publications

all i have are stories.

Last week, a very old woman instigated an interlude in what is normally the spot where i plug into the web whilst chomping an everything bagel. after a short conversation about the quality of the yogurt, we sat near each other with a shared wariness. she snapped, “young women these days, with their tits and their asses just out for all to see!” She eyed me slowly up and down. I was wearing grey sweatpants, a brown long-sleeved shirt, and green sneakers, no makeup, hair up in a ponytail. “You don’t do that, do you?” Responding in the entirely present moment: “no, I try not to attract too much attention.” This seemed to please her, she nodded approvingly. “This city’s dangerous.”

“Yeah, tell me about it,” I agreed, distracted by the intense desire to check my e-mail. Somehow I felt that would be inappropriate. Turns out, I was right. Later in the conversation, she would speak of nearly all modern technologies with no small degree of contempt. In the interim, there were long silences.

She broke one: “Now, you’re under no obligation to answer this,” (oh boy, I thought), “but why did you move to new york? were you thinking of opportunity?”

I could answer this question with glee. “Not at all! I finished my master’s degree, and now i’m just working, trying to save money and building my life while my boyfriend finishes his degree.”

(Earlier that week, a Russian housekeeper at one of my puppy’s homes had received this same response and replied, “oh, so soon you will get married and get fat! trust me, i know.”)

The old woman (whose name I never did catch) eyed me suspiciously. I caught the vibe and attempted to convey my feelings toward this city: “people are too angry here. i want to have a garden. possibly a chicken. we are going to move west as soon as he finishes.”

At this, her eyes lit up. She nodded enthusiastically, her cynical old-new yorker guise slipping off. “Yes! That’s a very good idea.”

Our conversation moved to the economy, to the job market, her dour persona returning. “I’ve lived through a depression,” she said softly. Our eyes locked. I wanted her to send me the feeling she was exuding, and asked, “does it feel the same as it did back then?”

“Oh, it will get much, much worse,” she said ominously. “It’s terrible.” Her eyes misted and she looked distantly at nothing, mournfully, “I really don’t know what will become of us.”

And yet, yesterday morning I took a trip deep into Brooklyn. At Broadway Junction, an older black man in a dark green coat bellowed “Obama! Obamaaaamaman,” laughing maniacally. Around me, his giddiness spread like a virus. I found myself grinning despite my suspicions and doubts. Throughout the day, as I zipped through the streets of lower Manhattan on my new kick scooter, people murmured that name, shouted it, wore it proudly on their foreheads and chests. As I stopped at my favorite bagel place (where I had met the old woman), I recalled the man who’d sat near me two weeks ago, enthusiastically befriending another older man who’d been loudly championing John McCain. They went on for awhile, at some point one of them making a comment stupid enough for me to glance up in disbelief, which garnered the response, “I know you’re not happy, honey, but there’s nothing I can do about that.”

“Oh, I’m perfectly happy,” I had retorted, “this election is going to be a goddamn landslide!” Moved my gaze quickly back to my handheld and twittered about it.

Over the course of the past few weeks, my outlook toward my newly adopted neighborhood of Bushwick has changed dramatically. I barely noticed it happening, besides noting with relief that my panic attacks (lingering remnants of several traumatic incidents earlier on in the summer) had all but ceased. You see, as I came out of Mr. Kiwi’s the other day, groceries in hand, I was stopped by two eager young guys, musician types. “Excuse me,” one of them said, “do you think you could talk to us a bit about the neighborhood?” I drew in a breath, looked furtively toward Troutman, then met their eyes. They looked so hopeful, so willing to believe that this area wasn’t so bad as it looked, but instead, full of promise. It really struck a chord in me.

I began hesitantly, mentioning my recent arrival and subsequent mugging. I mentioned my fear of walking down even Broadway after dark. They were quick to point out that the danger is certainly more paramount for a young woman walking alone at night, and I agreed. They said they were looking at a place right where we were standing, and I found myself boasting about Mr. Kiwi’s, grinning as I mentioned the evangelical preaching at the corner of Myrtle & Broadway, praising the JMZ train. I spoke of the new bodega, Broadway Pizza, Goodbye Blue Monday, the eclectic and increasingly gentrified population, the many Hispanic families and odd Hasidic Jew, the fantastically low rents. They thanked me profusely, looking so excited and hopeful it just about broke my heart.

Inspired to become more involved with the community here, I wrote in to the editor of BushwickBK, a fantastic blog and my primary source of information about Bushwick. I told my story, pitched from the heart, and asked to write for them. “Ethnographic vignettes?”

As if I needed more commitments… 🙂