We only come out at night

6 04 2020

The walking has become a thing.

I started the night-walks as a distraction from myself, thought I’d go out every once and awhile, but it’s been every night since that first night—with the exception of this past Saturday, when I day-walked.


It was sunny, and while I only hate the sun in July and most of August, it was all wrong. Too bright, too hard: everything was too distinct.

I was restless at home, and thought, what the hell, get my walk in now, maybe venture down some of the alleys I had spotted in Crown Heights.

Aside: Yes, alleys! I love alleys, but Brooklyn is not known for them, and I pretty much assumed you could only find them in a few, tv-famous areas of Manhattan, but one night-walk through CH and I spotted alley after alley after alley.

First thought: Am I going to go down there? Hell, yeah!

Second thought: It’s dark, and this is still New York.

So I waited until Saturday, and as I was making my way back through CH, I glimpsed down those alleys and thought: No.

We’re all mostly confined to our own patches, and for me to have strolled through that back patch would have felt like trespassing, like I was impinging upon what little private space those people had.

I don’t know if that makes sense, but that is the sense I had. We’re mostly tethered to those private spaces, but to have walked—in a public lane, to be sure—in the back of that space would have seemed a violation.

Anyway. Back to the main drag: Not only was everything too set apart in the day, it was also much more obvious that the city was shut down. Empty playgrounds on a sunny day are not normal, and all of the shops which should have been open were instead gated, some with signs saying Sorry. . . COVID-19. . . .

Those signs are still there at night, of course, but pulled-down gates at night are the norm.

Is that it? That night-walking allows some normalcy that the light strips away?

Eh, I don’t think so. My area of Brooklyn is a social place, and were it not for this virus people would be out on the corners or stoops just hanging out wherever; now, there are few of us out.

More likely is that that initial night-walk awakened the memory that this is something I can do; whatever else happens, this I can do.


And the beat goes on

30 03 2020

I am slowly going mad.

I like being alone. I like choosing to be alone. To be alone because I can be nothing else is. . . too much, not enough. Not nearly enough.

How are you?


I used to walk at night, when I was younger. I walked around Falls some, but this really took off when I lived in Madison. Over to Lake Mendota, out to Picnic Point, or back behind Breese Terrace, looping around the chancellor’s house, sitting on swings in dark parks in neighborhoods built for kid-kids, not college kids.

This continued in grad school, Minneapolis. Walks through Loring Park and the sculpture garden and down Nicollet and to the river, bridges over the river.

I wasn’t well, then, but I can’t fault the nighttime roaming. And my sorrows got some airing-out.

I still walk, of course, but in New York, the walking is always to and fro, from here to there. And almost always during the day.


But I am, as I said, slowly going mad. I have work—teaching at a distance and still the second job (also at a distance)—and we are not literally locked down. I go across the street for milk and yogurt, over to Flatbush for bagels.

We can still run. I still run.

Here to there, here to there, and home again.


So, tonight, a night stroll, just around, just to see.

I live near central Brooklyn’s hospital complex. I’m used to ambulances, so I can’t say if there are more; there are plenty, regardless.

East down my street. There were few of us out, some of us masked, some not. The closer to the hospital, the more scrubs, the more masks. Across the street from an ER, in one fast-food place, everyone, workers, customers, wore masks; in the other, none did.

Further east. It’s so quiet. Usually in a damp night sound carries, but tonight, the silence carried.

Turn north, past black women in blue scrubs, bonnets, masks; past the psychiatric buildings, high fences all around, light in every window.

There’s a school, half-lit and empty, classrooms above in a long slow curve around the side, like a weary spaceship waiting for its crew.

Down past the handball court, I notice the one-story railroad apartments. This is low Brooklyn, hidden behind the height of the hospitals and the arch new buildings for the nursing students and medical residents.

I pass a couple of men, one offering the other gloves. Nah, man, he says, holding up a roll of paper towels, I got this. I lose that thread as I notice a building that looks abandoned, but there’s a red blip for keyless entry.

Crabwise, west now. A man stepping off his stoop smiles and says “Make it home safe, mama.” I half-say “You, too,” before realizing he’s leaving his home. “Have a safe night,” I call instead.

Down Nostrand, the noise picks up. The usual ambulances, and the one alarm, a block away? that sounds like a whole building yelling out a London OO-EE! OO-EE!

