The Two Brooklyns
When my parents moved to Brooklyn in 1970, I was in college. My experience of the borough had come through visits to my aunt and uncle, who lived off Grand Army Plaza, first on the east side of it and later on the Park Slope side. My parents bought a brownstone in a middle-class enclave between Crown Heights and Prospect Park called Lefferts Manor, a mile or so south of my aunt and uncle. I spent a few months there the next summer, taking a couple of classes at Brooklyn College. A year later I was back, working for four summer months in Manhattan.
It wasn’t until 1975 that I lived and worked in New York City on my own, taking an apartment in an Italian neighborhood called Carrol Gardens because it was cheap and close to the F train. Leaving in 1976, I returned in 1978, staying for about eight months. In 1988 I was back again for a few months before entering Peace Corps but it wasn’t until 1992 that I decided to make a real commitment to Brooklyn. I bought a house across the street from my mother’s (my father had died the year before) and took a job at Brooklyn Friends School for a year before a couple of partners and I opened up Shakespeare’s Sister back in Carroll Gardens, which had become something of a coming, trendy neighborhood. Later, I would bounce back and forth a bit between Pennsylvania and Brooklyn, but was never away for more than a week at a time.
Today, I live in a neighborhood called Marine Park and work downtown, traversing the borough daily by bus and subway. We’re here because we can have a house and yard (we have lots of pets and do love the flowers), but it is, in many ways, isolated from what has brought Brooklyn such cachet over the past decades. We can’t get into Manhattan (or anywhere) easily, there is no elegant architecture around, and the trendy youth culture of Williamsburg and, yes, even Carrol Gardens hasn’t even a clue that we exist.
Today, in the New York Times, an article ran titled “As Brooklyn Gentrifies, Some Neighborhoods Are Being Left Behind.” Now, I might complain that one cannot be left behind when one never was expected on the express–or even wanted to be on it, but I won’t. The Times, after all, sees itself as the center and the motion that everyone aspires to. There’s no way I am going to convince anyone there that some of us never wanted to get on their train, so I won’t even try.
Though I do like what has happened to Brooklyn over the past twenty years, it’s not the only Brooklyn or even what Brooklyn should be. This is a huge, diverse borough. That the trendy Brooklyn gets the press doesn’t mean that it is the best of Brooklyn. We get better bagels here than anyone will find in Park Slope and the best Italian restaurant that I know of isn’t anywhere near the trendy neighborhoods, but sits in Dyker Heights (it is called Tommaso’s). Plus, we are close to Coney Island and the little minor-league park where the Cylcones play… much cheaper and, frankly, as much fun as the majors.
Left behind? Nah. Just a different track.
Oh… and I completely forgot: A friend has prepared for the day when Marine Park becomes trendy. It will be known as Mapa (“Ma, pa”)… well, maybe it already should be, so old fashioned is it.