Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Brooklyn is not supposed to be a cool place

In the realm of trend stories, the venerable New York Times has always been the leader.

It’s hardly a surprise that the paper’s New York stories highlight trends, but if what I read recently is true, it’s less a piece of good news than a piece of horrifying news.

For years, Brooklyn has been pitched as the hippest of hip places in Times stories. All the cool young people have been flocking to the borough because they can’t afford Manhattan, and have turned it into a happening place.

But for my generation, it’s jarring. To me, Brooklyn always was the place you left, not the place you moved to. If you went anywhere from Brooklyn, it was to Queens, Westchester, “Jersey” or “The Island.” Driving to Brooklyn was something parents inflicted on their children on Sundays for dinner with “Grandma and Grandpa.”

We would ride down Grand Avenue in Maspeth, across the bridges spanning Newtown Creek, and find ourselves on Grand Street. My mother’s parents lived on the second or third floor, I think, and we’d be marched up those stairs. I guess I was a kid who just was unappreciative, but even then the warm smell of the meatballs and gravy cooking still makes me flash back to those days, but I would have rather been home in Queens and playing ball with my friends on the side street or in the churchyard, something you couldn’t do in Brooklyn.

Across the hall was my mother’s friend Arlene, and her son, Matthew, and daughter, Judy. It was a little more fun when we got to hang out with Matthew and Judy, I’ll admit.

My father’s mother lived nearby, and sometimes my father would take me there. One thing I do remember was that one time, my grandmother had made a donation to the church because it was the anniversary of the death of my father’s father, and she wanted a Mass said for him. I can barely remember my father’s father, but I went to the Mass and waited to hear the priest say that the Mass was in memory of James Safuto.

The priest never said it, and when my grandmother confronted him, he confessed that he had forgotten to say it.

Brooklyn just seemed to be a place of disappointments, though I will say that my mother’s parents were the most loving and caring people who ever spoiled grandchildren totally rotten. I feel bad now that I wanted so much, when I was ages 7 to 16, to be back in Queens on those Sundays. Oddly enough, years later when I was an adult I often visited my grandparents on my own and even looked forward to going to Brooklyn to see them.

My mother’s father was the best. In fact, though he died on Dec. 31, 1999, it seems like he’s alive now. When I saw the 1940 census, we found him there, and he was on the line for a deeper interview, so I knew a lot more about him than the regular census information that was there.

He loved verbal tricks, like asking you, “Are you hungry?”

“No, I’m good, thanks,” I’d reply.

“Are you sure?” he’d ask. “Do you want some meatballs?”

“No Grandpa,” I’d say. “I’m fine.”

“Good,” he’d say with a chuckle. “We don’t have any meatballs.”

One of my favorite memories of a visit he and my grandmother made to our house on 80th Street in Elmhurst (now Middle Village) was when I drank a soda can and got doused with cigarette ash. My grandfather would find an empty soda can and use it as an ashtray, but this time he used a full, cold can. My can.

I was always careful to make sure that if I took a sip of soda that the can was cold and nearly full, because I had gotten a mouthful of ashes once from a nearly empty can.

But this time, my grandfather had used a full, cold can, unbeknownst to me. I hefted the can, felt the cold outer surface and … bottoms up!

I spewed a mixture of cold Coca-Cola and warm cigarette ash onto the ground.

My grandmother was outraged at the sight of her grandson gagging and ejecting wet ash from his mouth, and took my grandfather severely to task for using soda cans as ashtrays, and not the provided ashtrays.

They had a back-and-forth, and I felt a little guilty about triggering an argument. Still, the taste of cigarette ash in one’s mouth is not fun, even if it’s unintended. Even so, I never held it against my grandfather. In the future, I was just more careful.

Brooklyn can never be for me a cool place. But I know that Brooklyn’s day will end soon because once all these hipsters start having kids, those kids will long for the open, green spaces of the suburbs, and when they grow up they’ll escape Brooklyn and the brownstones for a nice split-level on the Island, or in Jersey.

And so the cycle begins anew …


November 16, 2013 - Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , , , , , ,

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