The women waiting at the bus stop wear masks. I check the driver; he’s wearing a mask.

My laundromat, usually open, is closed, gates where windows would be. Gates up and down the street.

I forget to look up to the sky before heading in.


I have to remember, there is more than just me, more than the texts and the emails and the voices in the radio. We are not abstractions.

Brooklyn is right here, it’s all around me, a real place.

It’s easy to miss this, during the day, when it all seems like a backdrop, mere scenery on my way to somewhere else.

I forgot that I can see so much better at night.

On a rooftop in Brooklyn

25 01 2017

Yesterday both cats scrambled to get on to the windowsill to gawk out at what I figured was a pigeon.

Well, it was, but not in the way I was expecting:


She really went to town on that thing:


She hung around, snacking, for a good long time, before lifting off with what was left of the carcass and leaving just a puddle of feathers behind.

I’m not a bird-watcher, so even with the help of various online guides I can’t be sure, but chances are that bird o’ prey was a red-tailed hawk. They’re pretty common in the city, but this was my first up-close-and-personal sighting.

Pretty cool.

Merry happy peaceful

25 12 2013

From Absurd Brooklyn.


Since we don’t actually have snow in BK today, let’s just call this “aspirational”.

All of it.


No hippychick

17 02 2013

I have never been hip.

There have been times in which I might have approached cool, but, really, I doubt I’ve ever been cool, either.

No, I run too hot: I was too eager, too earnest, too political, too angry, too depressed, too neurotic, too in-my-head, too awkward, too dismissive, too dug-in, too restless, too. . . yeah, I dunno what exactly hip is, but I was too-much (and not-enough) ever to be it.

I’m not bashing the hip, however—at least, not in the this post. Yes, when I lived in the un-hip far-out-on-the-L section of Bushwick and had to deal with the polyester-bowling-shirt-surfer-shoe-straw-hat-wearing skinny folk of the near-L-stop Williamsburg and hip-Bushwick, I met my weekly quota of sneering-at-hipsters with ease. But now, away from the L train and a bit more ensconced in my life in New York, I shrug my shoulders and think, Eh, it’s a thing.

And, honestly, while I never could have been hip or cool (or punk or goth), there was always a part of me that was/is fascinated by the performers of hip. I was waaaaay too self-conscious to have treated my life as a kind of performance, to have shown myself off with such elaborate disdain for anyone who wasn’t me and mine.

Oh, I disdained, believe me, but I could never achieve that combination of commitment and detachment necessary to the extended pose of the hip. I didn’t have the knack.

All of which is a long way toward considering yet another NYTimes Style section piece on Brooklyn hipsterdom—only this time, the hipsters have moved upstate, to what author Alex Williams calls “hipsturbia”.

There’s much to criticize about the piece, as there always is with Style section essays—the exclusive focus on above-median-income white people, the writing off of large sections of Brooklyn, the constant need to say Brooklyn is over, etc.—but I don’t know how critical I can be of those profiled in the piece.

They want their comforts at an affordable price; who doesn’t?

Sure, it sounds obnoxious to decide to live in a place because when you did a Google Map street search you found more Subarus than SUVs, but who doesn’t look for signals that a particular neighborhood might work for someone?

I don’t have much money, but even with my limited funds I had (and have) my preferences. I like my general neighborhood and am glad for my train options, but would like to be closer to Prospect Park, and a few more coffee shops/bistros/pubs would be nice. I like trees.  I’d rather live with more apartment space in Brooklyn than less in Manhattan. And since I’ve never been hip, I don’t have to worry that as Brooklyn is, pace the Times, fading in hipness, it’s no longer the place for me.

Anyway, it seems as if the problem is less with the former Brooklynites than with the Times trying to stamp its own narrative on their exits. It’s not that hard: these folks are trying to find a way to live their lives in ways that make sense to them, and are trying to figure out how to blend what they like best about Brooklyn (or, really, any place they lived and loved before) with what they can find where they are now.

Trying to figure out how to make sense ain’t a trend; that’s life.

Stranded starfish have no place to hide

30 10 2012

Some of us are fine, some of us are not.

My neighborhood was barely hit: a lot of twigs, a fair number of branches, and a few trees down, but as far as I know, no flooding, no fires (Breezy Point!); there is electricity up and down the block.

