Monday, June 1, 2020

“Where art thou Brooklyn?” by Colin McGinnis - 2019 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Finalist

Where art thou Brooklyn?


Colin McGinnis

I lived, received an education and taught in New York City’s most wonderful municipality for many a year and on hot, humid days south of the mason Dixon, I miss Brooklyn and yet not altogether or all the time. Unfortunately, as in all breakups, there are two sides to the story. I loved Brooklyn and yet it is was for the most part unreciprocated.

As a full-time teacher, if my pants had pockets after paying rent from Brooklyn Heights to staid Midwood and many a place in-between, all I could cough up afterwards sometimes was a sprig or two of lint and I was no means a shiftless no-account. As a means to an end I worked at and attended Brooklyn College and later toiled as a teacher in Brooklyn.

As years passed, honestly, there were few parts of this mysterious, challenging and sometimes daunting borough that I had not walked through leather clad and Keds shod whistling along with Sonic Youth or the Mighty Sparrow. 

Mysterious? Yes of course! Try walking across the Brooklyn Bridge on a fogy morning or evening. It felt like you were the last person on earth looking out toward those ghostly high-rises. During these escapades, the original World Trade Center was a signpost. Standing tall and clean whatever the weather. This is first hand. I worked on its ninety-first floor for some time.

Challenging? Try catching the F Train from West Fourth Street Station at three o’clock in the morning in the dead of winter all the way to Bensonhurst. I rode this hell route many a predawn to Brooklyn. Wishing the doors would close because it was freezing outside and I needed to return to a haunted house that I shared a with a pioneer video artist. Frequently, while waiting for the subway, homeless individuals plied yours truly with offers leaving a young man’s head spinning or made me tighten a fist around a pair of Forty-Second-second street brass knuckles.

Daunting? Slip through the dark and nasty East New York subway tunnels with a briefcase in hand and a tie and jacket at six thirty in the morning on the way to teach school in Williamsburg.

When I first arrived in New York City. I lived in Washington Heights. The A Train would speedily take you there in a complete black-out between stations. Literally, you could not see your hand in front of your face. Accordingly, the distant clime of Brooklyn was terra incognita.

A land of legends. Exemplified by the Gowanus canal and what lurked under its dim industrial waters, ghostly cheers at Ebbets Field, a to die for Japanese hash house in Bay Ridge, the ghostly remains of Luna Park, or even the grim yet fabulous Surf Avenue astride the great grey Atlantic awash with medical waste and yet having known other difficult, polyglot, cities, none of them, perhaps due to pollution, had sunsets later discovered to be uniformly breathtaking.

Oh, by the way for those taking notes. There were never many stars. A planet or Soviet satellite once in a while. But few stars. I presume they had received the bum’s rush to Toledo Ohio, Albuquerque New Mexico or were given a Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce incentive and tax abatement to relocate. 

Later on, snobbish roommates and friends belittled Brooklyn, and subsequently, not on the low down. I staid mum or joined their cryptic dismissals and borough centered chauvinism not realizing what I was missing.

Eventually, I met or dated denizens of distant, maligned Brooklyn who lived there and came to enjoy its quirky, restaurants, museums and fragrant parks. Compared to Manhattan. Its open space and long, endless boulevards were a breath of fresh air and it culinary and multicultural wonders exemplified by Brennan and Carr’s roast beef sandwiches, last chance goat curry on East Flatbush serenaded by steel drums and the notes of a shofar in season and though ever mindful of budget constraints, back in the day, Stromboli the size of a hub cap was yours for pocket change with a coke and a sit-down Chinese meal was less than the postage for my current published novel making the rounds either to oblivion or the Court of the Crimson King.

Not just adrift glancing out of the subway windows when it broke ground, I was always involved and occasionally suborned into the art, literary and creative world throughout Brooklyn.

Countless times I helped carry strange art forms created by  half-crazy artist friends who always picked me to play a sacrificial victim upon converted synagogue stages. Especially if pyrotechnics were involved!

It was all in the name of art and when I wrote at my salvaged desk not yet eaten by termites and penned my novels, poems and short stories. Many of which were lost forever by theft and my own retrograde, star fraught-sidereal cosmological challenges only Tiny Tim, Marty Matts, Krazy Kat, RuPaul or Rocket’s Red Glare could take a whack at deciphering across Coney Island, the Gowanus Canal, and the odious moat of the East River.

Eventually, I wound up on Hicks Street in the Heights after a stint as an Alaskan fisherman and I began to visit less the hectic frenzy of Gotham on the other side of the river and instead walked the promenade, chased ghosts of the Brooklyn Dodgers on Montague Street, watched spectral buses of the Jehovah’s Witnesses whiz buy fresh form their Vatican and then high tailed to Atlantic Avenue for a falafel or to Dumbo to chase shadows from abandoned doorways near the Brooklyn Navy yard.

At my last retreat Midwood. My landlord was an old Jewish housebreaker. Max waited on his porch like a cypher enticing passerby’s to stop a spell before dropping me off to the local pizza joint or to the laundromat before I returned and barricaded my door to grade papers.

His house was a rotting, three storied-two family late Victorian monstrosity fallen upon hard times. Thus, its affordably.

Max’s neighbors though, had a different view upon our unapologetic residence. They routinely hissed at him demanding that he paint and fix-up his wreck and yet Max just cast a baleful eye at them and took another sip.

Despite the low rent and proximity to the subway. It was often a hardship living there. During the winter ice topped the radiators and my academic papers were tossed around as if by ghostly hands by bitter winds slipping through the cracks.

When Max passed away, the wolves gathered at the door and Brooklyn became an unaffordable option and like many a young man before I cast my fate with chance, shed a tear or two and took that last exit out of town since Brooklyn played hardball like those aforementioned Dodgers.

Therefore, I reluctantly set sail into years of tempests and eventually settled elsewhere where Brooklyn is only a treasured memory and a good slice, a Jamaican patty, or an Italian combo, like the Beluga whales awash in saline solutions by the old boardwalks, are hard to come by.


1 comment:

  1. Hey Colin, this is a brilliant piece. How can I get in touch with you ? I have a question 🙋‍♀️