Tag Archives: Sunset Park

So long Frank Llyod Wright …

His was a vision like no other before and nary a one after.

Each time I’d go visit my mom in the old neighborhood, I’d take a walk down to the docks, passing the huge white Bush factories. I loved to fantasize what the genius of Wright would have done with the old buildings. I’d imagine lofts and tiny shops skirting the shore, enormous windows facing the narrows, the views of Lady Liberty, the harbor, the waterway leading out to the sea.

I still love to daydream of what could have been … what was.

From the stories of Sunset Park:

The building, in the Sunset Park area of Brooklyn, was the last in a row of three houses, adjacent to the Greek Diner. These houses were cold flats where the current owners resisted installing radiators for heat or converting the old coal stoves to gas. The fronts of all three houses called “airy-ways,” were enclosed in ornate wrought iron fences. The windows looked out at a giant white factory across the street.

Across the trolley tracks, across the alley and reaching down three avenues, Bush Terminal Factory District spread like giant tentacles along the docks of downtown Brooklyn, creating jobs for thousands of blue-collar workers. The women sewing piecework in long lines on factory floors, heads bowed and backs bent. The men loading and unloading the countless ships from all over the globe arriving to the ports of New York, the longshoremen.

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The docks and the Bush buildings remained for decades, abandoned like unwanted children, only to become the center of controversy. The center of a zoning battle to restrict the number of stories the developers can built up. The original plans would have blocked the beautiful vistas from Sunset Park and Owl’s Head Park. The vista along the Narrows that stretches from downtown Brooklyn, adjacent to the Belt Parkway, under the Narrows Bridge and moving out to sea.

Progress wants more tall buildings to block the sun and ruin the landscape. Progresss hasn’t done enough damage. It wants to see how much more it can exact from the land before it implodes.

Ironic. We thought we grew up in a slum. Now progress has found the small row houses on 39th Street and the areas of Lower Sunset Park near the waterfront and wants to install fast food chains and factory outlets for cheap shopping.

Someone out there still believes we can shop our way out of economic crisis.

It was the Brooklyn Garment Center, the hub of activities, the inside of an intricate bee hive, alive and buzzing, producing sweet freedom for thousands of immigrants. It was for decades the gateway to middle-class. With its demise we would witness the end of an era.

The battle raged for years, and happy to say, the developers lost.

While some of the abandoned factories are being cordoned off as writer’s lofts, and others for games like paint ball fighting, the proposed sites for outlet shopping has been restricted.

The views for a change won out.

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With all the assaults on our beautiful blue planet, nature endures. It cannot be conquered or completely eradicated by man and machine … and for that I am grateful.

Think about the town or city, hamlet or farmland where you grew up. How much of it still stands today? How much of your childhood remains should you be so inclined to revisit those good-old-days?

There are dozens of neighborhoods in Brooklyn that have changed so much that if I were dropped in by parachute, I would not know where I was … regentrified to the point of desiccation, the Brooklyn of my childhood has vanished.

Entire beach communities, my beloved Coney Island, and the areas above and below Sunset Park, are no longer as I remember. It reminds me daily that the man was spot-on … you can never go home again.

And what developers did not vanquish, Hurricane Sandy blew to dust in the wind.

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Yet I can still walk to the circle by the flagpole, the highest point in Sunset Park and enjoy the sun setting into the bay. The vistas from my park and Owl’s Head Park remain … one small victory against the battle of time.

What part of your childhood has remained the same?

What part have you lost?

fOIS In The City

elections

Third Party Credit

Note: The photographs of Sunset Park and Brooklyn came to me years ago from a now defunct blog. Like the credit above, many photographs and cartoons, and a bag-full of Maxine come to me from the same “third party” sources. Thanks to all who continue to post her and dozens of others for our enjoyment.

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Filed under City Scapes

Sadness is contagious …

There are dozens of blogs, books, video, workshops you can view on YouTube, dozens of ways to learn a craft. Should you want to learn to crochet … you can. Would you be interested in the technicalities of a sewing machine that embroiders delicate designs …  you can learn those as well.