As a weather nut, I thought of biking over to Red Hook or down to Coney Island to see what I could see, but then I thought, Well, if the police are doing their jobs, they won’t let in looky-loos like me, and besides, I’d only get in the way of work crews. Most importantly, the folks in the washed-out areas didn’t need a dipshit on a bike photographing them in their distress.

So this dipshit went to Prospect Park, instead.

The park got hit, and much worse than during Irene, but for the most part the damage was here-and-there, not overwhelming-and-everywhere.

Still, the clues to the damage were apparent at the Parkside entrance to the park:

Then right inside the entrance, a number of downed trees:

I went less than a mile and shot a bunch of downed trees, but after the fifth or eighth tree, I decided I didn’t need to shoot every sideways tree.

Still, I did take a few more shots. There’s a pavilion near the southeast corner of the park that I really like, so I checked to make it sure it was still standing and found this striking shot:

This tunnel leads to the bridge near the Audubon Center, so I trekked through to see how it fared:

It’s fine, as you can see.

I then made my way back to the road and circled the park. Leaves and needles and twigs  spackled the road, and in a few spots snapped trees blocked a lane, but at no point was the road completely blocked. There were plenty of walkers and runners and a few bikers, and dogs were eagerly pulling their people hither and yon.

Trucks were lined up along the west side of the park and crews were already beginning to chainsaw branches and chip up the mess.

And then, because I’d been sitting on my ass for over a week due to a bent back, I decided to take a few laps around the park in order to remind my body that it did, in fact, still move.

At the top of the second lap I stopped for a shot of the magnificent Grand Army arch and framing columns:

This part of Brooklyn, at least, still stands.

I planned on another lap or two, but the rain spat on that idea, so I headed home. I saw a couple of snapped trees on the way back, but, again, most of the houses and streets seemed to be in good shape.

The major concern for me at this point is how to get to work. The tunnels are flooded, and while I could grab a Q over the East River to Union Square, it’s not clear if any 4 trains would be running in either direction. My office in lower Manhattan and CUNY are both closed, but I don’t know if CUNY will be opening its campuses before the trains are back in service; if so, it’s not clear how I’ll get up to the Bronx.

Eh, I guess I’ll worry about that later; nothing I can do about it now. That maddening phrase makes a certain kind of sense, now: It is what it is.

Of course, it’s easy to say that when one’s home is intact and powered, and all its inhabitants safe.

All night long

30 08 2012

Labor Day weekend is here. Unfortunately.

Every year I think, Oh good! A three-day weekend! Every year I forget, Oh shit, Caribbean Carnival.

The first year I lived in lovely Prospect-Lefferts Garden, I was surprised by the Sunday-midnight parade down the avenue next to my building. The music and whistling would rise, then fade, then rise again as another contingent made their way down the street.

All fucking night long.

The next year, the parade began before midnight, but on the avenue over someone shot a police officer, which meant the neighborhood went into lockdown (complete with hovering helicopters and spotlights) and the parade dissipated.

Call me a bad neighbor, but I was not unhappy with this turn of events.

Last year the party again began before midnight, went on all night, but unlike in previous years, the goddamned noise went on throughout the day. This was most unexpected and unpleasant.

You see, the Caribbean parade is an annual Labor Day—and may I emphasize DAY—festivity. It starts on Eastern Parkway and makes it way eventually down Flatbush. Since I live, oh, maybe a half-mile from Flatbush, I generally don’t hear the celebration—which, given that I am crabby from the lack of sleep—is just fine with me.

Anyway, I had forgotten, once again, that the Labor Day weekend sucks. Until tonight.

Tonight is Thursday. Thursday. Five days before Labor Day, and there is a steel-band and chorus in the lot across the street from me, playing what sounds like the same goddamned song over and over and over again. Even if I wanted to listen to Romney’s speech, I would be unable to do so because of those fucking steel drums.

Have I mentioned that I am not a fan of steel drums under the best of circumstances?

I know, this is a Caribbean neighborhood, and given that in New York people like to throw parades and parties, it is not uncalled for that this community wants to celebrate.

Which is fine. During the day. Away from my apartment.

