Sunday, October 12, 2008
On this lazy Sunday of waking up late and doing laundry I experienced something that substantiated why I live in the part of Williamsburg, Brooklyn as opposed to the trendy Bedford avenue stop everyone else does.
While getting coffee I asked Pat, a 79-year old man for a light.
As he walked towards me, he puffed on his very large brown cigar and said he could tell I was searching for a way to light my cigarette. I wound up having a conversation with him that lasted about 20 minutes.
Pat has lived in my neighborhood his entire life. He has been married for 51 years, his son has three masters degrees, he went to college when he was 50, and he is ambivalent about all the new young people moving into the area over the years.
"I will probably be long dead and buried before this happens, but I wish there was a good Jewish Deli around here". He explained that 'life is a crap-shoot' and that times have really changed.
I mentioned that I'm a native New Yorker from Canarsie. I feel like if you ever speak to someone this engrained into the community, in order to get any credit, you have to have been from around here. It's like street credit for the older generation- if I didn't mention it, I doubt he would've talked to me for as long as he did.
"life used to be so simple...you used to have one wife, one job, and fishing used to cost you three dollars. You lived like a king". He told me that our generation has it rough and he understands that life has gotten so complicated. Young people 'play house' and live in a world where we grow up so quickly.
Something he said caught my interest- there was an old trolley in Brooklyn that would take you around, I decided to look it up and came across an old brooklynite's webpage. It refers to the photograph located above today's posting.
This is what it said,
"Here we see the trolley on Rockaway Parkway coming from the Brownsville section of Brooklyn (along Rockaway Avenue) with the last stop at the train depot. From there one could either take the train to Manhattan or the shuttle trolley to the "shore" (Golden City Park).
Until 1942, though, a free transfer existed at the Rockaway Parkway station of the BMT (now the LL line) that allowed you on a trolley line that traveled on a private right of way between East 95th and 96th streets to its terminus at a long-departed beach resort at Jamaica Bay called Golden City, complete with an amusement park, fishing boat rentals and beer halls.
The trolley car extension of the subway (it ran on the ground until New Lots Avenue and the up on the elevator until Broadway Junction, and only then did it run as a "subway") ran through a littered lane between the back yards and unkempt gardens of rundown houses. Here and there passengers caught a glimpse of Canarsie's better dwellings, of its village-like business section on Flatlands Avenue, of great stretches of dump and marsh, and of unpaved streets. Canarsie then underwent changes as the new Circumferential Highway [Belt Parkway] around Jamaica Bay was completed and the shore improved"
Pat seemed to think our lives are complicated. But I'm not so sure. His generation had to have a wife and kids and grow up just as quickly as us. Now, college students don't really do anything until after college, get apartments paid for by their parents, and have gadgets that cost a fortune before even stabilizing themselves. I agree that we live in a complicated world but I think no matter what era you live in, life is still life. There are easy things about it and there are difficult things to get through. In Pat's day, you could not truly be yourself, if you were unhappy in a marriage it was socially looked down upon and you needed to stay with that job to be stable and raise your family. I hope that when I'm older i can look back and say that the present is the best time because I want things to progress and I want to keep up with the times. I think there are certainly good things to miss from the past, but in order to be happy you need to appreciate the state you are in.
I hope for Pat's sake, he will see a Jewish old-time deli reappear in this neighborhood before he passes so he can enjoy his last years in his home in this decade.
Today's mission requires a bit more work but I hope that you find it rewarding.
Mission 4: Find a way to connect with an older person native the neighborhood you live in. Have a conversation and make sure not to hold back your thoughts. Listen to what they have to say and ask them questions that ensure a story or their views on current life. Get to know a glimpse of someone you probably would have never known. I think it will be a rich and valuable opportunity to learn something about yourself as well.
Good luck, BRETSA nation.