And the craft of writing? But of course. And a half dozen or so blogs I read regularly, they also are most insightful in the craft of the written word. One such blogger has an entire encyclopedia of emotions. There is yet another where you can learn thousands of synonyms for dialogue tags, descriptive, different … what is called “fresh.”

My mother always told me I was a fresh kid, a stubborn brat to the last.

I do not purport I could in any way equal these amazing posts or craft books.

Instead, I claim my natural rights to dissect my own reactions to my world … her sadness and her joy … the comedy and the tragedy … in my own words and for my own edification.

Sadness …

She first came to me at the tender age of seven. It was a significant number … that number seven. For me it heralds the hump year of a decade and the year in every decade since in which something terrible has happened to remind me.

In my late twenties, this incurable passion for which there is no reprieve, came to me when the two were mere babes, when life was still a promise yet fulfilled, when it seemed anything was possible.  She prodded and poked at me, her laughter mocking my efforts to stretch my psyche across the page for your entertainment.

She came in the night when my defenses were worn, and she attacked my senses until they bled. And the words grew from my type-written journals to compact flash drives.

Often when the poet paints her words across the page, she uses the lightest touch, the faintest hint of colors, the soft hues of night, the splashes of seasons, the kaleidoscope of daylight playing in her head.

Conversely, she might strike out, slash the page with her words, tear your heart with her sad songs, penetrate your brain to unleash the beast hidden in caverns where few may travel.

When at last I left my beloved Brooklyn for the hills of Northern Manhattan, my babes were at my knees. Each took a hand which became symbolic of our unity and strength. When life hit hard, each held me solid, reminding me how fragile the connection of our union could be, and how easily it could be severed. But not yet.

All was possible, all waited around the next bend in the road … white lightning and wine filled the new rooms with delightful delirium.

Several decades evaporated and I began again. My parole from the confines of personal responsibilities garnered me eight glorious years.

During that amazing time I found my voice, I attempted to learn my craft and I played with style, form and function, the eternal battle, waged a war inside my bobble head.

I love the idea of playing with my girls. One might call it women’s fiction. Another one might call it young adult fiction. People who have read some of the stories from Sunset Park can never agree. Few have read The Five Seasons, half by size if not by emotional content. And again, they would read about Viola and Sandy, Lucille and the Bradley Street regulars and they would not be able to agree.

These are the stories of young girls growing up in the fifties. I am so in love the idea of little girls as they grow, like a butterfly as it struggles from its cocoon, I love the idea of them growing up to fly free and wild.

For that reason, I carved out over two years of my writing life to tell about them, the girls and boys, their parents, teachers, their struggles and their vindications.

One little girl broke my heart. I have no idea how a fictional character can break one’s heart, but I do know without a single conflicting thought, Betty Jean broke mine.

Shadow of a teen

Shadow of a teenage girl

At first I wanted her to triumph over her adversity. I wanted her to grow up and rise above …

But in real life, we do not always rise above. In real life many are beaten down, never to rise again.

Why then tell her story?

Because it is the Betty Jeans of our world that makes all women tender and vigilant, powerful and determined. We live not so much through them as for them. We become what we would have loved for them to become.

As of this day, I cannot tell you with any certainty that I know what will happen to her as a grown woman. All I know is that the shadows of her past stay with her and that bright promise, that hopeful seed that was planted in the rich soil of life, did not bloom.

You know her as well as I. She was the kid in the back of the room, the one who never quite fit in, the kid whose face no one remembered later. “You know that girl. The one who sat next to Mary Spinoza.”

But heads would shake and no one could recall. She was the kid who you saw walking alone in the park, the one who was detached. Kind of cute in her own way, but you shrank from her. Something told you to give her a wide birth, to stay on the other side of the street. Maybe because when you were a kid, you thought that what she had was contagious.

Ah, but you became convinced that what she had was not contagious. No matter. She turned the corner and you gratefully went off to meet your friends for the weekend dance in the high school gym.

And as you grew, you shunned them. Those hallow eyes that penetrated your skull … the women who panhandle, those lost souls who wear long sleeves to cover the evidence of personal shame, the old lady bent and broken, wishing now only for final peace.

You were wrong. Sadness is most contagious. It clings to our souls, haunts us in nightmares. It follows us like a persistent shadow, the premonition of a terrible truth.

