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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Bad Apple

Amanda traded her pencil skirts and Manolo Blahniks for jeans and faded leather boots, and her high-paying career as an attorney in New York, for solitude on the farm.

Walking away from her New York life was easier than expected, but then again…

***

She stared at the sun setting behind the rows of apple trees. Most apples were likely to never get harvested. Instead, they would rot and fall to the ground or be ravaged by beetles. She vowed to breathe life back into daddy’s orchard, no matter the cost.

The last happy memory she had of that place was picking apples with him. She longed to hear his voice again, reminding her the proper way to choose fruit for harvesting, to watch him smile as she tried to grab the branches just out of her reach.

But her daddy never was the same after her mama died. It was so sudden. Suicide, they said. After her death, he let everything go, no longer paying the employees, or caring for the trees.

Her fingers touched the chipped paint on the porch railing. A bit of white peeled off and fell to the ground, starkly standing out against the green grass.

The glimmer from her wedding band caught her eye and Amanda hastily pulled it off, ripping the skin on her knuckle. She swallowed the bile rising from her belly, and walked down the splintered stairs, stopping just before the trees. With a look of disgust, she tossed the two-and-a-half carat ring into the hole. It bounced off the gun, making a tink sound.

Using her daddy’s favorite shovel, rusted from years on the field, she filled the hollowed ground with soil. One pile at a time was scooped and dropped until she finished burying her secrets beneath the pale moonlight.

Amanda wiped the sweat from her brow and tossed the shovel aside.

***

…She preferred boots, anyway.

Photo courtesy of Rico Bico/Unsplash

A New York Minute

I am perfectly content in my city.  We have purchased or first home here,  made friends here and have family here.   Life is really great.   But I have to admit that I would be a liar if I said I didn’t miss New York, if only just occasionally. 

There are things that only New York can offer, like amazing education and employment opportunities, delivery EVERYTHING, world class playgrounds and an incredibly diverse culture.  Life there was certainly magical and stressful at the very same time. 

Strange as it seems, the things I miss about New York might not be what you’d expect.   In fact,  the things I miss aren’t even in the city,  but instead nestled deep in the heart of Brooklyn,  where the real New Yorkers live.

For instance,  I miss the way the gyro truck, parked at Mcdonald and Church, smelled – like foreign spices, onions, peppers and grilled chicken.   And I miss the sound the subway made as it came screeching into the station to pick me up.  And I miss how even though we lived in a big city,  everyone in our little grocery store knew my name.  And how it’s called “food shopping” not “grocery shopping.”  But mostly I miss Coney Island and all it’s dirty little secrets, the part of the F train that goes above ground, and the cool spots in Williamsburg we found to have a cold beer on warm summer nights.

New York was a great place to learn about life and what is most important,  but in the end wasn’t for us.   Being there, we learned so much about ourselves.   We discovered,  through our time spent there,  that we needed more space, more freedom to get from place a to b without it taking over an hour or requiring more than one mode of transportation, more opportunities as a family and more time spent together.

That’s pretty much how we ended up here,  in good ol’ Fredericksburg, Virginia.

I hold New York very near and dear to my heart and even though I can’t see us ever moving back there,  I definitely look forward to returning for a visit,  if only for a New York minute.