctance, as I passed by and of course, I couldn’t help but smile back and neither could her happy and proud mother.

The noise of the music blared from every passing car, with each seeming to try to out-volume the other with rap, Latino and music that I couldn’t put a label to but that was enjoyable despite the loudness of it all. It was an indelible part of the scene as were the blasts of car horns that seemed to sound off automatically the moment the light turned to green.

I was waiting for the little white man on the signpost to light up, indicating it was safe to cross, when two screaming motorcycles tempted fate and other cars when they blew through the red light, doing wheelies to impress the world and apparently feeling indestructible and impervious to any harm even though they weren’t.

The sea of people along Broadway surged and literally beat like a heart as I saw two kids, maybe 8-years-old each, tooling along the sidewalk on their mini-motorized bikes, weaving in and out of the path of pedestrians while older kids and adults took to the latest fashion of driving their motorcycles on the sidewalks so as to avoid the traffic and the lights and I was amazed I didn’t see a crash.

There was a guy wearing a clown costume, for no apparent reason other than he wanted to dress up as a clown, pedaling his bike with oversize tires down Broadway past the Hasidic men with their black coats and pants and their long “peyot” sidecurls and their fur hats they call “shtreimel” that are worn by many married Hasidic Jews and Hasidic women walking hand in hand with other women who all wore wigs over their shaved heads and color-less clothing that couldn’t be less appealing but I guess that is the point.

The bodega is a block away from the apartment building where my son was living until he and I moved his stuff into the storage facility, which is conveniently right across the street off Bushwick Avenue. I ordered the “Brooklyn Hero” which is nothing less than fabulous with various kinds of meat and jalapeno peppers and spices that I couldn’t begin to identify. My son ordered something called chopped cheese which is nothing more than a cheeseburger chopped up and put on a bun with jalapeno peppers, although it bared no resemblance to a chopped up cheeseburger and drew raves from my son who is often not very picky about what he eats.

The bodega has signs posted that all who enter must wear masks, which nobody does, and stand six feet apart, which nobody can because the store is too small and crowded. The guy who makes the sandwiches does wear a mask but he keeps it below his nose so he can ask if you want your sandwich cold or heated up. Oh well.

It was a warm 88 degrees and a teeming scene anywhere I looked, as it seemed everyone had fled their apartments for the freedom of being outside, whether it was the man with his dreadlocks walking with a girlfriend as they laughed about something or the young adults on skateboards or the older Latino man who bought six individual Miller Lights and a pack of Newports, with a pack of matches please or the men and women who kept coming in and out of the corner laundromat, carrying their clean and dry clothing in white canvass bags which they toted over their shoulders.

It was time to leave and return to my Warren County home and I rolled the windows down, and turned on Bob Dylan’s Radio Hour on Sirius radio and listened to a repertoire of old blues, rockabilly and soul music that only Dylan could compile. It was exciting to listen to such diversity and quality and it somehow worked perfectly with the Brooklyn world I was leaving.

Life in Brooklyn is electric and constantly moving. It is like the Atlantic Ocean and I couldn’t help but think how dead and moribund the suburbs like Warren County often seem and how unaware and protected the Warren County residents are and it is sad because a day in Brooklyn leaves you energized and confident in the ability of people to laugh and keep moving on, no matter what.

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Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer

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Phil Garber

Phil Garber

Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer

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