And it is the reason I cherish funny. I embrace laughter. I crave escape from the truth in their eyes. I turn the music up and I pretend.

And despite all my lame efforts, that one who does not exist haunts me, looms the tallest, and will remain with me forever. It is so very simple you see.

Betty Jean broke my heart.

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Don’t ask or wonder where I think I am going with all of this. Only that I so enjoy using this venue to play with words and people, images and those loose ends we need so desperately to tuck into the cloth.

Has a character ever haunted your dreams or

demanded your attention?

Tell me if you know the answer …

is sadness contagious? 

fOIS In The City

Another Maxine

Find her here today

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Filed under Ramblings

The end of the beginning …

Writers enjoy pretending to be someone, somewhere in their dreams and those dreams become their stories. An encounter barely remembered, the face of a stranger, that first moment when the fire begins to burn.

The time and place … the who, what, where, and when of the story.

The when puts the reader in the moment. Be it historical fiction or memoir, the when brings your reader into your world.

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Writer's Humor

As a baby boomer, I might have a proclivity towards the time in which I was born.

My other bent has been the time in which my children grew, those we coined Generation X.

I might posit a story that took place hundreds of years ago, or a hundred years into the unknowable future.

I read a post on Anne R. Allen’s blog asking readers to put in the last 49 words of their first chapter. The post was about the importance of chapter endings.

In other posts, I have read about the importance of beginnings … that first page, paragraph … the opening sentence.

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Graphic Credit

Today, my mind wanders back the years of my childhood, my formative years and to an experiment with openings.

This snippet is one of three possible openings for Sunset Park, a collection of short stories. This one waxes poetic, nostalgic, and introduces the story of my alter-ego, Antoinette, who she is and where she came from.

The beat of a different drum …

They were urchins running in the open fields behind the factories; a vacant lot became their playground, exploring the Brooklyn docks their adventure.

But like the children on both sides of the border, they identified most with Sunset Park, her long hills and hundred year-old oak trees, the wide turquoise pool and the circular brick wall surrounding the flagpole where they watched a hundred sunsets.

They were the product of blue-collar, first generation dreams.

They played stickball, punch ball, ring-a-lievio, Johnny on the pony, handball, stoopball, and kick the can. They leapfrogged over hydrants and climbed up telephone poles.

A cardboard refrigerator box became a temporary “club house,” orange crates became scooters, and soda caps filled with melted candle wax became a popular street game called Skully or Skelsies.

They were street kids. No one missed them if they left their houses after breakfast and did not return until supper time. The rule was … be in the house before the street lights come on.

With nothing between them and concrete and asphalt, they raced along the sidewalk on solid steel skates, scooters or fat wheeled bikes.

No one monitored their behavior or organized play groups. They were not required to wear helmets or knees protectors. And when they fell, they got up and kept riding. On cheap skates or on homemade scooters pushed by bargain Keds on uneven sidewalks, they explored their world.

Without adult supervision or interference, they created a caste system for selecting kids for stick ball or taking turns to play “stoop” ball.

As teenagers, in mixed-gender groups resembling roaming marauders, they walked everywhere to save bus or subway money. A fun night was sitting at the local ice cream parlor drinking a cherry-coke or an egg-cream and listening to the jukebox.

When the last full moon of their youth waned, the kids left Sunset Park. They got married and raised their kids in safer places. Some crossed the country to settle on the west coast, others never moved more than five miles from the house where they were born. A few went to Woodstock, a few more to Vietnam

They stored their old forty-five records, packed away their short skirts, opened bank accounts, and contributed to the economy.

The street kids of New York City lived and played through the innocence of the fifties, worked and protested and died during the turmoil of the sixties, and survived to become senior citizens in the new millennium.

Yet, somewhere in their memory those moments still live. And on a rainy day or when they miss their kids and grandkids, or need to reconnect to the caste system that molded them …

they take out their old black and white or early “Kodak” moments from shoe boxes or photo albums and remember the time of their life.

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Do you struggle with how to

begin or end your stories?

Or are you one of those who is plagued with

The sagging center?

fOIS In The City


			

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Filed under Random Thoughts