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Neighborhood Color

June 23, 2003


“Don’t give me that bullshit; don’t even try. I paid seventy-five, and the fuckin’ thing had holes in it.”

This from a local man, venting into his cell phone, sporting shorts and a prodigious boiler, poorly contained by an undersized T-shirt. I grin crossing his path on my way to catch another matinee at the Cobble Hill Cinema, certain he couldn’t fathom the lengths to which one would have to go to find similarly expressed sentiment in San Francisco.

A select element of Brooklyn not only lacks pretense, it seems to have pulled it from its air-conditioned sedan, taken a Louisville Slugger to its head, and left it for dead on the street. Yet this same element exists side by side with rapid gentrification, upscale eateries, and expensively restored brownstones. When the new neighbors are willing to shell out top coin for Grandma’s old digs, you learn to get along.

It’s all a real estate game, these elaborately small subdivisions. A friend told me of an old-school contractor who expressed bewilderment when asked if he could come out to Carroll Gardens to do a job. “What the hell’s that?” the man demanded. “It’s all South Brooklyn.”

Underneath the cosmetics, the Old Neighborhood still seems to thrive. At least this is my naïve impression, almost a month in. There appears to be an ample supply of old-timers, many Italian, holding strong among the influx of disposable income. Ominously, there are also an unusual number of funeral parlors within a mile radius of my sublet, all long established and with family roots. It makes you wonder if they saw something coming.

Home prices in this desirable Brooklyn locale are on par with those in San Francisco. The proximity to Manhattan coupled with solid construction rival the Bay Area’s expansive vistas and outdoor living. Not that I will be considering a purchase anytime soon. The pay isn’t what it once was for taking in matinees and jotting down personal observations at the Fall Café.

My Jack Black counter kid has the afternoon off, and in his place is an amicable lad in a Mets cap who takes pleasure in recounting the one small earthquake they had here, six years ago. “It’s not like California, man – that shit happens out here and everybody freaks,” he tells me. I reply that despite being a Westerner, I can appreciate the disruption of unsure footing, knowing neither where I will live next nor if I’ll find a job.

“A lot of New Yorkers are labeled workaholics,” my Mets fan explains. “And a lot of the others are just bums. But you got to work hard here, or else you can’t afford your rent.”

A dose of reality aptly supplied, if not completely appreciated. I’ve caught most of the five-screen rotation at the Cobble Hill Cinema, struggling through Mark Wahlberg’s deft thespian intuition in “The Italian Job”, if only for a bit of relief from my own brain. Now it’s hot in Brooklyn, and local girls take the street purposefully, displaying assets criminally withheld for winter. There’s something I really like about this place, and I have no idea what I’m doing.

2003 Rick Monaco All Rights

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