Thursday, September 15, 2011

The New York Cherney Journey: Straight inta Brooklyn

I ate Brooklyn up with a spoon.

To ironically paraphrase Woody Allen in MANHATTAN, I romanticized Brooklyn all out of proportion. I was all over the moon when I found out that we were going to be staying-and therefore actually living-in the largest of New York’s five boroughs. Brooklyn has always held such a mystique for me and I’ve felt some sort of a dormant kinship, perhaps the pedigree it has turned out in American culture. In the Brooklyn Botanical Garden lies what they call The Celebrity Path, their version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Check out this list of famous Brooklynites right cher.

Must be the water. All I know is, I wanna be a part of it, Brooklyn, New York. (I am just paraphrasing my ass off here.)

Our hosts, Lindsay and Chris, live in the Park Slope neighborhood, an emerging community thanks to gentrification with all the fixings. They live on the third floor of a 150 year old building in an apartment that used to be three. That sounds impressively large, but the truth is that one of the apartments was barely a studio the size of a walk-in closet and is now the baby’s room. (No, the baby's not sleeping in a closet.) Add to this a staircase straight out of BAREFOOT IN THE PARK and you’ve got a de-luxe Park Slope apartment in the sky. With its historical ambiance and 21st livability, this was my idea of an ideal neighborhood. Everything is within walking distance and easy accessibility to the rest of the world. As we strolled block after block of beautiful old brownstones, I felt such a sense of belonging that I just soaked it all in like a sponge.

Of course I got off on the locals almost as much as I did as the surroundings. Laurie told me I had such delight on my face whenever I heard New Yawkers engaged in spirited dialogue. We passed a truck where some group was promoting healthy living or something and a guy thrust a peach in my hand proclaiming, “Fresh fruit Friday! Fresh fruit Friday! Stay healthy, my friend!” in the best Brooklyn accent ever. Two of NYPD’s finest strolled passed, tawking ‘bout “workin’ ovahtime”. The best was a mook who could’ve been the star of a Joe Pesci biopic in the midst of a major monologue in the street just below Lindsay’s apartment. “What am I…a fuckin’ operatin' engineer ovah heah? I was jus' workin' for this Jewish broad an’ she was bustin’ my bawls all ovah the place. I said, "Get outta my face, sistah!" Y’know, you wanna get yerself a union job, a union job. You wanna get yerself a union job. Nah, you don’t wanna do dat. Get a desk job, a desk job. Yeah, in the city. No, you don’t wanna drive. You take the subway, take the subway. Yeah, a union job in the city.” Then he got in his truck, pulled forward, hit the car in front of him, backed up, smacked the car behind him and sped off. Like I said, what a mook.

The day of what was known as The East Coast Earthquake showed Brooklynites in all their glory. I had gone in search of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (aka BAM) a performing arts center within walking distance (natch) of Lindsay and Chris’ apartment. In recent years, BAM has hosted some world-class stage productions such as Patrick Stewart in MACBETH. And Cate Blanchett in THE Australian stage production of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. My main focus was the cinema in this facility, something to occupy my time that afternoon. Crossing the street just before said facility as trucks were roaring past and, as it is the national pastime in New York, blaring their various horns at one another, I stepped inside the building to find a cluster of security guards all in a dither of some kind. “Did you feel the earthquake?” “Yeah, it like this big vibration!” Apparently, the earth moved for these blokes, but not for me. The street traffic must have masked it. If there had been a quake, I felt it might best to step outside of this not very modern building. One never knows what might have shaken loose. Once on the sidewalk, it seemed that all of Brooklyn had left their buildings as well. The streets were full of people all trying their cell phones to no avail. I serpentined my way through through on my way back to the apartment to check on my wife, daughter and granddaughter. As I did, I could hear, “Did you feel the earthquake?” “Yeah, it was like this big vibration!” A little further down the block, I heard the same thing. “Did you feel the earthquake?” “Yeah,it was like this big vibration!” Directly across from them at the mall where an even bigger stood, milling about in close proximity. “Did you feel the earthquake?” “Yeah, it was like this big vibration!” Jesus! I finally made it back to the apartment where all was well with my three girls. Lindsay had the TV turned to CNN which announced that a 5.9 earthquake, centered in Virginia had been felt all the way to Boston. Wolf Blitzer interviewed a man on the street in Manhattan who said “It was like this big vibration.”

Later I headed for my very first slice of New York pizza and, to perpetuate the cliche du jour even further, asked the owner if he had felt the quake. H e put it in proper Brooklyn perspective for me. “I didn’t feel nothin’. Everybody's gotta go sometime. When ya gotta go, ya gotta go.” Okay. Can I have my slice first?

Back at BAM by the end of the afternoon, I took in a screening of Woody Allen’s MIDNIGHT IN PARIS and couldn't have picked a more appropriate film. Woody’s love letter to Paris in all of its legendary glory coincided with my feelings toward Brooklyn since I landed. I too had paigns of nostalgia for this very special place, even though I had never set foot on its soil before. I wasn't lamenting or longing for another time, but instead, projecting ahead. Brooklyn was not only living up my expectations, it was transcending them. I had a real sense of belonging there. It's something I've always known in my heart. I think I've found a home away from home.

Yeah. I know. The reality outweighs the fantasy. This is a view of the world through vacation. goggles. I didn't have to struggle with living conditions, extreme weather or any of the other day-to-day consequences of actually living in either Brooklyn or just New York City itself on aregular basis. My point is that my impressions of this place have not only been met, but embraced by my consciousness. Heavy stuff? Sure. Look, I know I couldn't live there now. That ship has not only sailed, but docked in the the Brooklyn Naval Yard long ago. But it's nice to know that, at one time, I could have. Another time, but certainly not another place.

This realization doesn't make me sad at all., but rather put, then kept me in a good frame of mind the entire time. I suppose I just followed the sage advice of one of those street-wise Brooklynites I encountered for my own well-being:

"Stay healthy, my friend!"

Next up: Hello, My Coney Island Baby
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