Living in Bushwick

I loved New York. The screeching subways, the sidewalk Mariachi band members wearing shoes made of real alligators, the shopping in SOHO, the twenty dollar drinks at the hole-in-the-wall pubs, and the high-paying jobs by Midwest standards, the good, the great, and the crazy: I loved it all, at least for the moment.

Our first place in New York was a railroad style apartment, which means one room follows the next in a very open style, long and narrow. The apartment had end-to-end original pine floors, exposed brick, twenty-foot ceilings, and it sat on a slant. Like such a bad slant that round things often rolled from one end of the kitchen to the other. The tile in the bathroom had little pink roses on it and was probably the worst feature of our apartment at first glance, other than the four kitchen cabinets we had to cram our things into.

Bushwick, where we lived, was predominantly a Hispanic area renamed East Williamsburg to gentrify it and attract more young, white people. I liked Bushwick better. East Williamsburg mocked the hipster-friendly Williamsburg, where posh restaurants shared walls with dive bars and boutique clothing stores, nestled under the famous blue Williamsburg Bridge. My neighborhood wasn’t anything like Williamsburg.

We bought our vegetables and fruits from cash-only stands on the side of the street. We walked our dog through Maria Hernandez Park where guys played handball and girls watched from outside the court, laughing and chatting. Hands slapped balls, sending them thumping into the cement wall. Back and forth, they played all day long. Sneakers squeaked. Dogs barked. Upbeat Hispanic music blared from boom boxes. 

A thin, elderly man with leathery brown skin who often perched himself on the stoop next to ours became my first New York friend. He always smelled like tequila and cigarettes. Originally from Puerto Rico, he vowed to teach me Spanish. 

“Say hola.”

“Oh-la?”

“Spanish for hello.” He nodded and pulled a Marlboro Red from his linen shirt pocket.

“Hola!”

He struck a match against the brick building and lit his cigarette, taking a long, slow drag. “Muy bien,” he said through a cloud of smoke. He reminded me of a gangster from an old movie: so cool without trying.

More often than not, he told me stories about Bushwick.

“They used to call this street Vietnam,” he said. “Garbage cans with fires in the middle of the street. Drugs. Killings. Muy mal.” 

“Moo-ey mal?” 

“Very bad.”

“I see.” I tried to imagine the streets of my new neighborhood on fire, but I couldn’t. Instead, I saw a stream of people walking by. Some on their way to work, others out shopping or on their way to the bodega: hard-working, middle-class folks trying to make it in one of the most expensive cities in the country. Dreams can come true in New York if your skin is thick enough.“Why’d you stay?” I asked. 

He shrugged and squinted his eyes toward the park. “It’s mi casa.”

Photo courtesy of Niv Rosenberg on Unsplash

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7 thoughts on “Living in Bushwick

  1. You really conveyed a great sense of place in this piece. It’s easy to form a picture of Bushwick and all that it contains through your vivid descriptions, and it’s clear how attached you are to it. The section where you describe the older man and his takes on the changes worked really well to give us a clear picture of the issue of gentrification and where that leaves long-term residents. While the descriptions were vivid and detailed, it’s a fine line between giving enough detail, and letting a focus on details detract from the point of your post and it’s narrative flow. Returning to the point, or emphasising it periodically can help ground the reader.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really liked the comparison between Bushwick and Williamsburg. It helped me to visual the place, and really be there with you. I agree with Asha that the descriptions could be cleaned up a bit. Moments like “round things often rolled from one end of the kitchen to the other” and buying fruit on the side of the street anchored me in the moment. I can picture Brooklyn well enough, but it was those details that made this piece unexpected.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This a really enjoyable read! Would be interested to read more about your experience in the city. Every corner of New York seems to have a very localized uniqueness to it, and Bushwick is a shining example of this. Though some areas are becoming an extension of Williamsburg, the uniqueness that made Bushwick a desirable place to live still lives on.

    Liked by 1 person

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