Brooklyn, a Bridge, and the Other Side

Friday, I went down to watch the fireworks. Sat on a stone retaining wall in the new park to the east of the Brooklyn Bridge.

The crowd included Japanese holding balloons from the Nathan’s hot-dog eating contest at Coney Island. Presumably, they’d been cheering on Takeru Kobayashi’s unsuccessful effort to regain his title, only to lose once more (in an “eat off”) to Joey Chestnut. Languages aplenty surrounded us, making the celebration a real New York Fourth.

I took the pictures here long ago, 25 years ago, the first from close to the spot where I watched the fireworks this year, an area now a park, then not much of anything. The top and bottom ones come from the same negative. The one with the graffiti comes from the other side of the base of the bridge, as does the next. The final one, of course, was taken on the walkway taking one across to Manhattan.

I made a joke to the man next to me, who turned out to be Griff Palmer, a reporter for The New York Times, that the bridge is so photographed that soon we’d no longer be able to see it, its image now sealed away in little black boxes. He chuckled politely.

The fireworks flew up on both sides, from near the Brooklyn Heights promenade on the further side of the Brooklyn Bridge and, in the other direction, from up the East River beyond the Manhattan Bridge. I focused on those from behind the Brooklyn Bridge, watching the near tower (the one pictured–but from the other side) as much as the extravaganza beyond.

No matter how often I try to leave it, I always seem to end up back in Brooklyn. Once again, I am abandoning my outpost (this time, one in Pennsylvania) and retreating to the base–as I have done, now, at least six times over 40 years, ending up spending half that time elsewhere.

Though I can’t help doing so, I really shouldn’t look at the consolidation of my life as a retreat. Instead, I should see it as a necessary return to focus. Getting rid of my house in Belleville, almost five hours from Brooklyn, goes along with closing my store. Together, these will allow me to spend more time on what I want to be doing now, teaching and writing.

However, to me, New York has never been home (that’s Western North Carolina), simply where I end up. But Brooklyn has become special to me. I know more of it than anywhere else in the world and am as comfortable on its streets as I am in the piney woods of home–I couldn’t get permanently lost in either place. Turned around and confused, yes, but not lost.