Thursday, November 30, 2006

place notes

I was raised to know that this side of the river was home and that safety lay just a couple of miles west across a fragile border, that Belfast was big and dangerous, dark and Scottish, that London breathed fire and clutched at the world like a coal-driven mechanical octopus, that Dublin was the real Vatican, and New York, well, New York was the true Oz with wizards that were honestly all powerful.

When I was a young man making my way in that grand American metropolis I shared a gigantic home from the 1880s with three friends. It sat on a street in the center of Brooklyn in a neighborhood called Midwood. The street dead-ended into the sunken tracks of the Brighton Line. The house had seventeen rooms and we could furnish nine. It had fourteen foot ceilings on the first floor, and twelve foot ceilings on the second and nine foot ceilings on the third, and in the winter we could heat about a total of ten feet of that, mostly over our heads. But if you walked three blocks north to the Newkirk Plaza Station or three blocks south to the Avenue H Station the platforms promised the choice of "Trains to New York" or "Trains to Coney Island" and we knew we were suspended between worlds of wonder.

We actually lived between Foster Avenue and Glenwood Road. When the City of Flatbush laid out the streets here after the Civil War they decided to alphabetize the main roads, beginning at Albemarle Road, and continuing through Beverly, Courtelyou, etc. But just past us the creativity had failed, and Brooklyn inherited Avenues H through Z. It kept us humble.

In Derry the streets held different names. Ferry Quay and Bishop's. St. Patrick's and St. Columb's. Butcher, Shipquay, Duke, Magazine, and Racecourse, but then Derry grew from conflict and occupation, and Brooklyn from hope and optimism.

I would take what was then the D train but is now the Q or maybe the B and ride from Newkirk Plaza to Manhattan
and change for the local at West Fourth Street right under Greenwich Village and then go to Twenty-Third Street and walk eastward until I got to the Police Academy which, for entertainment's sake, shared a block and afterschool bars with the School of Visual Arts. When that winter turned to summer and I was exhausted from nine hours of college each day, five days a week, I might let that D train carry me past my house all the way to the ocean, where I might strip to my boxers and fall face first into the Atlantic. Before I'd retrieve my clothes I might stand there for a few minutes and stare off to the east at places left behind.

copyright 2006 by Ira Socol. photograph - Irish Hunger Memorial at Battery Park City - copyright 2006 by Ira Socol

1 comment:

Brenda said...

The details on the streets, of location, of a map that you carry around in your mind that more-or-less fits the actual topography becomes a way of grounding the character in locales that seem never quaint but always exotic since they meld with his sensuality - the textures of living. I like the stipping into boxers at the end, too.