Now, honestly, I like this neighborhood. I wish there were a few more bourgie elements—a coffee shop hangout, a bistro, a few laid-back pubs—but overall this is a decent place to live. It’s also generally pretty quiet (except for that one asshole who’ll park his SUV on the avenue and boom out his mediocre hip-hop for all to hear—I swear to the entire pantheon of gods and goddesses that if I had a gun I would be sorely tempted to shoot out the radio), and I can usually both leave my windows open and get a decent night’s sleep. But not this weekend.

I’m hoping for rain Sunday night. Heavy, heavy rain.

We are all going down

2 07 2012

True story: C. and I find a bar, are unimpressed. Re-find bar, are impressed, say, Hey, we should make this our bar!

Bartender says: This bar probably won’t last. . . Barclay’s Center. . . gentrification. . . .

C. and I nod, drink, nod, agree to come back as many times as we can before it goes away.

Friday. C: Let’s meet at O’Connor’s! Me: Yeah, let’s meet at O’Connor’s!

Off the train, down the street, hang a right. . . wait, hm. To the left? Really? To the left, down a few blocks. No, no, back up.

Then I notice: plywood with a white door where the dark door had been, white railings with plexiglass where the eave had been, sandy stone where the wood painted name had been.

I text C.: I think our bar is gone.

C. arrives. We look at the plywood and the roof patio and agree, yes, our bar is gone. We gesture toward the hulking arena, mutter curses, look for new bar.

Me: Let’s try this one (Gestures to kitty-cornerish to the old one).

C: And there’s a divey-looking bar around the corner.

Me: If this one’s no good [trans: if it’s too upscale], we’ll try that one.

We check the menu, the sandwich board; there’s a sign about a special for a can of beer and a shot.

Me: They sell cans here; that’s a good sign.

We peer in. Narrow, dart board in back, basic Irish pub regalia, sparsely hung about.

Friendly bartender. Hard cider on tap for C., beer for me. Yankees low on one t.v., Mets low on another.

C., the bartender and I banter-bitch about Barclays, tourists, gentrification.

Bartender: This neighborhood has already been gentrified.

C. sips, nods. Nothing stays the same in New York.

More sips, nods. Discourse on the movement from the Village to Brooklyn, to Williamsburg. Bartender mentions photos of Williamsburg from not so long ago, from when it was scary, not hip. Discourse on neighborhoods which are block-by-block: okay here, not okay there.

Me: It’s never a good sign when you’re all alone on a city street.

Later, after more drinks and discourse and nods, C. whispers that the glasses aren’t as big as we’re used to. We shrug and nod and drink some more.

Later still, out on the sidewalk, C. and the bartender smoking, a construction worker with a beautiful face and beautiful arms and beautiful shoulders flirts with C. and me., calling us beautiful. I’m not beautiful (C. is), but I don’t argue, because it’s nice to be called beautiful.

C. and I watch the construction worker saunter back to work on the arena; we comment on the view.

As we leave, C. shares one last smoke with the bartender. A former Chicago schoolteacher with arm tattoos that intrigue C. joins us in our discourse about drinking and work and whatever else one says during the final scene of the evening.

We laugh and say goodnight and promise we’ll be back.

Our bar is lost; long live our bar.

Gettin’ oot and aboot

7 11 2009

I haven’t been great about my lists lately. You know: that which is designed to keep me in line.

Well, it still works, kinda, if only irregularly, and if only as a reminder to get off my tuchus.

So, today, I took my tuchus and the rest of me over to Brooklyn Heights & Cobble Hill, with a stopover at the ferry landing near the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge:

This was  a day which made me wish for an SLR with a couple of decent lenses: Intermittently cloudy, with some beautiful cuts by the sun. Alas, the point and shoot had to do:

You can’t really see the Chrysler Building, in front of the Empire State. Still, the Manhattan Bridge provides a nice ramp into Manhattan.

Again, a camera with more flexible exposure options would have allowed me to capture all the nuances of this multi-dimensional shot down Furman Street. Still, you get the various buildings, as well as the platforms of both the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges.

No, this is not how the Manhattan Bridge actually appeared before me: I cranked up the contrast using the (free) rudimentary photo fixes Windows offers. Still, I like how the colors pop out in an almost painterly manner.

I know: If I spent less time mooning over my life and more time trying to sell my novel and/or get a real job, I’d have the money for both the camera and Photoshop.

But in the meantime, I’ve got my walkin’ shoes and the city. That’ll do.